What Sound Does a Color Make?: Auditory Synesthesia

Mulling over the signs of sensory dysfunction(?) in Charlie this year, the hands over the ears (more of htis a few months ago) and all the recent squinting (right eye especially), I’ve been thinking about synesthesia, which is (according to this MIT site):

involuntary joining in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense.

Someone with synesthesia might see certain letters or numbers as having certain colors or textures, as Daniel Tammet writes in his book Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir of an Extraordinary Mind. Researchers at CalTech have recently discovered auditory synesthesia as the Quantum Pontiff notes. Per Nature News, for someone with auditory synesthesia, “flashes and moving images trigger the perception of sounds.” Charlie has long, long been drawn to colors, shapes, and textures over much else and I’ve wondered if he is getting extra sensory input, and even too much input, from the things in the world around us?

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    • http://blogwithoutatopic.web-log.nl Norah

      For me it’s: what colour does a sound make? Also what colour do certain sensations make? Mostly certain kinds of pain trigger colours and tastes. Some sounds trigger certain colours.

    • http://storkdok-nos.blogspot.com/ Storkdok

      What color does touch/pressure sensation make?

      My son says some kisses are red (not good) and some are blue (good, favorite color too!). We now wipe off the red kisses for him!

    • Regan

      I had not realized just how common this is estimated to be.
      “Hearing-motion” demo
      Koch/Saenz CalTech

      Interesting youtube video on visual synesthesia and neurobiology of synesthesia

    • Tanya

      “A Mango Shaped-Space,” by Wendy Mass is an excellent and entertaining juvenielle book that covers this topic.

    • http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/ Amanda

      I only experienced that on some kind of psych meds. I normally have different kinds of perceptual synaesthesia. But on those meds, every time I saw a certain shape I would hear a weird electronic sound.

    • http://www.groundedfitness.com Kelly Turner

      This is probably pretty weird and i know its not what you are really talking about but there’s a commercial, i think its for apple, where they are singing about colors, and one line is “orange: loud and messy like fingerpaint.” i couldn’t describe orange if my life depended on it but to me, that line summed it up perfectly.


    • http://blogwithoutatopic.web-log.nl Norah

      Most touch makes no colours at all. The colours all seem to be in the yellow/red/brown corner. Some purple.
      An ache in my teeth is light yellow. The dentist drill sound also happens to be yellow. When I was drilled without anaesthesia once, next to thinking how much I really didn’t like the sensation, I could only think of all the yellow. I don’t even like yellow :D.

      After my recent jaw surgery, the numb area in my chin started giving weird sensations. I wondered what the doctor would say if I ever had to describe it and had no more understandable (to others) explanation than “kind of sickly sweet and red-ish, hanging to pink”.

    • http://autismfamiily.blogspot.com Bonnie Sayers

      I remember long ago reading that yellow was a popular favorite color among children with autism and both my kids reacted favorably to the color.

    • http://storkdok-nos.blogspot.com/ Storkdok

      Regan, very cool demo. I had A look at it, he didn’t hear anything. He even turned up the volume, but still didn’t hear anything!

    • http://storkdok-nos.blogspot.com/ Storkdok

      This is paraphrased from Olga Bogdashina’s book on sensory perceptions in autism, excellent book, BTW.

      Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen has estimated that 1 in 2,000 may have synaesthesia, and women predominate at a ratio from 3:1 to 8:1. It is more frequent in Left-handed people, and is believed to be genetic. 15% of people with synaesthesia have a history of one of their first-degree relatives having dyslexia, autism, or ADD. The actual incidence of synaesthesia in the ASD population is unknown.

    • Tanya

      WOW! Interesting about the color yellow being a favorite. Both my PDD-NOS and Classic Autism kids LOVE yellow! It drove me crazy when my now 12 year-old would draw her pictures in yellow crayon or marker when she was a toddler. I couldn’t see the details. Now my 3 year-old favors yellow in everything he uses…playdoh, markers, crayons, Crocs, shirts, and game pieces. I shudder when we play Barnyard Bingo if I get a yellow piece on my turn as he *has* to be the one to get it or tantrums ensue. Anyway, very interesting to hear and have been meaning to ask if this was common.

    • Synesthesia

      I have that!
      For me, I “See” music in colours based on their keys.
      Like C is a creamy vanilla white, D, a shade of red, G major, a different shade. D minor is grey, ect.
      I also can smell music, taste it, feel it’s texture slightly on my skin, associate people and abstract concepts with a smell and taste (but they aren’t really scents that exist) I started doing that after reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but the colour thing i’ve done since I was a kid.
      Like smokey joe by tori amos has manificient texture, and it’s a shade of blood dark red with black undertones and an interesting atmospher.
      I think i ought to get music training in the future because I have good pitch because of the colours.
      Another friend of mine has word-colour synesthesia and doesn’t see the same colours I do.

    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      Yes!, C major is creamy vanilla white—always thought of D as some shade of blue though?

    • http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/ C. S. Wyatt

      My scooter is the bright “bumble bee” yellow and black. It’s quite visible zipping along the streets. I just like the safety.

      My MacBook Pro is red. I love red, black, grey, burgundy, and such. Very soothing. Most of my suits and clothes were black for years. My wife keeps trying to change that.

      I hear sounds all the time. It never stops. More sounds with some images and colors than others. Numbers are shapes in my mind. I am super, super sensitive to my environment which is why I hate MN during winter — public transit is so bad I lose the entire next day shaking.

      Some colors make me physically ill. So do some sounds. Unfortunately, babies seem to emit sounds that make be so ill…. you get the idea. When people complain that I’m not tolerant, they don’t understand my physical pain. Absolute distress.

      I can’t do movies in a theatre. I have to limit where I dine to places children are highly unlikely to be screaming. I pay for first-class air fare no matter what. Keep me away from noises, smells, and horrific colors.

      I know I’m trapped at home most days. Teaching, I have to know the room and all its properties. My lab space sucks — so I don’t use it or my office space. I work from home. Brown walls? Yikes. And the AC + lights noise is horrible. No one else notices.

    • http://www.civellophoto.com frances

      I’ve thought this many times about my own autistic 3yo — that he may be able to see a range of colors that I’m not able to see, and hear in a wider dynamic range as well.

      Also, none of his therapists were able to explain why getting glasses (at 2.75yo) resulted in a sudden improvement in his speech, or why his limited speech is much more clear when he’s wearing his glasses.

      I have so much do learn about autism, and the way my son is wired…and this is just a small part of what I don’t understand.

    • Synesthesia

      What other musical shades do you see Dr. Chew?
      The downside to my synesthesia is feeling slightly ill when I see pink and orange together or pastel yellow with pink.
      I’ve notice that certain noises drive me insane too.

    • Paula

      I’ve written here about my troubles with reading C-flat and F-flat. Since written music is associated with the color of the letter name, but the actual keys on the keyboard are also associated with the same colors, C flat is written as an orange note, but since I have to play the B key for a C-flat, I have to play a blue note. After I thought this through last year, I no longer write the letter B or circle the music or other things I’ve tried, I simply color the note C-flat blue and have little trouble playing it. F-flat (the key E on the keyboard) is a little harder since E is a yellowish orange and F is an orangeish yellow! F is a little darker, though. I do have to use the precise color that I see. Any old blue won’t do. For example if it’s a vivid blue with a hint of green in it, that’s D, whereas B is a cooler blue, almost a violet.

      Music also has shapes. The shapes are colorful and mostly like a bar graph of the actual direction of the phrase, so if the music goes up in pitch, so does the graph. It’s superimposed on anything I am actually looking at.

      Different timbres have textures, too. Certain organ pipes feel very crunchy! I like crunchy sounds. I think it’s more than metaphorical that usages such as “smooth,” “bright,” etc. are used to describe musical qualities.

    • dick baublitz XPI

      I built a *Black Box* to try and heal my arthritic legs and it does seem to work for me. Although I was in a wheelchair for years, I now walk some. I know my device puts out 3.7 volts Direct Current
      and 7.4 microamperes @ 25 to 40 killohertz, variable. Cent/Octave is variable to the color spectrum +31.
      I gives me electric RF, Sounds and Color.

      It makes food taste brighter.

      Yikes, what have I invented? Help!

    • Dick Baublitz xpi

      Reds and Oranges are very powerful sounds/colors and they protect me from many things.
      I used to fret when I could not stop the high pitched noises in my ears and the colors floating through the third eye when meditating.
      Now I have learned to vary them to a pleasing sound and color like Orange expecially when I need protection from bad thoughts and dreams.
      Not being a musician I do not know what the low soothing sounds are in keys at all … but they put me behind a wall of protection and color the wall Red or Orange and protect me from all harm. It’s wonderful that I have found the way to relax and feel protected. Dick Baublitz xpi

    • richie

      Nice going Dad, I want to see that machine when I come to visit Nevada.

      Richie: Music on da move