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Audiophiles and "Synesthesia / Chromesthesia"

MattHooper

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Synesthesia:


About 4 percent of the people on Earth experience a mysterious phenomenon called synesthesia: They hear a sound and automatically see a color; or, they read a certain word, and a specific hue enters their mind's eye. The condition has long puzzled scientists, but a small new study may offer some clues.

Chromesthesia​

Main article: Chromesthesia

Another common form of synesthesia is the association of sounds with colors. For some, everyday sounds can trigger seeing colors. For others, colors are triggered when musical notes or keys are being played. People with synesthesia related to music may also have perfect pitch because their ability to see and hear colors aids them in identifying notes or keys.[20]


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I've often wondered about the role variations in Synesthesia/Chromesthesia might play in audiophiles experiencing and discussing the quality of sound.

It seems that the clinical version of those phenomena are very acute and pronounced, so a minority would be clinically diagnosed with those traits. On the other hand, like anything there would be a range found among people as to how much they associate sound with color. And it's clear that generally speaking we often use visual references when describing sound, and that often includes color.

So I'm wondering if perhaps degrees of Chromesthesia play some part in both how some audiophiles can agree on certain sound qualities, and in producing some puzzled gap among others.

For instance, I've long heard sound "as color." Not as extreme (I believe) as would be diagnostic. But as someone who often closes his eyes when listening to live (especially unamplified) music, I feel very attuned to the timbral "colors" of the sound. Horns, drums, reed instruments, acoustic guitars, all evoke certain colors when I hear them.
And I seek to hear those colors in reproduced sound. This is one reason why I seek a system that (for me) "has the right sound" which is tantamount to "evokes the right colors" in my mind. I can listen to a system that may impress someone else in it's detail, or spaciousness, or it's neutrality (if that's the case) and just not be moved "sounds gray. Or Black and White."

And it seems some people "get" descriptions of this sort, others don't. It has been very easy to communicate certain impressions to other audiophiles who seem to hear the same way "Yes, that's exactly what I hear!" but more difficult to those who don't seem to hear sound the same way (or who don't like subjective talk anyway).

It also makes me wonder if, perhaps, a site like this tends to somewhat select for people who experience lower levels of Chromesthesia. (In other words, if you experience less non-audio association with sound, you'd be less interested in such talk. I'm not suggesting for a moment there is something special or Golden Eared about anyone with 'more' Chromesthasia. There are empirical questions that can be studied rigorously about any of this).

So I'm curious about the ASR cohort: Do YOU tend to hear sound as "color" in any way? And does it affect what you are looking for in audio gear?
 
Oh that is very interesting. I learned about synesthesia long time ago when I was reading about Feynman; and always wanted to meet someone who has this magical capability of cross-talk between senses. I gotta admit I am slightly jealous. If you dont mind me asking, does it work one direction or both ways, that is, sounds have color but do colors also have sound associated with them?
 
Do YOU tend to hear sound as "color" in any way? And does it affect what you are looking for in audio gear?

The only times I’ve experienced auditory synesthasia is when on drugs, whether that be mushrooms/psilocybin, acid or a large dose (200mg) mdma and it’s been most enjoyable indeed, not sure I’d want to experience it every time I listen to music though.
 
The condition has long puzzled scientists, but a small new study may offer some clues.
Yeah... The brain and the mind are a mystery...

I don't have that "feature" but I've built sound activated lighting effects!

Kat Timpf tastes words.
 
Synesthesia:


About 4 percent of the people on Earth experience a mysterious phenomenon called synesthesia: They hear a sound and automatically see a color; or, they read a certain word, and a specific hue enters their mind's eye. The condition has long puzzled scientists, but a small new study may offer some clues.

Chromesthesia​

Main article: Chromesthesia

Another common form of synesthesia is the association of sounds with colors. For some, everyday sounds can trigger seeing colors. For others, colors are triggered when musical notes or keys are being played. People with synesthesia related to music may also have perfect pitch because their ability to see and hear colors aids them in identifying notes or keys.[20]


----------------------------------------------------------------------------

I've often wondered about the role variations in Synesthesia/Chromesthesia might play in audiophiles experiencing and discussing the quality of sound.

It seems that the clinical version of those phenomena are very acute and pronounced, so a minority would be clinically diagnosed with those traits. On the other hand, like anything there would be a range found among people as to how much they associate sound with color. And it's clear that generally speaking we often use visual references when describing sound, and that often includes color.

So I'm wondering if perhaps degrees of Chromesthesia play some part in both how some audiophiles can agree on certain sound qualities, and in producing some puzzled gap among others.

For instance, I've long heard sound "as color." Not as extreme (I believe) as would be diagnostic. But as someone who often closes his eyes when listening to live (especially unamplified) music, I feel very attuned to the timbral "colors" of the sound. Horns, drums, reed instruments, acoustic guitars, all evoke certain colors when I hear them.
And I seek to hear those colors in reproduced sound. This is one reason why I seek a system that (for me) "has the right sound" which is tantamount to "evokes the right colors" in my mind. I can listen to a system that may impress someone else in it's detail, or spaciousness, or it's neutrality (if that's the case) and just not be moved "sounds gray. Or Black and White."

And it seems some people "get" descriptions of this sort, others don't. It has been very easy to communicate certain impressions to other audiophiles who seem to hear the same way "Yes, that's exactly what I hear!" but more difficult to those who don't seem to hear sound the same way (or who don't like subjective talk anyway).

It also makes me wonder if, perhaps, a site like this tends to somewhat select for people who experience lower levels of Chromesthesia. (In other words, if you experience less non-audio association with sound, you'd be less interested in such talk. I'm not suggesting for a moment there is something special or Golden Eared about anyone with 'more' Chromesthasia. There are empirical questions that can be studied rigorously about any of this).

So I'm curious about the ASR cohort: Do YOU tend to hear sound as "color" in any way? And does it affect what you are looking for in audio gear?

Not me, and not related to hearing, but as a kid I had a friend who was a human calculator. He could add, multiply, divide, etc., very large numbers in his head nearly instantaneously. His explanation of how that worked was that he saw numbers as colors, and the result of a calculation presented itself as a simple visualization of a collection of colors that he could then read back. He never made a mistake...
 
Oh that is very interesting. I learned about synesthesia long time ago when I was reading about Feynman; and always wanted to meet someone who has this magical capability of cross-talk between senses. I gotta admit I am slightly jealous. If you dont mind me asking, does it work one direction or both ways, that is, sounds have color but do colors also have sound associated with them?

Just to be clear, I don't believe I have Chromesthasia in some clinical sense. It's like ADHD - some people are unable to focus to a degree that becomes clinically diagnosable, but of course humans span a range well under clinical diagnosis. Some people are able to focus more than others and visa versa.

Likewise I am perhaps on a spectrum more towards associating color with sound than others. I don't see obtrusive colors popping up everywhere when I'm listening to music. It's more about what I notice when I pay attention to the character of sound.

So if you are asking about me specifically, no I don't associate colors with sound (the reverse).

There's also an interesting question about how reliable Chromesthasia actually is. I'd think there could be an empirical way to study if particular color was so strongly and reliably evoked in someone, could that aid them in reliably identifying certain sounds? E.g. in blind test conditions?

I don't know if the reliability of Synesthesia/Chromesthesia has been studied in that sense (I'd guess that would actually likely be an aspect of studies).

The way sound invokes certain colors when I analyze sound led me to attempting some basic tests, many years ago. When auditioning speakers I'd play tracks of acoustic instruments, including ones I actually own and recorded. With most systems the tonal timbral color seemed "off." It never invoked what I hear from the real thing. But SOME speakers seemed to produce tonal colors that seemed more "right" and invoked those instruments "correctly" in my mind. Those inevitably where the speakers I enjoyed most. But, curious if my memory was in any way correct, I started to compare speakers I'd have through my home with the real thing - e.g. my acoustic guitar being played in the same room. I'd close my eyes, play the recording of that guitar, compare it to the real thing, and see which speakers held up the best. Invariably it was the speakers that "sounded right/invoked the same colors" out in the "field" that also sounded "more like the real thing" when I did these comparisons. At least suggesting there was something accurate/reliable about my acoustic memory, and the related Chromesthesia-like phenomenon I tended to experience.

Those weren't blind tests, I knew which was which, so I certainly can't hang anything scientific on the results. But it did somewhat feed my hunch that there was something I was remembering correctly about live sound when I evaluated sound systems.
 
Just to be clear, I don't believe I have Chromesthasia in some clinical sense. It's like ADHD - some people are unable to focus to a degree that becomes clinically diagnosable, but of course humans span a range well under clinical diagnosis. Some people are able to focus more than others and visa versa.

Likewise I am perhaps on a spectrum more towards associating color with sound than others. I don't see obtrusive colors popping up everywhere when I'm listening to music. It's more about what I notice when I pay attention to the character of sound.

So if you are asking about me specifically, no I don't associate colors with sound (the reverse).

There's also an interesting question about how reliable Chromesthasia actually is. I'd think there could be an empirical way to study if particular color was so strongly and reliably evoked in someone, could that aid them in reliably identifying certain sounds? E.g. in blind test conditions?

I don't know if the reliability of Synesthesia/Chromesthesia has been studied in that sense (I'd guess that would actually likely be an aspect of studies).

The way sound invokes certain colors when I analyze sound led me to attempting some basic tests, many years ago. When auditioning speakers I'd play tracks of acoustic instruments, including ones I actually own and recorded. With most systems the tonal timbral color seemed "off." It never invoked what I hear from the real thing. But SOME speakers seemed to produce tonal colors that seemed more "right" and invoked those instruments "correctly" in my mind. Those inevitably where the speakers I enjoyed most. But, curious if my memory was in any way correct, I started to compare speakers I'd have through my home with the real thing - e.g. my acoustic guitar being played in the same room. I'd close my eyes, play the recording of that guitar, compare it to the real thing, and see which speakers held up the best. Invariably it was the speakers that "sounded right/invoked the same colors" out in the "field" that also sounded "more like the real thing" when I did these comparisons. At least suggesting there was something accurate/reliable about my acoustic memory, and the related Chromesthesia-like phenomenon I tended to experience.

Those weren't blind tests, I knew which was which, so I certainly can't hang anything scientific on the results. But it did somewhat feed my hunch that there was something I was remembering correctly about live sound when I evaluated sound systems.

I think that your “clinically diagnosed” and so forth in your OP is not warranted thus my tongue-in-cheek comment above about audiophiles.
 
From the wiki link to

Chromesthesia or sound-to-color synesthesia is a type of synesthesia in which sound involuntarily evokes an experience of color, shape, and movement.

Shape and movement yes, but color, no.

But I have to imagine everyone does this? Specifically, if I'm listening to something with fairly clear counterpoint, or a fugue for 3 to 4 voices - each line or voice has a shape and locality and move independent of one another. It's not shapes of "somethings" but rather it's just movement itself.
 
I think that your “clinically diagnosed” and so forth in your OP is not warranted thus my tongue-in-cheek comment above about audiophiles.

I'm confused. Do you mean you disbelieve in the phenomena of Synesthesia/Chromesthesia?
 
I'm confused. Do you mean you disbelieve in the phenomena of Synesthesia/Chromesthesia?
Do you understand what “clinically diagnosed” means? A cursory look at your links does not support that there is even a hint of a medical diagnosis supported by science at all.
 
Do you understand what “clinically diagnosed” means? A cursory look at your links does not support that there is even a hint of a medical diagnosis supported by science at all.

Ah, it was something of a semantic gag. I see.

I was indeed using the phrase "clinically diagnosed" because I was grasping for a convenient phrase.

Substitute "Synesthetes as identified by researchers" or whatever better terse description would capture that divide between the more florid
version identified with the phenomona vs the milder version I've been trying to describe in "regular folk like me."

 
Ah, it was something of a semantic gag. I see.

I was indeed using the phrase "clinically diagnosed" because I was grasping for a convenient phrase.

Substitute "Synesthetes as identified by researchers" or whatever better terse description would capture that divide between the more florid
version identified with the phenomona vs the milder version I've been trying to describe in "regular folk like me."


Me calling you out for using a medical term “clinically diagnosed” is not a “semantic gag”, as you call it, when you’ve given no serious references that such a medical diagnosis actually exists.
 
Do particular sounds evoke particular colours?
Is this phenomenon testable?
Are there folks who hear a sound when they see a colour? Is that a possibility?
 
Me calling you out for using a medical term “clinically diagnosed” is not a “semantic gag”, as you call it, when you’ve given no serious references that such a medical diagnosis actually exists.
 
Do particular sounds evoke particular colours?
Is this phenomenon testable?
Are there folks who hear a sound when they see a colour? Is that a possibility?
The term “black background” is used by some audiophools, but I think they’ll object to being “clinically diagnosed”. :)
 
But in the abstract there is this:

>>>Although synesthesia is often referred to as a "neurological condition," it is not listed in the DSM IV or the ICD classifications, as it generally does not interfere with normal daily functioning.<<<

There you go.
 
Me calling you out for using a medical term “clinically diagnosed” is not a “semantic gag”, as you call it, when you’ve given no serious references that such a medical diagnosis actually exists.

Yeesh. :rolleyes:

You yourself said your comment was "tongue-in-cheek"...hence my reference to "gag."

I already explained I wasn't hanging anything of import on the specific term "clinical diagnosis" and that...yes...yes...Synesthesia/Chromesthesia is not
a clinical diagnosis, but one identified in research.

Here, again for you:

Substitute "Synesthetes as identified by researchers" or whatever better terse description would capture that divide between the more florid
version identified with the phenomena vs the milder version I've been trying to describe in "regular folk like me."


So you can either continue to pick at the use of "clinical" - a term in which I have expressed no stake in defending - or move on since I've further clarified I'm referencing a researched phenomenon, whatever we want to call that.

If you don't think it's a real phenomenon, why not?

Presuming you do...how would you answer the questions or issues I brought up?

(Just noticed your use of the term "audiophools"...so I suspect this conversation won't be fruitful...)
 
Going off at a tangent - seemingly there are are a lot of musicians who have synesthesia (I've been diving back into the work of XTC of late). I find it all quite interesting in that I tend to an opposite in that I have aphantasia - apparently most people can visualise (form images in their head).
 
Going off at a tangent - seemingly there are are a lot of musicians who have synesthesia (I've been diving back into the work of XTC of late). I find it all quite interesting in that I tend to an opposite in that I have aphantasia - apparently most people can visualise (form images in their head).

Famously, there was Eddie Van Halen's "Brown Sound."
 
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