• Synesthesia (also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia,
- from the Ancient Greek σύν (syn), "together," and αἴσθησις
• harmless condition that allows a person to appreciate sounds, colours
or words with two or more senses simultaneously. The involuntary
ability to hear colour, see music or even taste words results from an
accidental cross-wiring in the brain that is found in one in 2,000
people, and in many more women than men.
• People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.
• Imagine what it would be like to taste a triangle, to hear the color red
or to see sound.
• "The painting represents the opening of the concerto for four
violins. I listen to the music while I paint. First, the music gives me
an optimistic, happy feeling and I perceive red, yellow, and orange
colors in a great variety with little contrast. It looks like a field of
these colors. I perceive the color field as a musical chord. You can
compare it with the colors of a blanket or cover made of autumn
Anne Salz, a Dutch musician and visual artist, perceives music in coloured patterns. She
describes her painting inspired by Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins:
• "The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man
towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and,
finally, for the supernatural… The brighter it becomes, the more it
loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white."
• "Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the
piano with its many strings."
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (1866 - 1944)
• The earliest recorded case comes from the Oxford academic and
philosopher John Locke in 1690, who was bemused by "a studious
blind man" claiming to experience the colour scarlet when he heard
the sound of a trumpet.
• The idea that music is linked to visual art goes back to ancient
Greece, when Plato first talked of tone and harmony in relation to art.
The spectrum of colours, like the language of musical notation, has
long been arranged in stepped scales.
• it is still unclear whether or not Beethoven, who called B minor the
black key and D major the orange key, or Schubert, who saw E minor
as "a maiden robed in white with a rose-red bow on her chest", were
The Colour Organ
Inspired by Newton’s theory of music-colour correspondences, Sir Benjamin Thomas, Count Rumford (1753-
1814) inveted the "optical harpsichord" (clavecin oculaire) over 200 years ago. His idea was to have a colored
light triggered to turn on when the keys of the harpsichord were pressed.
The invention of the gas light in the nineteenth century created new technical possibilities for the color organ.
In England between 1869 and 1873, the inventor Frederick Kastner developed an organ that he named a
The British inventor Alexander Rimington, a professor in fine arts in London, documented the phrase ‘Colour-
Organ’. Inspired by Newton’s idea that music and colour are both grounded in vibrations, he divided the
colour spectrum into intervals analogous to musical octaves and attributed colours to notes. The same notes
in a higher octave produced the same colour tone but then in a lighter value.
Around the turn of the century, concerts with light and musical instruments were given quite regularly. As
most technical problems had been conquered, the psychological questions concerning the effects of these
performances came to the fore. The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin was particularly interested in the
psychological effects on the audience when they experienced sound and colour simultaneously. His theory
was that when the correct colour was perceived with the correct sound, ‘a powerful psychological resonator
for the listener’ would be created. His most famous synesthetic work, which is still performed today, is
Prometheus, Poem of Fire.
• In the second half the nineteenth century, a tradition of musical paintings began
to appear that influenced symbolist painters.
• In the first decades of the twentieth century, a German artist group called The
Blue Rider (Der blaue Reiter) executed synesthetic experiments that involved a
composite group of painters, composers, dancers and theater producers. The
aims of the group were focused on three goals: the unification of the arts by
means of Total Works of Art.
• Kandinsky's theory of synesthesia, as formulated in booklet On the Spiritual in
Art (1910), helped to shape the ground for these experiments. He described
synesthesia as a phenomenon of transposition of experience from one sense
modality to another, as in unisonous musical tones.
Kandinsky was not the only artist at this time with an interest in synesthetic
perception. A study of the art at the turn of the century reveals in the work of
almost every progressive or avant-garde artist an interest in the
correspondences of music and visual art. Modern artists experimented with
multi-sensory perception like the simultaneous perception of movement in
music and film
Automatic drawing was developed by the
surrealists, as a means of expressing the
subconscious. In automatic drawing, the hand is
allowed to move 'randomly' across the paper.
• In applying chance and accident to mark-making,
drawing is to a large extent freed of rational
control. Hence the drawing produced may be
attributed in part to the subconscious and may
reveal something of the psyche, which would
otherwise be repressed.
• Examples of automatic drawing were produced by
mediums and practitioners of the psychic arts. It
was thought by some Spiritualists to be a spirit
control that was producing the drawing whilst
physically taking control of the medium's body.
• Automatic drawing was pioneered by André
Masson. Artists who practised automatic drawing
include Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Jean Arp and
André Breton. The technique was transferred to
painting (as seen in Miró's paintings which often
started out as automatic drawings). Pablo Picasso
was also thought to have expressed a type of
automatic drawing in his later work, and
particularly in his etchings and lithographic suites
of the 1960s.
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (1866 - 1944) was a Russian
painter, printmaker and art theorist. One of the most famous 20th-
century artists, he is credited with painting the first modern abstract
•Kandinsky is believed to have had synaesthesia, In his case,
colours and painted marks triggered particular sounds or musical
notes and vice versa.
•Kandinsky achieved pure abstraction by replacing the castles and
hilltop towers of his early landscapes with stabs of paint or, as he
saw them, musical notes and chords that would visually "sing"
together. blue or a silent, black void.
•He wanted to evoke sound through sight and create the painterly
equivalent of a symphony that would stimulate not just the eyes but
the ears as well.
“It is clear that all I have said of these colours is very provisional and
general, and so also are those feelings (joy, grief, etc) which have
been quoted as parallels of the colours. For these feelings are only
the material expressions of the soul. Shades of colour, like those of
sound, are of a much finer texture and awake in the soul emotions to
fine to be expressed in words.” (Kandinsky concerning the spiritual in art.
• Charles Baudelaire
The influential French poet and chronicler of modern life displayed synaesthetic sensibilities in his 1857 sonnet
"Correspondances": "Perfumes, sounds and colours answer each other." In addition to his frequent writings on Richard
Wagner's music, Baudelaire was intrigued by sensuous experiences, especially of the body within the city. He also
experimented with hashish in order to enhance the intermingling of the senses. Baudelaire's countryman and fellow poet Arthur
Rimbaud had synaesthesia, too.
• Vladimir Nabokov
The Russian author famed for his English novel of 1955 Lolita, developed his "freakish gift" of synaesthesia during childhood
when he complained to his mother that the colours on his wooden alphabet blocks were "all wrong". Synaesthesia is now
recognised as a genetically inherited trait, and the Nabokov family was full of synaesthetes; his mother, wife and son Dimitri all
had the condition. "The confessions of a synaesthete must sound tedious and pretentious to those who are protected from such
leakings," wrote Nabokov.
• Olivier Messiaen
The acclaimed French composer and organist claimed that his complex chords and rhythms came to him in "coloured dreams"
in which he saw blue, red and green spirals moving and turning with the sounds. "When I hear music, I see in the mind's eye
colours which move with the music. This is not imagination, nor is it a psychic phenomenon. It is an inward reality." He
composed many synaesthetic works such as Chronochromie-Strophe I (1960), and was also heavily influenced by birdsong.
• David Hockney
Hockney's stage sets for performances of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Mozart's Magic Flute and Erik Satie's Parade
were, he claimed, created simply by listening to the music as colour and shape: "When I listened to the music, the tree just
painted itself." He is also interested in all kinds of optical phenomena in art, from photography to the use of mirrors and lenses
by Old Master painters.
• Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
The Italian artist and author of the inflammatory Futurist Manifesto of 1909 (and the lesser-known Futurist Cookery of 1932)
conceived of a tactile dinner party in which guests would wear pyjamas of sponge, cork and sandpaper while eating food
without use of their hands. He played a series of "intoning" instruments that whispered, screeched, whistled and crashed at a
series of London concerts in 1914 with Luigi Russolo, who advocated his own manifesto on "The Art of Noises". Marinetti also
believed that fingertips, knees and elbows could see.
• Musical graphic notation is a form of music notation which refers to
the use of non-traditional symbols and text to convey information
about the performance of a piece of music. It is used for experimental
music, which in many cases is difficult to notate using standard
• Graphic notation can come in various forms:
• Graphic scores, in which the music is represented
using symbols and illustrations:
This notation may be, like music on traditional staves, a time-pitch graph
• Piano Roll Notation, borrowed in the early 1950's and 1960's from
piano rolls used for player pianos in the turn of the 20th century, this
notation is now popular in computer MIDI sequencers to create music.
• Line staves showing relative pitch, with the actual
pitches being decided upon performance.
• A more common aspect of graphic notation is the use of symbols to convey information to the
performer about the way the piece is to be performed. These symbols first began to appear in
the works of avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Krzysztof
Penderecki as well as the works of experimental composers such as John Cage and Earle
Brown during the 1950s and 60s. Although this concept was closely related to the
development of fully graphical notation, it is essentially different in that the symbols are
intended to convey a concrete sonic result, whereas true graphic scores are often
intentionally ambiguous, leading to many possible interpretations of the score.
ONLINE COLLECTION OF GRPAHIC SCORES