I have synesthesia and there’s no known cure. It isn’t fatal (as far as I know), but it does affect my everyday activities.
Synesthesia, if you’re not familiar with the term, is when one type of stimulation evokes sensations of another. In other words, I don’t just hear music; I see it and feel it.
When I tell people this, I get one of two reactions: Either a confused look like there’s something fundamentally wrong with me or a rapid and convulsive nodding as the listener realizes he/she has it. It’s more common that I originally thought although the experience is uniquely personal.
I first noticed this when I was in middle school choir. If we got the harmony right, I felt chills; if not…nothing.
It even sounds weird to me, but I see intervals and chords. The more complex the chord, the more detailed the image. For example, octaves and perfect fifths appear to me as square waves. A perfect fourth appears to me as a sawtooth wave (it’s an inverted fifth). A major seven is just a pulsating light. A major third (or minor sixth) is a sine wave and a minor third (major sixth) appears to me as two sine waves in an interference pattern. A major second is a sine wave interfering with a sawtooth wave. (You get the idea.)
Chords (three or more notes) create sensations of patterns and textures. Here are a few examples:
- A major chord is a flat, solid object like a wall.
- A minor chord is solid, but shaded dark at one end.
- A dominant seven chord produces a vision of ripples on a pond.
- Higher dominant chords (nine, eleven, thirteen) chords are shiny and metallic.
- A major seven or major nine chord gives me a feeling like velvet touching my skin.
- A diminished chord is a creepy hallway in a haunted mansion.
- An augmented chord is a step downward as you pass through a doorway.
A friend once asked me “So, what’s it like when you listen to this song?” (referring to the song on the radio at the time). I had never tried to put the sensation into words, but this is the best answer I could give her.I am sitting in a living room on a paisley love seat (left arm on the armrest). The wallpaper has large flowers on it in muted pastel colors (pink and light green). I am looking through a window into a garden. At the far end of the garden is a red brick wall covered in ivy. The breeze is blowing the leaves of the ivy and making them shimmer in the sunlight.
After a very long pause, all she said was ‘Wow’.
In other words, it is a fully immersive experience for me.