When coloured sounds taste sweet
March 3, 2005 9:42 AM   Subscribe

27-year-old professional recorder player can not only see colours when hearing music but can taste musical notes (see chart for details). More on synaesthesia, which has appeared here, here and here. [courtesy of CBC]
posted by boost ventilator (36 comments total)
I want to have this more than pretty much anything.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:06 AM on March 3, 2005

I love how a tritone elicits "disgust" instead of a flavor. It elicits disgust in me as well when I try to transpose orchestral trumpet parts written for E trumpet on a B-flat horn.
posted by internal at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2005

It elicits disgust in me as well when I try to transpose orchestral trumpet parts written for E trumpet on a B-flat horn.

I hate when that happens.

I saw colors one night while listening to music. It lasted for roughly 15 hours.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:19 AM on March 3, 2005

The dissonant tone intervals seem to induce unpleasant tastes, whereas the consonant intervals induce pleasant ones.

such bullshit, this is norah jones propagandha.
posted by Satapher at 10:20 AM on March 3, 2005

I can wrap my brain around the synaesthesia, and even the "tasting"; what I can't wrap my brain around is the phrase "professional recorder player."
posted by mothershock at 10:24 AM on March 3, 2005

Minor sixth -- Cream
Major sixth -- Low-fat cream

I wonder how the blue note exactly in between minor and major sixth tastes. I also wonder if she's reminded of this interval when eating cream.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:34 AM on March 3, 2005

"Elizabeth Sulston can taste the musical notes she plays on her recorder."

I'm told that happens when playing the skin flute too.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 10:36 AM on March 3, 2005

Does anyone else find the descriptions of the taste reactions to be a little too....convenient?

If made a description of emotional reactions it's common to percieve upon hearing intervals, and then selected tastes which elicit a similar emotional reaction, you'd probably get something along very similar lines to this table - it seems a bit too "conscious", if anything. Not saying it's not true, it just seems a bit too easily comprehensible by someone without this particular sense.

What happens when he hears microtonal or atonal music? Not a party in his mouth, I'm guessing....
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:41 AM on March 3, 2005

If she plays her music backwards is it like throwing up?
posted by bondcliff at 10:41 AM on March 3, 2005

cool post!

I've mostly heard about synaesthesia from the psychology/neurology perspective. The book Culture of the Senses, while not directly about synaesthesia, gave me a whole different take on senses and has influenced my thinking about synaesthesia. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. (As a bonus, it's really well-written and geared to a general audience--not generally a requirement in an academic book.)
posted by carmen at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2005

I just had the misfortune of hearing a song from Ashlee Simpson and I swear I tasted shit in my mouth.
posted by j.p. Hung at 10:47 AM on March 3, 2005

I thought it was impossible to have smell involved in synaesthesia, because it doesn't go through the same processing centers of the brain as the other centers, but rather has a pretty direct link. That's why a particular smell can evoke a whole memory so strongly, and yet still be hard to name (like "radishes," for example.)

Anyone else heard that? Can't find much on-line about it.
posted by zekinskia at 10:49 AM on March 3, 2005

I have this in a much less cool form, but numbers all have colors for me. I usually don't notice it much except in telephone numbers--I try to choose one that has a pleasant combination.

6=light blue
7=dark blue

I also associate physical characteristics with some tastes, but very vaguely, e.g. I think of saffron as tasting "flat" not in the sense of bland but in a geometric sort of way.

I never realized this was an actual "syndrome" until I first heard of it a few years ago--I just assumed everyone did it!

There is a young adult novel called A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass that is about a girl with synaesthesia--it's nothing great but it's a fun read.
posted by exceptinsects at 10:59 AM on March 3, 2005

So would an agnostic dyslexic insomniac synesthete lie awake wondering if the dog farted?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:05 AM on March 3, 2005

i have a touch of the numbers=colors thing as well. they say everyone has their own set of comparisons, but it's interesting to see that, like me, you see green fours too! also curious - my zeros are white and my ones are black.
posted by aieou at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2005

Singer/songwriter John Mayer is probably the most famous example of a musician with synesthesia, except for the classical composer Alexander Scriabin. I also knew somebody in college who could taste colors. She would eat salads with her vegetables arrange according to color, then top it off with bright yellow French's mustard.
posted by jonp72 at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2005

That must be some really great acid.
posted by neckro23 at 11:48 AM on March 3, 2005

Neckro is probably joking, but isn't this induced by LSD at high doses?
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:55 AM on March 3, 2005

I wish people would stop saying things like "4 is green". I makes me feel... odd. Icky. 4 is pink, always has been, always will be. Same as 2 is baby blue, 3 red, 5 yellow, and so on.
posted by jokeefe at 11:59 AM on March 3, 2005

Also, I have a touch of the visualizing shapes and colours with music, but I'm not sure it's any different than something everybody does. Steel guitars are these silvery ribbons, that sort of thing. You all experience music like that, right?
posted by jokeefe at 12:02 PM on March 3, 2005

My wife has synesthesia. Every word has a color, people are colors, people's voices are colors, numbers are colors, etc.

It's neat because she sees the world in a very interesting way. I always ask her what color I am and it's always the same. I'm also amazed at how specific the colors are. It's not like 'A' is blue, it's "sky blue with a hint of green".
posted by psychotic_venom at 12:22 PM on March 3, 2005


What color is pi?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:23 PM on March 3, 2005

I saw a doctor on television once describe synaesthesia as being the result of certain neurons which are supposed to separate as the brain forms in the womb, but for a synaesthete (sp?), they don't. This is why even those of us without synaesthesia can sort of understand it.

The example he gave was cheddar cheese: we think of it having a certain amount of "sharpness," even though sharp isn't really a taste.

And like jokeefe describes, a lot of music can be very visual even to those of us without synaesthesia... it's just that we imagine the visuals* while a synaesthete actually sees them.

*recreational substances notwithstanding
posted by BoringPostcards at 12:35 PM on March 3, 2005

borkingchikapa: Neckro is probably joking, but isn't this induced by LSD at high doses?

Only if you consider 200 mics high.
posted by Gyan at 12:37 PM on March 3, 2005

Why is metafilter so fascinated with synesthesia? Honest question. Just from what I've read, it doesn't sound like a disabling condition, but I don't see what sort of benefits it would have. Seems like an interesting minor mental disorder to me, but does it warrant a post every six months?
posted by Hildago at 1:14 PM on March 3, 2005

and here
posted by moonbird at 2:05 PM on March 3, 2005

I dated someone with a very minor and very boring form of synaesthesia - she could taste textures. This had very little bearing on my life except that she made me remove my favorite childhood blanket from my bed because it "tasted funny."

I wonder if taste dictates this woman's sense of music... do some bands taste better than others? What about genres? Does emo rock taste like the salty tears of a million boys in sweater vests? I want to know!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:26 PM on March 3, 2005

Showing my geekiness: I have a number/color association, too, but it's definitely not a "brain thing".

It's because of many hours as a child sitting in front of my PCjr playing around in MicrosoftIBM BASICA (the extra "A" is for "Advanced"!). I think I still remember them:

0: Black
1: Blue
2: Green
3: Cyan
4: Red
5: Purple
6: Brown
7: Gray
With 8-15 being "bright" versions of those.

This is the kind of thing that makes one get philosophical as a child: the first time you read in COMPUTE! magazine a source listing that's written for a C64 and you notice that the color-number-to-displayed-color mapping is different for that machine -- when they want to fill in something with brown they use color number 3 instead of color number 6.

It makes a 7 year old computer nerd think "hmmm I wonder if other people see grass as 'green' in the same way I do? Or when we say that the grass is 'green' are we really just saying something more like 'grass is color number 2', which might map for that person to some other color, maybe what I call red?"

And that's the story of my childhood psychological development.
posted by BaxterG4 at 2:35 PM on March 3, 2005

Does emo rock taste like the salty tears of a million boys in sweater vests?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:26 PM EST on March 3

There are clubs out there where that line would probably get you laid.
posted by BoringPostcards at 4:20 PM on March 3, 2005

I have it.

I once tried to look up a synaesthesia support forum online, to try to talk to other people about coping mechanisms and such, but found nothing but mailing lists full of THIS SONG IS BLUE TO ME IS IT BLUE TO YOU? NO IT'S SILVERYMAROON!

But if anyone would like to ask questions, feel free.
posted by Jairus at 7:09 PM on March 3, 2005

What do synaesthetes like this guy taste when somebody plays the infamous "brown note"?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:29 PM on March 3, 2005

There is also a form a synthesia where you attribute personalities to unlikely things like sounds or letters... this is the weird one I've had since being a kid. Did you know that the letter B is insecure and that M has a chip on it's shoulder? You don't even want to know what an asshole J is... Now N is a solid character... even though it has to put up with that dickhead M all the time.
posted by missbossy at 9:13 PM on March 3, 2005

From the article:

Minor second Sour
Major second Bitter
Minor third Salty
Major third Sweet
Fourth Mown grass
Tritone Disgust
Fifth Pure water
Minor sixth Cream
Major sixth Low-fat cream
Minor seventh Bitter
Major seventh Sour
Octave No taste

A few comments/questions come to mind:

1) Why would intervals have colour, but not single notes? Keep in mind that, when you consider the harmonics of a note, no note is really "one" note.

2) If octave is No taste, what does a two octave interval taste like?

3) If octave is No taste, the equivalency of the octave notes would help to explain why Minor second and Major seventh have the same taste (as do Major second and Minor seventh), because if you take the lower note in a Minor second and move it up one octave, you have created a Major seventh.

4) Why does this equivalency fall apart with intervals other than seconds, a more extreme example being Fourth mown grass? If you move the lower note up one octave, you get Fifth pure water. Very different flavour/smells there.

5) How does the use of different tuning systems affect the results? Does anyone know if recorders normally use equal temperament?
posted by SNACKeR at 5:46 AM on March 4, 2005

Be it sight, sound, the smell, the touch...
There's something inside that we need so much.
The sight of a touch, or the scent of a sound,
Or the strength of an oak with roots deep in the ground,
The wonder of flowers to be covered
And then to burst up through tarmac to the sun again,
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing,
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing,
To have all these things in our memory's hoard
And to use them,
To help us,
To find......
Ha ha ha! [etc]

I guess I am too much the old hippie but I immediately thought of these lyrics. . .
posted by Danf at 11:56 AM on March 4, 2005

I have an inverse issue -- everything I see I hear. It lends itself to passionate dislike of most yellows. I really prefer blues, and I tend to dress in harmonic patterns. It makes music strange, as I need to close my eyes to really hear, and then I have to deal with the tones coming from patterns I see then....
posted by dwivian at 8:12 PM on March 4, 2005

A Wired article about this musician.
posted by Gyan at 2:23 PM on March 5, 2005

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