A University College London neuroscientist working with synaesthetes, people who have a coupled auditory, visual or other senses, asked to make recordings of their experiences. What Dr Jamie Ward did next was even more interesting:
During a series of experiments, Dr Ward asked six synaesthetes to draw and describe their visual experiences of music played by the New London Orchestra. A control group of six people without the condition were asked to do the same. Animated films, combining the music and drawn images were created by an animator, Sam Moore of the University of Wolverhampton, and shown to the public visiting London’s Science Museum. A hundred images were shown to over 200 people and these visitors were asked to choose the image that provided the best fit to the music. Respondents consistently chose the images drawn by synaesthetes over control images. This shows that while people without synaesthesia are not able to hear a painting or see a piece of music in a literal sense, they are able to sense the crossover and tend to choose the ‘correct’ image.
Dr Ward said: “While some synaesthetes can actually hear a Kandinsky in a very real way, the rest of us don’t have such a pronounced crossover of senses. But, this research shows that all of us have links between our hearing and vision–even if we don’t really realise it. We hope that understanding synaesthesia will enable us to understand more about how our senses are linked in our brains, and how this may help us create and appreciate works of art that combine music and sound.”
Describing ‘Composition VIII, 1923’ by Kandinsky, one synaesthete said: “The jumbled mass of lines gave various tones, which changed as my eyes travelled round the picture. When looking at the large multicoloured powerful circle at upper left, I get a pure tone which can be too much, so to relieve my mind of this I travel back to the cacophony of jumbled lines and shapes. This painting therefore is a good balance of contrasting noise — pure tones and cacophony — which was a delight to see. The more I looked at it, the more I came to appreciate the image and to like the ‘music’.”