Synesthetic: hearing colors, seeing sounds

Once in primary school, I shared with a classmate that I saw colors when I listened to music; that letters and numbers had their own colors. She looked at me in horror and exclaimed: ”This is not normal!”. To see music, letters, and numbers in color has always been normal to me. I never asked myself about this ”weird” ability of mine, I don’t remember wondering whether everyone else sees the world this way – I enjoyed the wonderful synesthetic world I was in and wanted to keep it all to myself.

Many moons later I got curious about what is this phenomenon about. Does it have a name? Has anyone researched and described it?

Synesthesia happens when the stimulation of one sensory center in the brain results in an unintentional experience in another sensory center. There are several types of synesthesia of which I experience chromesthesia (sound-to-color synesthesia) and grapheme-color synesthesia (a colorful experience of numbers and letters).

When I listen to music or hear various sounds, I  associate them with specific colors. I’m never bored when I listen to music – it’s always colorful and fun. Sometimes there are even shapes in addition. Occasionally, some songs have two or more colors. ”Lullaby” by The Cure is in dark purple, almost an eggplant; ”The Things You Said” by Depeche Mode is turquoise-silver. Piano playing is always white.

As of numbers, 0 to me is white, 1 is black, 2 is white, 3 is dark blue, 4 is orange, 5 is light red, 6 is burgundy, 7 is yellow-green, 8 is blue-purple, 9 is brown, and 10 is light green. Double-digit, etc. numbers usually appear in the color of the first digit, but sometimes they take the color of the second digit. For example, 30 is dark blue but 14 is orange.

Yayoi Kusama’s polka dots

I don’t see a rainbow when I read, however, words and names take the color of the first letter. The letter M is red, so the name Michaela is also red; C is white, sometimes light yellow; K and O are also white. New York City subway, most of your color codes are wrong!

Months and days of the week are also a synesthetic experience for me. Unlike names and words, they don’t correlate to the color of the first letter. January and February share a common color with a slice of Gouda cheese but January is darker; March is light red, April – light green like a peeled cucumber. May is crimson, June – cornflower blue. I see July in plum, August shines in yellow-orange. September is brown-gray, October appears in dark yellow-orange, November is dark gray to black, and December is black. The week for me is never boring: Monday is green-yellow, Tuesday looks like Gouda, Wednesday is baby blue, Thursday is the same color as Tuesday but more intense, Friday is burgundy, Saturday is white, and Sunday – cornflower blue like June.

I don’t know other synesthetes, but I’ve read that some have common color associations. The father of ”Lolita”, Vladimir Nabokov, Vincent van Gogh, Tori Amos, and Lorde are among the famous synesthetes.

I talked with others about my synesthesia two more times – with my family and my partner. I have fun every time E. asks me what color a specific song is. Sometimes I announce it without being asked: ”You know, this song is the color of pale ale”.

Living with synesthesia is exciting, vivid, and inspiring. If I could choose to be or not synesthetic, I’d always say ”Yes!”.




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