Sight, Sound and Beyond

Contrasting Sounds by Wassily Kandinsky

I discovered my synesthesian when speaking to an old friend of mine.  Like me, she also played piano and when I mentioned my visual perceptions of music her eyes lit up and she said “I totally understand.”  Unfortunately we couldn’t come to an agreement about anything.  We were much like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Scriabin.  Scriabin had discovered his synesthetic perceptions when talking to his friend, Rimsky-Korsakov.  Just like these two composers, my friend and I couldn’t come to an agreement about the colors of tonalities or sound in general.  For instance, she perceived the tonality of A as being green whereas to my “eye” it appears red.  This left me feeling puzzled because if sound could be perceived visually, shouldn’t it look the same to those who could “see” it?

As for how I actually “see” colors.  I am not sure how to explain it but I don’t see them the way I see tangible objects.  Then again I don’t imagine them in my mind either.  It lies somewhere in between.  I can still see them with my eyes closed but I get a better “view” when my eyes are open because it is almost like they are there in front of me.

I didn’t come to know the word Synesthesia until I encountered the artwork of Wassily Kandinsky and the music of Alexander Scriabin.  Up until that point, my color hearing experiences were without a name.  Both Kandinsky and Scriabin were synesthetes and when I read more about them, I embraced their ideas and philosophies wholeheartedly.  Furthermore, I decided to carry out the mission that they started: To prove that there is a common oneness between color and sound.

After doing much research on these two Russian masters, I began composing music for the first time, at 20 years of age.   My first few pieces were about colors.  I wrote a little collection of pieces for solo piano called Conflicting Colors, which was inspired by Kandinsky’s painting called Contrasting Sounds.  The piano pieces in my small collection are bi-tonal, thus illustrating the concept of colors conflicting.

I owe a lot to Scriabin.  He helped me understand my Synesthesia and made me feel like I was apart of something bigger that is waiting to be uncovered.  Perhaps he was right when he said that there would be some great cataclysmic event where all the arts would come together as one.

On an even more personal level, Scriabin taught me the true meaning of perception.  I am fascinated by the senses of hearing and sight, but as you already know, out of my five senses these two are not the sharpest tools in the shed.   I have had these “physical challenges” all my life, so the world is quite normal for me.  But perhaps, I needed to have some of my vision and hearing taken away to truly experience what I have been experiencing for as long as I can remember.  Perhaps the five senses give us a false sense of security and impair us in terms of perceiving the world as it really is.  I have known people who have sharp eyes and keen hearing, who can perceive the world in perfect visual and aural detail.  However they fail to see the big picture.  Furthermore, they fail to understand the connection that lies between the senses in general.  I have five fingers on each of my two hands and those five fingers all come together to form each hand.  We have five senses and regardless of how well each one of them works, they all come together to form the ultimate experience which we call perception.

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Comments on: "A Great Influence, Alexander Scriabin" (2)

  1. Marvin Rosen said:

    Jennifer,
    Thanks for posting this blog. Unfortunately, the term Synesthesia is not discussed as much as it should be.
    This was never a topic in any of my classes!
    Your blog was a very well written, personal reflection about Synesthesia.

    • Thanks for visiting Marvin! Synesthesia and what it is will be discussed in my next post. Sometimes I forget that not everyone has been introduced to the term. Many composesr have had Synesthesia and the term was mentioned to me in college when we studied the music of Olivier Messiaen. Just stay with me on this one, the next post will discuss the phenomena further.

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