Discord & Rhyme: An Album Podcast

Discord and Rhyme is a podcast where we discuss the albums we love, song by song.

Synesthesia Corner

by Amanda Rodgers

If you’ve been listening to Discord & Rhyme for a while, you’ve probably heard me and Rich talk about synesthesia. That is the difficult-to-explain situation where your five senses get their wires crossed; in other words, sounds have shapes, or days of the week have colors, or any number of other strange combinations.

There are several different types of synesthesia. One very common variety is called grapheme-color, which is when letters or numbers have colors associated with them. I don’t have that type. Another kind is called auditory-tactile synesthesia, where sounds have textures. I don’t have that kind either.

What I do experience is that quite often, music has color. Google tells me that this is called chromesthesia. Sometimes it’s very obvious, and sometimes I have to think about it, but it’s almost always there. I don’t know for sure what sounds prompt a specific color, but I have noticed that the color tends to be consistent through a particular album, which makes me think it has a lot to do with production style. Sometimes I’ll see a specific shade, but more often it seems to be in greyscale, or degrees of light. (Please forgive me if I’m being vague; this is fiendishly hard to explain). To Our Children’s Children’s Children is pitch black, like outer space (with one exception, which I talked about in that episode), and Madonna’s True Blue is as bright as the sun. As for specific colors, Nick Drake’s wonderful Bryter Layter is purple and grey, and Music from Big Pink by The Band is brown. (You’d think it would be pink, but no.)

Sometimes this actually affects how much I like a particular piece of music. One reason why I don’t like Warren Zevon is because his voice is an unpleasant shade of beige. On the other hand, “I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes, as I mentioned in that episode shortly before I horrified all of my cohosts with my take on “Tempus Fugit,” is a lovely bright yellow with a little sparkle to it. It’s really beautiful and is a big part of why I love that song so much.

This color association can also help me identify a particular artist. I can remember thinking when I was very young that the Beatles’ voices sounded like silver. The Dave Clark Five song “Because” was very confusing to me, because it sounds just like the Beatles’ style but it was always a different color. (Red, if you’re wondering.) When I found out who actually did that song, it made much more sense.

This whole concept is pretty new to me. I knew what synesthesia is, but it never occurred to me that I might have it until Rich pointed it out and suddenly some things started to make sense. I was very skeptical for a while and wasn’t sure whether it was actually synesthesia or if I was just making stuff up, but I realized eventually that the colors I associate with particular songs or albums always stay the same, which makes me believe I might not be inventing this. The other surprise was that I always thought the colors would be more vivid, something like the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor sequence in Fantasia. Turns out it’s not like that at all; it’s more of an association than an actual visualization. 

Now that I’ve made myself sound like a big old weirdo, here’s where it gets really strange: I experience printed words in a way that’s really hard to explain as well. They look like their meanings to me. The word “shiny” looks shiny; the word “paper” looks like paper; the word “awkward” is extremely awkward. And homonyms change their appearance depending on the definition: the word “well” meaning “good” looks different from “well” meaning “hole in the ground with water in it.” I know this makes no sense whatsoever and I honestly don’t know whether or not it’s a form of synesthesia, but I’ve found it very helpful. I’m good at words – I make my living with them – and it’s largely because they look like themselves. They do trip me up sometimes, though. The word “puce,” for example, looks like it should be an ugly vomity yellow, but it’s actually a perfectly nice shade of red. Also, I can never remember what “nonplussed” means, because it looks completely nonsensical to me, so I just never use it. (Fortunately, it’s an easy word to avoid.) Seeing words as their meanings is very helpful to me when I’m writing, and it almost makes reading a multimedia experience.

Please forgive me if this all sounds bizarre. It’s a weird concept, and I’m not sure that I did a very good job of explaining it. But it’s also a fun way to experience music and language, and I would love it if my recent synesthesia discovery led to a similar realization for one of our listeners.

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