There is a pretty common, or pretty well known condition called Synesthesia that a few high profile musicians have come out recently about having. It’s where one sense triggers another and typically with regards to music the auditory sense triggers a visual. From what I gather, the response is usually colors relating to sounds. A frequency or instrument may posses its own unique color resulting in a kaleidoscope when listening to a song with dominant sounds becoming the dominant colors. I’m pretty sure I have a version of this, however music and sound are not represented as colors, instead they are buildings. Each sound I hear is represented by its own unique structure and if that sound is repeated its usually the same unless another sound is on top of if it, then there looks to be an addition to the original building. Like another floor. I want to say now that I don’t think there is anything special about this or that this makes my interpretation of music or sound more unique than anyone else’s. I actually think it gets in the way of me being a better musician because I tend to focus on how it looks instead of just listening. But I’ll go into that more soon.
This started very suddenly for me, I’m sure I didn’t have it before the age of 19. I was on a long flight from Hong Kong to London and I needed to sleep, a family friend who I was traveling with offered me a sleeping pill which I took. To settle down I put on my discman (this was a while ago..) and started to listen to music. The CD was an album by The Grid and as I listened I started to see buildings, as the songs evolved the buildings changed shape according to the structure of the song. Almost like tower blocks made from the old LCD VU meters but way more detailed. They had windows and the structures were made from materials that reflected the sound. Bass was brick and concrete, higher frequencies were glass towers etc. So the CD kept playing and I sat there watching this thing playing out in my mind, not sleeping. So the CD eventually came to an end and I started it again and I kept experiencing the same visuals. I think I eventually fell asleep. When we landed I asked about the sleeping pill and she pulled out the contained it has come from. “Opps” she said. She had mixed up the containers and given me a pain killer she was prescribed from a recent surgery. I don’t know why this triggered such a big shift in how I experienced music, maybe it was a coincidence and it was going to happen anyway. Who knows.
So now as a composer, I’m less of musician who deals with writing things that are sonically what I want. I’m more dealing with creating structures that look right to me and putting those structures next to and on top of other structures that make up something I find pleasing to look at. I can’t listen to something that is visually ugly, it actually hurts. Not to say that all ugliness is ugly. I just can’t hear/look at something that is ugly for no reason. Like I said before, I don’t see this as a benefit. I’m always hearing other pieces of music and I’m in awe of how they built something that looks so beautiful. But then I wonder if they have actually seen it and in not seeing it has it been easier for them to just write an audio piece that sounds amazing? Its not a hinderance either though. Its fun to be able to see your songs get put together and create from a visual perspective, its like playing with a sonic CAD system.