Music

Oboe Life: Take 25 – I see colors (Chromesthesia)

Have you ever listened  to music and just happen to see something like this:

 

Well, for me this particular opening of Mozart In The Jungle is what I basically see whenever I hear music, specifically individual instruments.

I have Chromesthesia

Chromesthesia is a form of Synesthesia where I hear sounds and see colors simultaneously. Personally for me I mostly identify a specific timbre to a specific color. Ex. Oboe is burgundy, Piano is light purple or dark pink, most non-pitched percussion instruments are in the brown spectrum, and so on. For some reason I can’t hear sounds when I see colors, so that part is a little unknown to me. Although, being able to visually see music is part of the many reasons why I chose to go into music, and it’s so entertaining just sitting in rehearsal and being able to see how the colors change overtime as the music progresses. It can be annoying also when I have to do homework, and all I see are colors popping in and out of my vision.

Chromesthesia/Synesthesia

I’ll just put a link of both because there’s so much I could describe on the neuroscience and psychology of all of this, but I won’t because I would rather explain how my individual experience has been rather than just  can go way in depth in all of this. Not all Synesthetes (what we’re called) have the same experience.

Links:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromesthesia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

Experience

As a child, I would find myself sometimes just sitting still and listen to whatever music was playing nearby and stare off into space because I would be more entertained to what I was seeing from the music than what was going on around me. It was actually more “chaotic” when I was younger because I would actually associate simple ordinary sounds to colors besides regular instruments. Ex. honking of a car was brown like potato skins, closing and opening doors were bright pink, and the refrigerator running was a soft light gray. When I see the colors coming into my vision, it’s like fireworks. They come in as I see it and then leave when the sound stops; kind of like the video above.

As I got older, most of those ordinary and simple sounds faded away from my vision because I learned to ignore most of it that way I could focus on other things, and the more I  ignored it, the more the color association disappeared. So my synesthesia isn’t as entertaining as it was when I was younger, but it still is in some ways. I’ll be sitting in a full wind-band rehearsal, and I’ll be able to hear and see individual instruments as we play.

screencapture-synesthete-org-report-php-1490591331331
My test results from Synesthete.org

From the picture, you can see from the 3rd diagram what colors I associate with each instrument. You can also see that I sort of associate pitch with what colors, but it’s mostly if it’s a lower pitch then I see darker colors, and if it’s a higher pitch then I see brighter colors. Chords are just a mess.

In Chopin’s Prelude in C minor, I will generally see this nice lavendar color throughout the whole piece, same with any solo piano piece, but as the pitches slightly move up or down so will the color’s brightness.

There is also something interesting that I see within larger ensembles, and that is that I will see mixture of colors when different instruments are playing the same thing at the same time (monophonic). The timbres from these different instruments will create a different color, like mixing two different colored paints to create a new color. Sometimes I can name the composer of a piece of a large ensemble work if I can recognize those similar mixed colors used when hearing the piece because each composer has their own pattern or signature of what instruments they like to pair with one another.

Take the Mozart Oboe Concerto.  Some of the wind instruments in the beginning with the second violins have the same parts, so because of this, I can see light red from the violins mix in with the purple of the oboes to create this nice mix of  magenta. Other colors include plain purple from the horns and strings, and blue, red and burgundy if all instruments are playing individually, especially the solo oboe. Most of Mozart’s concertos are like this with different individual colors of the solo instrument. Tchaikovsky’s music I see mostly lavenders, blues, grays, with orange. Beethoven has a lot of reds and browns and yellows, but maybe not that much yellow  (I associate yellow with flutes and piccolos, so me thinking yellow is probably from my experience with playing flute on his symphony pieces).

My favorite pieces for entertaining color-wise to listen or play through would be pieces by Mahler or Maslanka. As music developed throughout the ages, so did the instrumentation of symphonies and other ensemble works. I was introduced to Maslanka’s works in high school, and the way he pairs instruments is very contemporary and modern, which gives off colors of mixes like green and gray, and pink and blue which I think is like mauve, but it’s so interesting to see all of it. It literally is a work of popping colors for me from these pieces that these composers write.

 

From here on out…

I never told anyone what I would see when I listened to music because I was afraid of being bullied. I thought it was abnormal and that I must’ve been crazy. I didn’t know what synesthesia was until I read A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass when I was 11 years old. This book changed how I felt about my synesthesia from a negative experience to a positive one.

As I’ve noticed, and been told, my synesthesia won’t be with me forever in life. However, I’m really glad to have been gifted with this ability because it’s just another personal connection for me to enjoy music, especially as a musician. I used to take it for granted, but I use it to my advantage and my enjoyment. There’s more for me to research on this topic and perhaps other forms of synesthesia. It truly is fascinating.

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