In the new issue of one small seed – Issue 24 “Listen to my Colour and Look at my Sound” – we take a closer look at Synesthesia – the neurological condition that lets people see, smell, hear and even taste in colour. We trace its path through the methods and madness of some of the brightest stars in the human firmament. To follow is a preview of the feature…

Syd Barrett, Wassily Kandinsky, Duke Ellington, Vladimir Nabokov, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jimi Hendrix, Richard Feynman, Lady Gaga, Pharell Williams… all geniuses who helped shape their world. And all synesthetes. Synesthetes ‘suffer’ from the extraordinary neurological condition Synesthesia and experience automatic involuntary cross-sensory stimulation. They read numbers and letters in colour, hear sounds in colour, taste in colour and even touch in colour. The crossed wires in their heads leave them just sane enough to survive outside asylums and just mad enough to lead lives of invention, art and profanity. Words

The ’60s saw an explosion of pop culture as advances in communication technology brought art to larger and larger audiences. This also made the interconnections between media more important as people’s cultural vocabularies grew richer and more demanding. Painters traced the lines of mass-produced palimpsests and literary references littered music and cinema… two media that were now inextricably interlinked. Jefferson Airplane advised, ‘Feed your head’ and Norman Bates assured us that, ‘We all go a little mad sometimes.’

Grapheme Synesthesia - seeing letters and numbers in colour

The term ‘color organ’ was coined in the eighteenth century and referred to a tradition of mechanical (and then) electro-mechanical devices built to represent sound or accompany music in a visual medium. One hundred years later, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe proposed in his 1810 book Theory of Colours that musical and colour tones shared common frequencies, echoing Sir Isaac Newton’s observations. In the 1980s, Steve Mann regarded the Internet as a ‘Sixth Sense’, which could be mapped to the other five senses by way of such synthetic Synesthesia. Lady Gaga said in a 2011 interview that, ‘When I write songs, I hear melodies and I hear lyrics… but I also see colour.’

Stroop Interference

The word ‘Synesthesia’ has been used for 300 years to describe very different things, from poetry and metaphor to deliberately contrived mixed-media applications such as Son et Lumière shows (‘Lightshow’), which is also a song title by American progressive rock band The Mars Volta from their 2003 album De-Loused in the Comatorium. There are over 60 reported types of Synesthesia, but these are the five most frequently encountered… (continued)

“An LSD experience without the LSD” -that was a laugh. In fact, the heads are pouring in by the hundreds, bombed out of their gourds, hundreds of heads coming out into the absolute open for the first time. It is like the time the Pranksters went to the Beatles concert in full costume, looking so bizarre and so totally smoked that no one could believe they were. Nobody would risk it in public like that. Well the kids are just having an LSD experience without the LSD, that’s all, and this is what it looks like. A hulking crazed whirlpool. That’s nice.
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

… To read the full feature, pick up a copy of the latest issue of one small seed magazine and click HERE to read the full breakdown of issue 24!

An example of a synesthete who sees the months of the year in colour


Check out this video that illustrates the magnificent realm the Synesthete (n) lives in and for a more informative breakdown down video, simply click HERE.



words: sarah claire picton, illustration: mark venter