Art 260 / Greg Clayton

Music as Image, Image as Music



Synesthesia involves an experience by one sensory system while encountering stimuli through another sensory system.


For instance, some synesthetics experience colors when they hear sounds or music. Others see distinct colors when they see letters and numbers. (links 1 2 3 4 )

Wassily Kandinsky sometimes painted in response to music, aiming to create a visual counterpart to the sounds, instruments, melodies and rhythms in the musical composition. His images were non-objective — not related to what we see in nature — but attempted a kind of objective reference to what he heard. (Lyrical; Impression III; Composition VI: Composition LX; Composition X )

Sean Day is a composer who "synesthetically "sees" colors corresponding to musical timbres; each instrument has its specific color."*
"When pianist Laura Rosser performs, she hears more than sounds. She hears colors -- each note has its own associated hue." *

Videos: ABCNews Video Article| Synesthetic World (28m) | Trick of the Senses/pt1(9m) | Synesthesia: Hearing colours, tasting sounds. David Eagleman (28m)
Articles: Scientific American | Testing for Synesthesia | Psychology Today | LiveScience | MIT Demo | WashingtonEDU |
Links: Synesthesia Resource Center |

Synesthesia Project Page

General Info and Statistics


  • About 1 in 23 people have it.
  • More left-handed folks than right-handed.
  • These are people of normal intelligence.
  • It runs in families...thus we assume genetics play a role.
  • More women than men.
  • Tends to occur in particularly creative people.
  • Sometimes drugs can also produce a type of synesthesia.
  • Some types are:

    Personal Descriptions of Synesthetic Experiences

    "When I actually look at words on a page, the letters themselves are not colored, but instead in my mind they all have a color that goes along with them, and it has always been this way. I remember back in kindergarten thinking that each homeroom had a different color associated with it. I would sometimes say things referring to that class and calling it by its color. It is also like this with days of the week, months, and so on. I thought this was caused by me over-thinking things. But I finally have come to realize that Synesthesia is real."'

    If you have a personal account, or can get a friend or family member to describe their experience, please send me a copy at: Synethsesia Experience
    Take a few moments to describe...
    ...what your synesthetic experience is like?
    ...when and how you discovered that yours is not a common "everyone does it" experience? your experience alters how you do things, particularly how and what you create?
    ...and how you either explained or stayed quiet about your gift?

    Text (Color 5th ed.)

    Nonvisual Color Perception — p. 36

    "The ability to feel color through your hands is not uncommoong among blind people."

    "...some people percieve colors when hearing sounds"

    "Wassily Kandinsky asserted: "The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark like [a red-purple] in the treble.""

    Scriabin — Prometheus (article | article | article | ) ( Video/Performance with color-motion ) ( video/performance Pt1 | Pt2 | Pt3 )


    Michael Torke

    "Females are more likely to experience synesthesia than are men."

    Carol Steen: "It's the only way I know of perceiving. If someone said they were going to take it away, it would be like saying they were going to cut off my leg."


    Color and Key

    According to the article on ''Color and Music'' in the wonderfully musty 1938 edition of the Oxford Companion to Music, the two composers had very specific color-music scales in mind. Here they are: *

    Scriabin Rimsky-Korsakov
    C Red White
    C# Violet Dusky


    Bright Yellow Yellow
    E Steel Gray Bluish Gray
    F Bluish White Sapphire Blue
    F# Red Green
    G Orange-Rose Brownish Gold
    G# Purple-Violet Grayish Violet
    A Green Rosy
    A# Steel Gray ———
    B Bluish White Dark Blue

    Links on Synesthesia

    Links on Synesthesia Comments

    * Power Fruit
    A rather creative video-audio portrayal of Synesthesia...more or less a music video. ... plugged in fruit, etc.      
    Wonderfully odd and experiential.

    ( alt1 | )

    * Also: The Soloist-Cut A Beautiful Play Of Colors With Beethoven`s Music

    ... this is a scene from the Jamie Fox, Robert Downey Jr. movie, The Soloist. Imagery attempts to suggest what might be seen within the music.


    Seeing Life in Colors: Crosswired Senses

    ABCNews video article introducing Synesthesia (3:15)

    Lorde explains her Musical Synesthesia with Seth Meyers (@1:30 Synesthesia explanation begins)


    Synesthetic Locked: Definitely experiencial.




    The Artist Who Paints what she sees (2.43)

    Tired of explaining herself, she has begun painting what she sees when she hears.

    Take a look...
    ...and a listen.

    Also painting as she listens...


    What is Synesthesia? (10:13)

    Nice introductory video briefly interviewing several synesthetes. Describes a wide variety of synesthetic sensory pairings. A young composer desribes his tonal-color associations.

    2010MAPS Film school documentary.


    An Introduction & Background

    A synesthete's account... nice intro and historical background. Info on brain-stimuli-suppression hypothesis.
    (8.15) David Eagleton.

    *** Elizabeth, a Swiss woman recounts her experiences as a Synesthete with remarkable memory -- color, musical intervals and taste are uniquely combined.

    Chromasethesia -- Color-Sound Synesthesia. (13.45)

    Annie Dickinson, in a youth TEDTalk, describes her experience and discovering she was not typical. She explores music in relation to her color-sight experiences. The video inlcudes a segment of music-video that reflects what she sees as she hears.

    What she has learned:
    "Another's viewpoint, while different, is equally true and equally real."


    Jamie Ward, TedTalk on the Curious World of Synaesthesia (13.02)

    Presents examples of different types of synesthesia.

    Wasily Kandisky's work and possible synesthesia. He compares dischordant sounds to a Kandinsky painting. He also discusses research with non-synesthetes suggesting that we all have some degree of associations between sight and sound.


    An interactive self-test. (about 10 minutes).

    (There is another newer test on the same site, but some settings are keeping it from loading on my browser.)


    Seeing Sound, Tasting Color: Synesthesia

    Good description of the phenomena.
    It gives a really good summary of what synesthia is. It gives different examples of how synesthia can work (giving you feeling in your fingers, taste, etc.).
    I also didn't realize that a person with synesthesia could go their whole life without realizing the effects of synesthesia are unusual. It is also really interesting that it is an involuntary action. I thought that they had to think about it in order for it to happen.


    * Synesthesia on 60 Minutes with Richard Cytowic, M.D.

    Good interview introduction... same expert as the ABCNews video article.



    * What color is Tuesday? Exploring synesthesia - Richard E. Cytowic

    TedEd Version

    Type of Synesthesia: Color linked to time or chronology 


    Synesthesia - Numberphile 3.54
    Grapheme to Color

    An articulate description by a synesthete of color-number and number-personality links.


    Seeing Song Through the ears of a synesthete: TedTalk: 9.45
    "Kaitlyn Hova is not only a professional violinist, composer, full stack web developer, designer, neuroscientist, and core team member of Women Who Code, but she is also a synesthete—which means her sensory perception is quite different from what most people experience. Watch Kaitlyn's 2016 TEDMED talk to get a sense of what it's like to hear color and see music."

    - at 5min mark, she begins to portray what she experiences.

    Also What's it Like to Hear Colors (violin, lights, narrative)

        Good textual intro, and animated/experiential video.
    This is a short article about synesthesia, It has a link to a video, "An Eye Full of Sound", it's an animated documentary about synesthesia. Its a little strange but very well made and informative. 
    A.) an old blog from a woman with Synesthesia

    B.) is an interactive link from her blog where you can type words to see how she would see it and then it fades to all one predominate color, I'm assuming based off the word's meaning.

    Hearing Colors, Seeing Sounds: Synesthesia video

    Some People Really Can Taste The Rainbow article on taste-involved synesthetes. "..the brains of synesthetes do appear to be anatomically different... the neural connections between different sensory parts of the brain are more mylinated in people with synesthesia.

    informative and pretty interesting. It said that synesthesia can be effected by drugs. Such as caffeine and nicotine decrease your synesthetic perception. It also talked about children's learning abilities being effected

    This is an 8 minute long video directed by Jonathan Fowler. He covers the basics of what synesthesia is and how it works. Three different people are in the video describing what type of synesthesia they have. One of them sees food in color, another numbers/letters, and lastly days of the week. In the video, he also discusses different theories scientists have on what makes people synesthetic. I found the video to be very interesting because I can understand it. Some of the things he brought up about non-synesthetic people was very interesting. I have experienced what he said.

    This video is about a woman who has all three. The document says that she is the only one in the world. I think it's interesting the story she tells about how she discovered it. I also thought it was interesting that they call in a "power". I'm not sure I think of it as a power, although it does seem like it would be fun to have for a day!

    Girl’s personal synesthesia- 6 I really enjoyed hearing about what kind she has!
    I really liked learning a little bit more from someone who has synesthesia. Thought her sharing her story brought it to life. I can’t imagine seeing like this but she helped to bring it to life and for a second and sit in her shoes. It also was interesting to think about the famous poets and writers with synesthesia and how it helped their creativity. 


    Dancing Blobs | A similar sound-color Synesthtic experiential video

    A sort of experiential blob...sythesizer sound animation.

      Video Example A design student's representation of image/color/sound synthesis

    Trick of the Senses (pt1; 8:36)

    A good introductory video and explanation of Synesthesia... enjoy the German accent.

    ** The Colour of Sound (2:54) A bit goofy, but presents some basic relationships between sound and light.


    (Video 6:16) A Photographer's perspective..

    ... focuses solely on one man's condition. We get a clearer image of his particular situation.

    The ending of the video is thought-provoking because I had not considered the effect that this condition would have on a being psychologically. I only considered how cool it would be to see all of those colors all day long.

    Here, we see that people with synesthesia are not all necessarily thrilled with the fact that they are stuck with the condition for the rest of their lives, with no explanation as to why they were bestowed with so unique a talent.
    — Informative ****
    — Experiential **


     Lady & Letters — grapheme depiction (1m)

    The video reproduces one woman's experience with letters, and what sounds and colors each letter represents to her. So it gives a feel of what it would be like to look at the alphabet if you had synesthesia.

      Trippy Synesthete song  


    PixelBand - colour-tone-mapping

    Piano-color synched... kinda fun... (0.32)


    Trippy Paint-Spill Painting

    this is an experiencial play with flowing color and paint ... its not literally "synesthesia", but then... it is.

      Synesthesia Self-Test — A test you can take to find out if you are a synesthete.
      Quicky self-test (0:20) — a motion-pattern -to- sound test
      (video 28:58) Red Mondays and Gemstone Jalapenos: The Synesthetic World produced by

    — Informative ********
    — Experiential ***

    — This is a well-produced, thorough intro to synesthesia. It includes brief accounts from several synesthetes. Also present the historical background of the study of synesthesia.

    — I found it interesting that one of the ladies could taste names.
    Barbra= coconut,
    William= fried tomatoes.

      ( video 2:54 ) Synesthesia: Tasting Faces

    — Informative *
    — Experiential ***

    — I think it would be cool to taste a face... that is if it was a flavor i liked.

    — At first, it was funny, but as the slides kept coming, I could see why he chose the foods he did. It was intriguing.

    — Not much info here...but lots of faces to taste-test. How would we test to see if we "taste them" the same?


    ( video 6:06) Colorful Tastes & Sounds

    — Informative ******
    — Experiential ***

    — The clip was interesting, but not a 'must see'.

    —Very nice explanation with info on neurological hypotheses of synethesia's cause.
    — I really liked what this guy was saying about sounds. He was saying that he might like a sound that an instrument makes but he hates the color. He also likes odd food combinations because the colors look good together.
    — They interview the same expert, Dr. Eagleton, as in the Red Mondays... video.
    — Shawn Day can see colors when he tastes food and hears music. I thought it was interesting that he likes to eat chicken, ice cream and orange sauce all together because they have very similar colors that he likes. That's not something you would normally eat. It's interesting how the similar colors in the foods make an odd dish of food that still tastes good (at least to the Synesthete)

      ( video ) — This video is a short film dramatizing what a synesthetic experiences in everyday life. I just think it is a very interesting representation of synesthetics.

    ( video 1:51 ) The Sound of Motion

    — This site talks about a rare form of synesthesia where the person hears motion. The guy hears a bird hop and demonstrates the sound that he hears.
    — Informative ****
    — Experiential **

      Video — There are actually two guys on here and the 2nd one is really amazing... In fact he was the inspiration for the movie Rainman.

    Description: Slightly boring, but very informative. It's good for a basic understanding of what synesthesia is.

    It's quite long too - 10 minutes. 

    Rank: 7/10
      video Thought the instrument part was interesting though I'm not totally sure how they would go about studying the colors if every synesthetic's colors connect with something else...They are all different...7
    Video | Video | Video
    F10 For synesthsesia:
      Video on Synesthesia

    Website - Interactive — lets you pick letter-color combinations.
      A.  Synesthesia Video  
    ASA  (American Synesthesia Association)
        Synesthesia video info- Discovery Science

    The last link is the most interesting for me because this is an unique case known all over the world. The example of the synesthesia that Elizabeth has is not common because she uses three senses to perceive music notes or simple sounds. She can see and taste colors that come up with the sounds she hears. In other words, the musical notes and sounds make that shapes and colors appear in her field of vision, inducing her to feel different aromas that later are embodied in her tongue. Her ability has made her to be an excellent musician because she can make a perfect pitch and she can memorize musical scores by reading them just once. I think her case is a blessing, because you can have a different perspective of the world. If I could have that ability I will love to learn how to play the violin or the cello!
      Video*** | Video2 | Video3 ...first "one is really weird but interesting" (experiential "Good dramatization of the experience of synethesia - really cool!"
      line, numbers, sounds Video ...& why? *** " Since I'm Terrible at math I thought this was SO cool. She apparently has a number grid right beside her all the time. That can work as a calculator a ruler and who else knows. Id love to have that! Personally I'd rank it as a 6 becuase it didnt go into more detail but it was still really interesting"
      Intro Synesth. Explanation Video ... photography "...helped personalize and explain synesthesia well.  This video was taken from the point of view of someone with synesthesia  and he paints a picture of what it is like, and the benefits and disadvantages of this disease.  8 out of 10."
      Hypnosis can induce "synesthetic" experiences — article "Apparently you can hypnotize yourself to have synethesia to a certain extent.  Maybe you should talk to Mr. Pitt about that one."
    "... findings suggests that people with synesthesia... do not necessarily have extra connections in their brain; rather, their brains may simply do more 'cross talking' which can be induced by changing inhibitory processes in the average brain.
      Synchromusicology, Chromotherapy, Synesthesia, and the Aural Current of Electric Audiomancy (10 min) A wonderfully bizzare visual, auditory and spoken intro to synchromusicology -- a sort of spiritual/religious elaboration of possible inferences of synesthesia. Includes Hebrew, Greek, Alchemy, Kabala, Chromatherapy and New Age references.

    This is an experiencial music/sound video.

    No info on synesthesia, just an interesting sound-image concert.

      A scientific intro of Synesthesia.


    What is SYNESTHESIA?



    YouTube Links

    Search on Synesthesia

    Synaesthesia: Which color is A? Part I
    Synaesthesia: Which color is A? Part II

    *** Synesthesia — A photographers account of his own synesthetic experiences. (6:15)

    Grapheme - Colored Alphabet Lively if not deeply informative (5min)
    TONES : a study in synaesthesia

    Cytowic on Synesthesia at the Hirshhorn Pt I
    Lecture in the Hirshhorn Museum about an exhibit of synesthesia-influenced art. ( 9:46 )

    Cytowic on Synesthesia at the Hirshhorn Pt 2 ( continuation ) ( 9:45 )
    Cytowic on Synesthesia at the Hirshhorn Pt 3 ( continuation )
    Cytowic on Synesthesia at the Hirshhorn Pt 4 (continuation — question and answer session )



    Prometheus: Poem of Fire

    "Evening in Grenada" from "Debussy Soiree" — Interpretive dance

    Scriabin: Deux Morceaux Op. 57 — color interpretatoin

    Music & Colors (1) — a quick color interpretation of Scriabin

    Test for synaesthesia — motion-sound "test"


    Lecture: Synaesthesia in Mystical Traditions — 1 hour lecture (note...I've not yet sat through this one. glc ) Topic: Neural basis of synesthesia and creativity.

    Articles and Links

    Synesthesia and Artistic Expression

    Synesthesia & Art


    Intro and Tests — Univ. of Washington introduction to S. Includes a sort of test using numbers and colors.

    Glossary | Color Theory Assignments | Course Schedule |


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