Course:PHYS341/Archive/2016wTerm2/Synesthesia and Musicality

From UBC Wiki

Synesthesia is the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. This type of stimulation is associated with either visual or physical sensations. Synesthesia has been a neurological phenomenon that can either add to ones musical performance, or hinder them to the point where music cannot be focused on due to such vivid imagery.

The history behind Synesthesia

Before Synesthesia had its official name, the world referred to this condition as 'colored hearing'. The first signs of interest in this field dates back to the Greek philosophers, back to when they were discovering the term 'timbre' to identify the color and core of sounds. Issac Newton was also a contributor to the initial research into synesthesia, suggesting that color and musical sounds share a relation.

The first medical document of 'colored hearing' was done in a thesis in 1812 by the German physician, Sachs. Further research between this time until the late 1920's was done by numerous people within the medical field, but research came to an abrupt halt around 1930-1980 due to lack of interest and having trouble finding subjects to study on, since only 4% of the population had experienced synesthesia.

Types of Synesthesia

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Synesthesia commonly appears in two different forms: 'Projective synesthesia and associative synesthesia'. Projective synesthesia is where the subject will see extravagant imagery associated with either musical sounds or objects. For example, if someone with Projective synesthesia hears a C major chord, their brain will produce a color for them to see visually. Associative synesthesia is where the body will experience a deep connection or a trigger sensation within the body physically when experiencing a sound of visual construct. When someone with this type of synesthesia hears a C major chord, they might experience a tingling sensation within their neuromuscular junction.

Unfortunately, research on synesthesia is completely based upon the subjects personal experience with the neurological disorder. Therefore, there is an abundance of sub genres of synesthesia that can or cannot be confirmed to be true. Synesthesia is such a broad term to categorize all the types of different experiences with brain triggering imagery, such as Grapheme-color_synesthesia, Chromesthesia, Number_form, the list goes on. It is amazing that there are so many types of this neurological phenomenon, but it is unfair to generalize everything into just two categories for the practice of research.

How does synesthesia affect musicians?


Synesthesia for musicians acts as a gift, and for the ones the have it, they can't imagine life without it . For musician Trash McSweeney, he used it to his advantage by using the imagery and sensations that he felt with his neurological condition to create orchestral art rock. Due to experiencing such extraordinary visuals and sensations, McSweeney and his band were able to create their own unique sub genre and sound. When the band performs live, the audience is always in shock due to the concept of sound and the actual performance practices being so avant-garde.

Billy Joel discuss how the medical condition is a plus, and how he cant live life without it. "I would say the softer, more intimate songs… there's 'Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel),’ the song he wrote for his daughter, Alexa Ray, 'And So It Goes,' 'Vienna,' and another song called 'Summer Highland Falls...' When I think of different types of melodies which are slower or softer, I think in terms of blues or greens...." "When I have a particularly vivid color, it's usually a strong melodic, strong rhythmic pattern that emerges at the same time. When I think of (those) certain songs, I think of vivid reds, oranges or golds." (Billy Joel).

Links and theories behind the discovery

Although there is a vast amount of research on synesthesia, the question still arises as to how one attains the neurological disorder. Researchers have discovered that there is a link between crossmodal perception and our development of the brain. In laments terms, the way our brain develops in the womb and at a young age is correlated to acquiring synesthesia. Humans basic senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch), and the way that our neurological pathways develop to acquire control of those senses, determines whether or not the person will obtain this rare disease. Science has not discovered how or why this happens, but the only conclusion that had been made is that overexposure to densely layered music or artistry at a very young age promotes the development of this brain phenomenon.


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