Seeing Sounds

Pic @ Slutever

“Your voice is purple,” says Dev, perched on his blood red, velvet armchair. “Whoa… really, really pretty.”

“What?”

“Your voice—it’s purple,” he repeats, pointing eagerly toward a cloud of nothing floating directly in front of my lips. “Well, not purple purple. More a dark auburn, like, a couple shades darker than your hair.”

“Are you for real?” I ask. Dev has talked to me briefly in the past about his ability to see sounds, but I always just thought he was bullshitting or trying to be poetic. Today, however, his expression seems sincere enough so I opt not to be skeptical and say, “How is that even possible?”

I met Dev in London back in 2005. He’s British but moved to NYC three years ago, claiming he needed to “escape the evil,” whatever that means. I like Dev because he over-thinks things to the point of paralysis and just generally freaks out about everyday life events, which makes me feel sane in comparison. He has all these weird germ phobias. He rarely eats, mainly because no food is clean enough to put in his mouth. When he does eat it’s generally a family sized bag of Chili Heat Wave Doritos, which he consumes methodically, carefully tipping chip after chip directly from the bag onto his tongue, so as not to contaminate the food with his hands. It’s very amusing. He also wears the same clothes for months at a time, which is strange considering the whole germ thing.

“It’s called Synesthesia,” Dev answers, his face masked almost completely by a pair of oversized grandpa glasses. “I’m not an expert on it, to be honest. I just know my brain is wired in a way that means I can see sounds—different colors for different notes and tones. Weird rainbows of noise floating around me constantly. I’ve had it my whole life.” He goes on to explain that Synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses. Some synesthetes, for example, always see a certain color in response to specific letters or numbers—the word “happy” is always a mint green, the number “4″ a light pink, and so on. He says the word Synesthesia comes from the Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception), literally meaning “joined perception.”

“Fuck,” I blurt, because I’m like in shock or whatever and it’s the first word that comes to my mouth. “So basically your whole life is like being on acid.”

“Uh, kinda.”

“That’s fucked-up.”

“Tell me about it,” he says. “Try having a conversation in a club with all that shit going on around you. It’s pretty much impossible. People always think I’m rude, distracted, unresponsive… but really I’m just trying my best to block out the endless circus going on around me.”

“But I mean, is it cool? Do you like it?”

“It’s not that I like it or don’t like it, it’s just normal for me. But one thing that’s cool is that I never have to learn a piece of music. I can play a song immediately after hearing it once, because I can read the notes by the colors it produces.”

“But… I…” I stumble. “How could we have never talked about this more in depth? This is literally the weirdest thing anyone has ever told me. Wow, you’re like an actual freak, did you know that?”

“I’ve been told.”

“Man, I wish I had something cool wrong with me. Everyone always has all these bizarre and amazing conditions, and I have nothing. I would even settle for a second rate fuck-up, like dyslexia or ADHD or something. Sometimes it’s hard being so perfect.”

“Totally…” He smiles and then I smile, I think—the shock I’m experiencing means my face is just sort of doing whatever it wants. We smile until it becomes awkward and then we stop smiling, after which we sit in silence, listening to Pat Benatar or someone who sounds like that: me, reading an ancient copy of Glamour Magazine (‘75 Ways To Please Your Man In The Bedroom’—gripping), and Dev, watching rainbows of music bounce off the white walls like fireflies caught in a glass jar. I guess.

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5 Responses to Seeing Sounds

  1. Kandinsky had synthesia and here's this fella eating Doritos.

  2. Raphael says:

    He goes on to explain that "Synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses."googled it.

  3. I have a friend who has synesthesia although he doesn't see colour he sees shapes as well as colours. Being at live gigs and festivals is a nightmare for him. Check out this short film: http://www.vimeo.com/1220897

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  5. Morgan says:

    I also have synesthesia…sounds, touch, feelings make me see colour & shapes….I've been pretty good at filtering it while having conversations though- although its the worst if Im sick or in a lot of pain, where colours and shapes will just go crazy like a bad drug trip. It helps me memorise the spelling or order of words, because if letters are out of place the word will be the wrong colour, and information can also be coded by my brain into colours for study. I think synesthesia is pretty common, but alot of people dont realise they have it because they think everyone thinks like that – since I was little I used to tell my mum what colours and shapes things were, but she thought I was just being a silly kid until she discovered it.-Morgan

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