4 Singers Who Draw Inspiration From Synesthesia To Write Music
January 26, 2018|Andrea Mejía
What's the color of your favorite song? These artists can see it.
Have you ever wondered what the color blue sounds like? What it tastes like? What does a rainbow smell like? What are the colors of your favorite songs? As strange as it might sound, there is a neurological ability that allows people to perceive this mix of senses when one of them is stimulated. Synesthesia, the name of this condition, isn’t a mental disorder, but rather a response from the brain where one sense is automatically activated when another one is stimulated. For instance, that’s why some people with this condition can hear certain sounds when they look at a painting, or perceive certain smells when they’re listening to music.
Although the causes of this condition remain unknown, one of the most common types of synesthesia is chromesthesia, that is, perceiving certain colors when hearing a particular sound. This particular ability has inspired artists and musicians throughout history. Although each one has a similar process, the final results are different. Maybe electric reds and greens inspire the greatest rock anthems in history, and the darkest shades and calmest hues the most passionate ballads. Also, maybe those who don’t possess this ability will never experience living with a mind-bending fusion of music and colors. However, these singers have made the most of their chromesthesia, so we can have an idea of how music can also be felt with the eyes.
One of the most famous singers with synesthesia, Pharrell Williams, has known how to make the most of this condition to create lively tunes and lifting melodies. In fact, he has said that synesthesia is a gift with a central role in the writing of his songs, to the point that “he’d be lost” without it. Although it's up to us to imagine what “Happy” looks like, in an interview for Psychology Today the singer shared his experience to give the audience an idea of the colors of his songs. For instance, he states that the color white, the mixture of all colors, represents an octave. Moreover, for him, it's not too far-fetched to relate sounds and colors to specific emotional states, and he sustains it through the idea of chakras, centers of spiritual energy that are located in the spine all the way to the head. He says that, for him, the composition of music is a sublime act of creativity. It’s no wonder why he has been the mastermind behind some of the greatest hits from singers like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani, among many others.
I don’t know why, but whenever I listen to Panic! At the Disco songs, I usually think of the color red. As funny as it might sound, I recently discovered that it might be a sign that Brendon Urie has managed to capture the synesthetic quality of his creative process in his music. While he composes the songs, the band’s frontman connects the lyrics and the music through the colors he sees as he listens to a tune. For instance, he describes his band’s album, Death of a Bachelor, as an album with “a lot of bright yellows, bright reds,” and sometimes like “a tornado of words.” As we can infer from Urie’s words, not only does he have chromesthesia, but he also has other types of synesthesia that make him see shapes and letters with different notes. However, this seems to enhance the creative process behind each song, not to mention that it must be fun to perceive all of that. Although he only talks about the colors of this album in particular, it wouldn’t be strange to think that the band has managed to create colorful melodies since their first albums. Perhaps it’s just a matter of listening carefully to the songs and perceiving the hues and shapes that compose their songs.
We can’t forget about the Piano Man’s use of synesthesia in the composition of his songs. While there seems to be a barrier between people with this ability and those who don’t have it, in terms of understanding how synesthetes see the world, Billy Joel turns the synesthetic quality of his composition into an almost spiritual experience. For instance, for an article in Psychology Today, he says that his ballads are colored with blues and greens, and his rhythmic rock songs possess red, orange, and gold tones. Moreover, he thinks of his melodies in terms of colors: "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." Maybe now, as you listen to any of his unforgettable songs, you can try to see the colors that inspired it or those that are born from each melody.
The 21-year-old singer’s fame skyrocketed with the release of her debut album, Pure Heroine, in 2013. Since then, the fresh and dreamy electropop sounds of her music entice captivate audiences all over the world. So, it’s not strange to wonder how she creates those unique tunes that flow with her poetic yet relatable lyrics. In an interview for Black Magazine, the singer stated that the writing process revolves around the lyrics. After writing down the lyrics, she creates melodies that match the tone and the message she wants to convey. Now, as for the music, here is where the artist’s synesthesia plays an important role. “From the moment I start something, I can see the finished song, even if it’s far-off and foggy.” When Lorde stated in an interview for the New York Times that she “sees” the finished song, she means it literally. Her chromesthesia manifests as colors she starts seeing as she searches for the perfect tunes for her songs. In that sense, the song presents itself as an image she attempts to portray, and each note as the colors, shades, and hues that will compose the final product.
We are all born with different abilities and gifts. These artists, born with a condition that isn’t as studied as it should be, have known how to make the most of it and create some of the greatest songs in music history. Perhaps, if we pay enough attention and listen closely to their songs, we can perceive at least a glimpse of their wonderful view of the world.
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