Coolest Post of the Day: What It Looks Like When Music and Bleeds into Your Other Senses

Most of us have brains that manage to keep our five senses apart and distinct.  But in a select group of humans, one sense may bleed over into another resulting in a condition known as synesthesia.

Depending on the nature of a person’s synesthesia, numbers may be associated with colours.  Other people may perceive interesting spatial relationships between dates.  And others still might experience sound and music in ways that are very different.

For example, I’ve carried on a long dialogue with a mysterious Toronto clubgoer known as The Lonely Vagabond.  He tells me he’s a synesthist.  I quote from an email:

I can visualize moving 3D images timed to musical notes.I can’t see colour, only moving 3D shapes. If I focus I can isolate each instrument to each song. I can also turn it off and on. It enhances the overall music experience.

The 3D shapes is one type I have. But between you and me (I’d just post about the 3D type for now) I also have a second type, neuromotor, where I feel involuntary pulses/jolts throughout my body (nerves and joints) exactly timed to musical notes.

Most dancers or performers have the second type. A good example of neuromotor is Elvis (twitching of the legs), a young Mick Jagger (wiggling, swerving of arms/legs) and a young Morrissey (flailing arms).

On their own, the two types of synesthesia is actually pretty common. But for me, the combination of the 2 is actually quite rare.

I got a local artist to document what I see for “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths. The tube-like shape is the guitar-whines (going down then splitting) The circles is the Bo Diddley guitar-vibrato. The circles would flash back-and-forth (left to right) to the riff.

LV Synethesia copy

Cool, no?  See if you can imagine what the LV sees as you listen to this.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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