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Music in colours ?

vhollund

Member
Messages
3,519
Some of the greatest musicians see music in colours

Does any of you ?

In that case , what colour is minor ? or how does it work for you?
If I was to choose a colour for minor ,i think it would be red and Major would be blue

Bass is brown or orange when i work with sound
That's how far it goes with my imagination for the moment.
 

stevel

Member
Messages
14,545
You might be talking about Synesthesia. Synesthetes have this thing where one sense will trigger another sense. One of the most common types is that people "see" colors associated with letters and numbers. For example, when they see, or think of the letter A, they also "see" or think Red. They know that the A is not red, and they literally see an A on the page written in black ink as black, but it's like when they picture the A in their head, it's red. Sometimes, there are shapes or movement associated with the letters. Not all Synesthetes see the same color for the same letter or numeral. Some also see things like Months in a "clock" circle and color- it's like when they think "January" and they see it positioned 3 diminsionally in space in a circle and it's white, or whatever.

My oldest son has all those types above.

There are also letter-shape synesthetes - when they think a letter they have the sensation of holding a cube in their hands and things like that. So basically two or more senses are triggered by another sense.

There have been many auditory-visual Synesthetes - I think it was Scriabin who devised a "color organ" to show the colors he saw when he heard certain notes.

But then there's the more generic use of the words "seeing something in colors" - the sounds don't literally trigger a sensation of color in these people, but they liken the sounds to colors - which is probably what most people who say anything like this actually mean.

I don't do it personally. I do sometimes hear some keys as "warmer" and other keys as "sterile" and things like that, but I think that has more to do with my familiarity with the key on a given instrument. For example, Db Major on a Piano sounds very "warm" to me, but on Guitar, or even in an orchestral piece it has no different sound to me than C or D (open string peculiarities aside).

Steve
 

JonR

Member
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14,844
Synaethesia, as steve says. However, there is a difference between just associating a sound with a colour - imagining it - and actually seeing the colour. AFAIK, true synaesthetes actually see the colour when the hear the sound, they can't help it. It's like a kind of "bleed-through" of the sensory apparatus, at the level of synapses apparently. That's different from the more intellectual associations many of us make, which usually derive from some familiar association in the past that we may have forgotten.

Eg, I tend to think of A major as "red". I don't know why, but I suspect it dates back to learning a song from a record which happened to have a red label. (Red is also my favourite colour and - being a guitarist - I like the key of A ;).)
Eg, one memory I clearly have for a synaesthetic association is the first single I ever bought, Scarlet O'Hara by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, a guitar instrumental. I always felt this track had not only a colour (reddish of course! duh...) but also a texture, even a flavour: sweet and heavy, crunchy, like a toffee apple (anyone remember those?). Guess what: the sleeve of the record was orange and white candy-stripes. So there were very strong visual (as well as linguistic) pointers to my association.

I'm sure that's how these kind of things get embedded. Sound is a hard thing to characterise and describe, after all, and we are always using metaphors from other senses.
Even the notion of pitch being "high" or "low" is synaesthetic. High pitches are not physically high in any true sense - sounds don't have those kind of relative places in the world; as physical entities (vibrations) the difference is more "fast" and "slow" - so I guess you could associate "high speed" with "high pitch". But then why is a fast speed "high"?

Of course, while we all seem to agree on what "high" means in relation to pitch (maybe we've just come to accept it?), we won't agree on other kinds of synaesthetic associations: they're all subjective.

There will be some agreement on the feel of certain keys among players of the same instruments (because of physical/tactile factors), but not on their colours. For any one synaesthete who says D is green, another will insist it's yellow, another grey, or whatever.

Similar considerations apply to certain classical ideas about the meaning of particular keys. Eg,, that F major is "pastoral", or A major is "martial", or whatever. Of course it's nonsense in the sense of any inherent properties of the keys themselves. But if some composer chooses (for whatever reason) to write a "pastoral" symphony in F major that then becomes famous and popular, then the assumption will arise that there is something specially pastoral about F major.

There is therefore no sensible "theory" of musical colour, in the scientific sense of the word. Colour associations are not objective or widely shared. (Isaac Newton toyed with the idea of linking the 7 colours of the rainbow with the 7 notes. But assigning 7 colours to the rainbow is an arbitrary choice in the first place: it's a continously merging spectrum; the colour distinctions are largely cultural.)

Of course, "music theory" is not scientific anyway - it's about "common practice". A theory of musical colour could therefore exist in that sense, If certain choices did become accepted common practice.
 

vhollund

Member
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3,519
@stevel @jonR

Very interesting inputs ,
If understand you right the colours, that a person with that …aptitude sees, in relation to specific pitches, are completely individual ?

I can understand and imagine deep notes as being darker colours of brown and dark violet and blue and high notes in lighter colours , yellow, orange etc
and green and read, more midrange spectrum.
I think that's what master engineer Bruce Swedien does…

But do some people use it to actually "paint" their music ?

I come to think of Miles Davis who was also a painter, and he did the Aura album that Palle Mikkelborg wrote, where each song is a colour.
 
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Multicellular

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7,881
I have Synesthesia. I have more than one type in this order of intensity
Sound -> Sight
Sight -> Sound
and only with really loud smells do I see and hear smell.

Does it influence music? I really can't say cause you're born with it and so you can't compare. My gut reaction is that if you are a creative and imaginative person, it wouldn't make a bit of difference. Chords. harmonies, obey the same rules as sight-shapes in my head, so i dont see how it helps.

But to your question, some people do distinctly see colors from sounds. And as others pointed out, it is not imagination. I can imagine things just like anyone. To be clear, if you have synesthesia you see it as automatically. It varies as to whether you perceive the stuff automatically IN or OUTside your head....from what little I've read (my mom knows a lot more about it). And I know someone with grapheme and she sees letters etc. with colors, but it is just as automatic, she can't turn it off.

For me, I see sounds like I see a dust cloud, steam, or like a hovering misshapen balloon or prism. For me the colors are not as solid as the shape and textures I see from sounds. Oftentimes, I see a shape or texture when I hear something that looks to me like solid objects. If it is an unfamiliar sound I can even have trouble realizing it is a sound until I move. (of course sight and sound change differently when you turn your gaze or head)

So is a minor chord colored? For me depends on timbre, volume, inversion. Hard to say a hard and fast rule. I did pass a test designed by researchers for sound -> color syn. but I could only do it by closing my eyes.
 
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sahhas

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
15,656
i did a paper about music and art 20 yrs ago, i believe wagner was one of the folks who talked about music and colors...i'm sure there are more....
 

Clifford-D

Member
Messages
17,070
I have Synesthesia. I have more than one type in this order of intensity
Sound -> Sight
Sight -> Sound
and only with really loud smells do I see and hear smell.

Does it influence music? I really can't say cause you're born with it and so you can't compare.

But to your question, some people do distinctly see colors from sounds.

For me the colors are not as solid as the shape and textures I see from sounds. Oftentimes, I see a shape or texture when I hear something that looks to me like solid objects. If it is an unfamiliar sound I can even have trouble realizing it is a sound until I move. (of course sight and sound change differently when you turn your gaze or head)

So is a minor chord colored? For me depends on timbre, volume, inversion. Hard to say a hard and fast rule. I did pass a test designed by researchers for sound -> color syn. but I could only do it by closing my eyes.
Ok, so your driving down the freeway listening to SHA and your brain starts to freak out because it can't decide what key its in, and what color to code it, and all the while cars are zipping by colored like bananas and your girlfriend looks like a huge hematoma,, and those little flashing lights in the mirror, they look like they want me to pull over and play,,, yes, play,,,,,,,,,,, play with all the pretty colors, "yes pretty colors ossifer"
 

Multicellular

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Messages
7,881
Ok, so your driving down the freeway listening to SHA and your brain starts to freak out because it can't decide what key its in, and what color to code it, and all the while cars are zipping by colored like bananas and your girlfriend looks like a huge hematoma,, and those little flashing lights in the mirror, they look like they want me to pull over and play,,, yes, play,,,,,,,,,,, play with all the pretty colors, "yes pretty colors ossifer"
LOL.

That's LSD not synesthesia.

But for real, I have to wear ear plugs to drive.
 

Clifford-D

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17,070
LOL.

That's LSD not synesthesia.

But for real, I have to wear ear plugs to drive.
It really is hard for me to imagine what it would be like.
It could be one mans LSD is another mans synesthesia??
I mean what if I popped into your existence and it did look like acid to me?
 

JonR

Member
Messages
14,844
@stevel @jonR

Very interesting inputs ,
If understand you right the colours, that a person with that …aptitude sees, in relation to specific pitches, are completely individual ?
Yes. I can't see how there could be any objective, biological connection.
I can understand and imagine deep notes as being darker colours of brown and dark violet and blue and high notes in lighter colours , yellow, orange etc
and green and read, more midrange spectrum.
Yes, the association of "deep" with "dark" is quite natural, from experience of water, holes in the ground, etc. (Given that we've already learned to call slow frequencies "low" or "deep".)
There are also similar shared associations with colours and moods, eg red being vibrant, energetic or angry (from the colour of blood and flushed faces), while blue is the colour of peace or relaxation, and sometimes sadness (from the sense of distance or emptiness in the sky).

These associations could easily tie to moods in music, of course, but not to absolute pitch. That's because each pitch (and key) occurs at various different octaves.

Harmonic effects might be more general (more objective if not totally so), due to agreed notions of consonance and dissonance.
I suspect most people - at least if asked - would link a smooth consonance with some kind of "warm" or "reassuring" colour (or shape), and a dissonance with something colder or harder.
(I think shape would be an easier thing to associate with those effects than colours: eg a consonance would be rounded, simple in shape, perhaps of one colour, while a dissonance would be jagged, perhaps in many colours - "clashing". I suspect most people would feel something similar.)
But is - say - red a "warm" colour (therefore "consonant"); or is it an "angry" colour (therefore dissonant)? Obviously a matter of opinion.
Likewise some will find blue to be reassuring, peaceful (positive), while others will find it cold and empty (negative). (This is independent of how light or dark the colour is, which would have more widely shared connotations.)

Combinations of colours are easier to align with harmonies, and common language reflects that. Some colours "clash", while others blend harmoniously. A mix of bright colours is "loud".
That's because (I'm guessing) certain colour combinations - next to one another - irritate the optical system in a similar way to how clashing pitches irritate the auditory system, and resemble certain sensations of touch. Think how many terms describing touch sensations are used for sound as well as vision: "smooth", "rough", "soft" - not to mention "sharp" and "flat" ;).
The objective link between sound and vision is wavelength - but of course wavelengths of light have very different properties from wavelengths of sound. Sound waves - at least musical ones - have the phenomena of overtones and octaves, which lets us perceive musical relationships between pitches. Light (electromagnetic waves) has nothing similar, at least not as we perceive it.
(There is the "colour wheel", which passes through the rainbow colours and comes back to the start: blue going via violet and purple back to red - but that's an artificial construct.)
But do some people use it to actually "paint" their music ?
I'm sure they do, and did. Scriabin for one.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Scriabin
But no one else will get the same associations, so as a communicative device it's a waste of time.
 

Jeremy_Green

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Messages
1,078
My daughter has Synesthesia.. for her it is with smells, she associates them with colours immediately. Likely why she only ever really wears black! Odd thing.
 

Multicellular

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Messages
7,881
It really is hard for me to imagine what it would be like.
It could be one mans LSD is another mans synesthesia??
I mean what if I popped into your existence and it did look like acid to me?
I don't really know. But when I've done acid and similar things. I hallucinated. A very different thing. I thought I saw stuff, people, shadows, animals, that were not there.

When I see sounds, they are really there. There is a real sensory stimuli and a sensory experience. But for me, I guess you could say there is more than one sensory experience. Sight + sound. That seems weird to me though... Experientially. I have a hard time thinking of sight and sounds as being different.

So if you are used to it. If you've had it your whole life, I don't know. I think you gotta understand there is an attention span element we all share. It is not something you notice.

Kinda like, if you are driving, and I asked you, "do you see the grass at the side of the road?" You probably see it in your peripheral vision, but you don't ever pay attention to it. You pay attention to the cars, the exit, your speedometer.

I see sounds 24/7. I see the sounds of the keys being hit on this keyboard. But if I weren't typing about synesthesia, I wouldn't notice most of the sounds or sights.

Above, when I said an unusual sound might confuse me. Emphasis on the unusual. Walking around, I see the sounds of cars breaking, leaves rustling, etc. But I don't notice them any more than you notice the sound of them or not.

With LSD, or similar, I think, you really focus these things cause they feel 'not right'

The synesthetic stuff feels 'normal.'

It is hard to explain. It is hard to imagine a stimuli only going one place.

Like, despite having three types essentially, the letter/number thing seems totally wacky to me. Despite understanding objectively how it neurologically works the same.
 

Clifford-D

Member
Messages
17,070
I don't really know. But when I've done acid and similar things. I hallucinated. A very different thing. I thought I saw stuff, people, shadows, animals, that were not there.

When I see sounds, they are really there. There is a real sensory stimuli and a sensory experience. But for me, I guess you could say there is more than one sensory experience. Sight + sound. That seems weird to me though... Experientially. I have a hard time thinking of sight and sounds as being different.

So if you are used to it. If you've had it your whole life, I don't know. I think you gotta understand there is an attention span element we all share. It is not something you notice.

Kinda like, if you are driving, and I asked you, "do you see the grass at the side of the road?" You probably see it in your peripheral vision, but you don't ever pay attention to it. You pay attention to the cars, the exit, your speedometer.

I see sounds 24/7. I see the sounds of the keys being hit on this keyboard. But if I weren't typing about synesthesia, I wouldn't notice most of the sounds or sights.

Above, when I said an unusual sound might confuse me. Emphasis on the unusual. Walking around, I see the sounds of cars breaking, leaves rustling, etc. But I don't notice them any more than you notice the sound of them or not.

With LSD, or similar, I think, you really focus these things cause they feel 'not right'

The synesthetic stuff feels 'normal.'

It is hard to explain. It is hard to imagine a stimuli only going one place.

Like, despite having three types essentially, the letter/number thing seems totally wacky to me. Despite understanding objectively how it neurologically works the same.
Very interesting and thanks for sharing it. It still is very elusive as to what it must feel like. like snakes that see thermo imagery in the dark, what that must be like, or stranger yet, how birds and fish have such global migrating instincts.
Why not see music as colors? There must be some shared area in the brain and a couple synapses were wired for colorsound, sight and sound must have a common junction they pass through in the brain I would imagined???

So again, what do you see? if it's not hallucinatory (sic), then do things change from one color to another like you see a red shirt and now it blue? or is it something that is more like a sense, like when you sense someone looming behind you watching you, even if they're yards away?

Is it a problem for you? like getting a license or does it need medical following at all?

The mind is a fascinating place,, it compels me to ask.
 

Multicellular

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7,881
Very interesting and thanks for sharing it. It still is very elusive as to what it must feel like. like snakes that see thermo imagery in the dark, what that must be like, or stranger yet, how birds and fish have such global migrating instincts.
Why not see music as colors? There must be some shared area in the brain and a couple synapses were wired for colorsound, sight and sound must have a common junction they pass through in the brain I would imagined???

So again, what do you see? if it's not hallucinatory (sic), then do things change from one color to another like you see a red shirt and now it blue? or is it something that is more like a sense, like when you sense someone looming behind you watching you, even if they're yards away?

Is it a problem for you? like getting a license or does it need medical following at all?

The mind is a fascinating place,, it compels me to ask.
Ya see, aside from having the condition. I don't know a lot about it. But as far as I understand...

With a hallucination, you see something that is not there. Random synapses firing I guess. With Synesthesia you see something that IS there, granted, something that is in the wrong part of the brain, but it is a non-random thing. The sound of the air conditioning system in my office always sounds and thus looks the same.

It is not a sense like something watching you, it is like opaque or translucent objects. But symptomatically varies I think.

Yes some people definitely do see colors and I shouldn't say I don't from sound. It is just that it is very faint or you could say washed out, it is mostly shape texture outlines, movement. So I don't usually describe it that way.

But no I don't get medical treatment for it. It doesn't bother me most of the time. That is just how I hear 'normally.' I struggle to remember that everyone is not that way. I always tell my wife to close her eyes when I am about to run the coffee grinder. (for some reason, the ugly sound of the grinder is uglier when it mixes with your surroundings than darkness). But like some people hate the sound of finger nails on a chalk board, there are more things that hurt my eyes or ears like that. And some really loud things make it hard to see. I wear ear plugs to drive to be safe. And at the eye doctor's he makes sure to make it quiet so he's really testing my eyes.
 

vhollund

Member
Messages
3,519
Amazing
So all notes have a specific colour to you ? Or does it change with the instrument , and does the octave have similarity ?
 




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