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    An attempt at synesthetic art - My final Interpretation of an eleven minute instrumental piece done in my graduation project.

    An attempt at synesthetic art - My final Interpretation of an eleven minute instrumental piece done in my graduation project.

  5. Notes: 1 / 4 years ago 

    The Sight of Sound

    Consider the rhythm of a beating heart, chirping of the birds, buzzing of bees, or the sound of falling rain or flowing water. Sound is an extremely expressive tool for us. It is one of the oldest ways of expression. It flows through space and time and is not bound by language or culture. The use of sound as music or otherwise in various forms of arts makes one realise its power. It can captivate people at different levels however keeping them at the same ground.

    A particular composition can evoke grief while the other can create drama or thrill and this is common for people across boundaries. Music can lead people to different states, feel different moods, can affect our imaginations and our imagination is connected to the various parts of the brain that control and process vision.

    Therefore, there is an indirect link between hearing and seeing in the human mind which aids people react to sound and music. Like stated above these reactions are by and large similar however may vary slightly due to personal experiences and memories.

    As a communication design student I wanted to try and blend this potential of sound with sight, which tends to be one of the more dominating senses in our daily lives.

    And thus, in my graduation project I tried to visually capture the emotion music tends to trigger in all of us further initiating various imagery. Being a student of graphics and communication design a visual exploration is best suited to my skill set and interest.

    During the course of my research I was exposed to numerous new phenomenon as well as various art and graphic styles. This helped me learn and experiment and in the process broadened my approach towards design and art.

    At the end of a four month project, I have explored different media, got back in touch with paints and given my first shot at visually interpreting music.

    My attempts at the visual interpretation music do not end with these four months and the Graduation Project. It is a field I would like to explore a lot more.Besides, what could be better than having an explosion of music and colour in one’s life!

    One of the most intriguing things I found in my research was that where most of us associate some kind of imagery with music there are a few among us who can actually see what they hear. The indirect link between the areas of the brain which are meant to read the sight and sound are active for these people and they can see a sound as they hear it. A state which not many of us are aware of, Synesthesia, is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

    Sound - Colour Synesthesia is one of the types of Synesthesia where sounds (tones or nature noises) or music (timbre or key) are perceived as colours. The colour changes in response to the changes in the sound as to it lightness (amount of black in the colour), its saturation (intensity of the colour), and its hue (how it shimmers or moves). Music can also be perceived as images or shapes which exhibit the qualities of movement (streaming across the field of vision as if the music were dancing). Exploring the phenomenon of synesthesia has been of interest for many artists and scientists for around three centuries now.

    Synesthesia is a rare syndrome but is very intriguing. Over the centuries artists have tried to capture the essence of it hoping to evoke Synesthesia - like experiences in the viewer. Through my work I wanted to stimulate the senses of sound and sight of the viewer and stimulate this natural indirect link between the two which is proven to be present in a typical human mind but is dormant. I want the viewer to feel what a sound can make one feel by looking at something thus explore the option of hearing through their eyes.

    Synesthesia in Art has been explored in main two ways – Art by synesthetes - based on their personal experiences & Art that is meant to evoke synesthetic associations in generally audience.

    Famous artists like Wassily Kandinsky, the father of abstract art; Pop artists David Hockney and Piet Mondrian; Edvard Munch and Paul Klee among many others have explored Synesthesia in various capacities. In Futurism (1909-1924), an art movement, the boundaries started to dissolve between the various artistic disciplines, and an artistic quest for synesthesia was widely pursued. The Futurists brought together the elements of sound, noise and smell into their paintings. They believed that in order to achieve the total painting, which requires the active cooperation of all the senses, these elements have to be actively brought together.

    In times today many synesthetes and non-synesthetes are exploring this phenomenon in different ways.

    Marcia Smilack, a reflectionist and a photographer, is one of them. She clicks when she hears a chord of color, which is one of her Synesthetic responses to what she sees. She uses her Synesthetic responses as reliable signals that tell her when to take a picture. Marcia Smilack photographs reflections on moving water. She collaborates with Nature to create images which she calls Paintings by Camera.

    See her work at  http://www.marciasmilack.com/index.php

    Another artist who is attempting to toy with sense is Zack Smithey. He is a painter and a colour theorist from Saint Charles, Missouri, USA and is studying the materialization of sound through his art. According to him a computer could be programmed to convert sound into colour, but he is not only looking at notes and harmonies, but also emotional responses from the viewer. He believes that sounds can be translated into colours, but once you add the “human factor” you must take into account that colours affect our emotions and the colours chosen must both represent the sound of the note and the interaction of the note to its surrounding notes.


    Other projects and artists I studied and which intrigued me the most are as follows -

    Golan Levin - Half performance artist, half software engineer, he manipulates the computer to create improvised soundscapes with dazzling corresponding visuals. He is at the forefront of defining new parameters for art. His work focuses on the design of systems for the creation, manipulation and performance of simultaneous image and sound.


    The Emotion Organ (2007) is a synesthetic simulacrum machine where players can explore the sensational interplay of feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling and motion.


    SeeMusic Project is a translation of a written piece of music by a composer, and the thematic and colour used to visually express it is based in the colour theory and ideas prevailing during that same period of time. 




     After going through people’s work which until a few years back mostly consisted of paintings (in the visual scenario) ; considering the fact that synesthesia can be associated with the beginning of the concept of abstract art; and after going through various communities and reading the explanations that synesthetes have given of personal experiences the one major conclusion that can be drawn is that colour and its motion is mostly a way which music may be perceived visually. For most artists the use of colour was one of the most dominating elements in their synesthetic explorations followed by the motion depicted through brush strokes or forms that were created using colour depending on the style of each.


    Even in the more recent technology based explorations & installations or otherwise, colour remains to be the main factor followed by the form or shape.


    Thus, all the study helped me pick a direction in my attempt to depict music in a visual way. The use of colour forms the basis of my interpretations as well. This is also because for most people – synesthetes or non-synesthetes – colour tends to trigger emotion which is probably why dark is scary, mondays are blue or we turn red with rage. Therefore, choosing colour would make sense and the way it blends with the other colours or moves would help me depict the vibration sounds tend to create.

    To combine all of it – my interpretation will focus on the emotion and the vibration created by music and to depict it I use colours and various textures.

    Creating my first synesthetic artwork

    For my final deliverable I interpreted one of Mr. Susmit Sen’s  (http://www.susmitsen.com/ ) solo compositions. This track which is still untitled as it has not been produced is an 11 minute instrumental where the artist has only used a single instrument in the whole composition. An extremely complex arrangement, it is “very fluid in nature and creates a reassuring air where the listener does not get overwhelmed by the complex patterns but revel in the rich notes, only enhanced manifold by the self-respecting tempo, and is deeply immersed in individual sections of rich strumming and sharp interludes”. (In the words of Tushar Shukla, a frequent blogger at http://passionforcinema.com/author/tushar/)

    For the ease of working I divided the track in six segments guided by the mood of the composition, the sifting tempo and the sharp pauses. Therefore the end result was a series of six pieces which when put together is the interpretation of the given composition.

    The composition, ‘a seasonal love affair,’ glides the listener from a feeling of solitary induced stillness traversing through various terrains to highs of creation of life itself. 

    I relate this to the changing seasons; however, in this case the listener is viewing the track through the eyes of Winter (the main protagonist) who is lonely and is irked by the stillness and all the waiting. She begins to relive the pleasant memories of the early Autumn and the times she spent with Summer (her lover) and the tough times of the Late Autumn when she had to let him go and all this wait for the Spring to arrive so she could be with her love again is killing her. As she receives the news of his arrival her heart races like that of a child with excitement and pleasure. The composition towards the end, beautifully seem to depict the reconciling of the lovers and creation of life with the onset of spring.


    Each stage – winter (1), early autumn (2), late autumn (3), arrival of spring(4), onset of spring (5) and the bloom of the spring (6) – were depicted through different colours and a different palette corresponding to the season and emotion involved in each stage . For example, it’s a black, white and grey winter, early warm autumn with yellows, oranges, reds and burnt siena while late autumn are browns and blacks and olive greens etc.

    A few digital explorations of the artworks

    The Splendid Springs 

    The Grief of the falling fall

    I consider myself lucky to have explored a topic so rare and intriguing. The amount of fun I have had during this project cannot be equated to any other assignment or project so far.

    A set of deliverables made for the artist 


    I’d like to thank Mr. Nikhil Bhardwaj (http://www.holisticdesign.info/) for all the guidance and support throughout the highs and the lows of the project a

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    Synesthesia : Merging of the senses

    An on going  project on synesthesia and interpretation of music. These are a couple of illustrations i had been working on for a bit now. 

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i think.i observe.i listen.i smell.i feel.

I am Divya Bhardwaj, a student of communication design from New Delhi, India.

I am the explorer, the voyager.

I am the observer

I am the thinker

To believe is to see …
I live in the fantasy.

I enjoy the moment when I breathe the air, feel the warmth of the sunlight, hear the twitter, and sense the touch of the cold breeze on my skin.

The sound of the raindrops falling is music to me and the touch of the tiny little droplets bouncing back from the ground on the face gives me happiness equivalent to nothing I can compare to.

… I enjoy what people seem to not notice…

I am the persistent

I am the determined.

I am the zealous.

I am the eager, the curious.

When I click -