Alessia Cara. The Project. Ten Network. February 27th 2017.
Alessia Cara. The Project. Ten Network. February 27th 2017.
I’ve got to laugh on the odd time that I read a description of synaesthesia that makes it sound like some kind of mental disorder or abnormality of sensory perception. Sure enough, synaesthesia concurrents are perceptions of sensory experiences that are not triggered by things happening outside of the mind. They are experiences (not always sensory) triggered by activity happening within the mind (just like the meanderings of your normal constant train of thought). A synaesthete can experience sound as a synaesthesia concurrent triggered by a visual experience (the synaesthesia inducer), and might also experience a visual concurrent triggered by a sound inducer. Coloured music and visual animations that make sound are commonly-reported experiences in people who are, to borrow a phrase from Galton, “sane persons”. It might sound psychedelic to a non-synaesthete, but it is not far at all from normal perception, because life is full of events in which movement or some other visual stimuli is accompanied by a sound sensory stimuli: clapping hands, wind that rustles leaves, lips that speak, impacts that bang, or an explosion that is huge visually, sonically and physically. This pairing of sound and sight is so much a part of normal perception (in humans and other creatures) that it is commonly exploited in live entertainment.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in the past in the live entertainment industry and I also recently enjoyed the rehearsals of the Arcadia musical and special effects spectacular show currently at Elizabeth Quay in Perth. I know that there is a most startling loud roaring sound through the stage speakers that is typically created to coincide with a visual effect of an explosion of flames. It’s like some bloke presses a button somewhere and all hell breaks loose for a second or two. Arcadia uses this flame-roar sound to add sonic spectacle to the flame-thrower, and in the past while working I’ve also heard that sound used in complete isolation from music in a sound check of another spectacular stage show. At the risk of ruining the magic, I’m revealing that the sound that goes with the flames is an artistic artifice. I guess that any real sound that the flame effect makes has been judged to be not sufficiently loud and spectacular enough, and a suitably awesome sound (a recording of what I can only guess) was created to go along with the visual effect of flames from hell. I think this shows just how important crossmodal experiences are to live entertainment shows that are based on spectacular sensory experiences. The sound must equal the visual spectacle.
There are also many other ways in which sound and sight are linked in stage shows and special effects in entertainment. Musicolour lighting effects have been around since my Dad created disco equipment in our lounge using it back in the 1970s, and similar but much more developed lighting effects can be seen in the body of the Arcadia spider. Technology is not always required to artificially marry lighting and sound, as the amazing red and blue man electricity show features electrical discharges that look like tamed lightning that naturally give off a crackling sound along with the white light. But then again, I’m now wondering whether that sound is for real. Anyway, it’s wonderful, mad, sensory fun. I love it!
Postscript January 2017
I think the phenomenon of “quiet fireworks” adds more support to my point that spectacular public entertainment special effects often include the deliberate timing of sound and visual effects to happen at the same time to create a form of artistic synaesthesia, because while fireworks typically have bangs and flashes at the same time, the bang part of the spectacle is not essential or inseparable.
MONA in Tasmania will be revisiting the theme of synaesthesia in Synaesthesia+, a musical, visual and gustatory festival of the psychological phenomenon. It is happening this weekend and tickets will set you back quite a lot.
In Perth, Western Australia PICA have been hosting an exhibition of sound art, What I See When I Look at Sound, featuring the works of artists Lyndon Blue, Lauren Brown, Matthew Gingold, Cat Hope and Kynan Tan. This show will be on until the end of this month and it is free, or at least we didn’t get charged when we went to look and listen to it a while ago.
You might think from considering the title of the exhibition that it might have the theme of synaesthesia, and indeed the works are described each as a “synaesthetic offering”, but actually I believe that the theme of the exhibition, “the relationship between looking and hearing” is actually about binding, which is a broader term that can encompass normal or average sensory perception and also some types of synaesthesia that are similar to or more consciously-experienced variants of normal mental sensory perception. I think this exhibition is about binding more than it is about synaesthesia. If a multi-sensory arts event was “about synaesthesia” I’d expect to see lots of colour and hear music and maybe see or feel letters of the alphabet, or see calendars suspended in space, and maybe even experience smells and flavours. I might look at a “synaesthesia art” painting and as a direct result “feel” motion or “hear” rhythms.The painting Upward by synaesthete artist Vassily Kandinskii or the painting Broadway Boogie Woogie by probable synaesthete artist Piet Mondrian are both pretty clear examples of what I mean by synaesthesia art. I have written about both artists previously in posts at this blog.
Binding is a term used in psychology, the philosophy of mind, neuroscience and cognitive science. It is certainly related to synaesthesia and is central to scientific understanding of synaesthesia as a phenomenon in neuroscience, but it isn’t the same thing. As far as I understand binding is about the perception of the many different sensory characteristics of an object or an event as a unified thing or event. A clear example would be the installation Filament Orkestra by Matthew Gingold. It grabs and holds attention and causes reflection even though the idea is no more complicated than (simple) sound and (plain white) light being presented (or not presented) both at the same points in time. I found the effect to be quite reminiscent of flamenco dancing and tap dancing, which I guess shows how the sensory binding of sight and sound is an engaging effect that is used in a diverse range of art forms, high arts and popular arts, modern and traditional, even including firework displays. Have you ever had the experience of viewing from an elevated location a fireworks display that is happening a distance away, and the wind is blowing in such a direction that the sound waves never reach where you are standing, so that the sight has no soundtrack? It’s the strangest thing to see (and not hear).
According to some online festival programs, tomorrow (Saturday August 16th 2014), as a part of the Perth Science Festival which is a part of National Science Week there will be a free event in the Central Galleries at PICA titled Sounds Symbols and Science at 1.00pm, which will be “a special live concert of “Cat Hope’s End of Abe Sade in the What I See When I Look at Sound exhibition”” and this will somehow involve digital graphic notation, which is a concept that very much overlaps with many synaesthetes’ experiences of listening to music, including my own at times, so I’m happy to categorize this planned event as synaesthetic, which is more than enough to provoke my curiosity.
Synaesthesia festival at MONA. Books and Arts Daily. Radio National. August 15th 2014.
The Music Show. Radio National. 16 August 2014.
Tomorrow Andrew Ford will be talking with the co-artistic director of the Synaesthesia+ weekend arts festival at MONA Brian Ritchie and composer Matthew Hindson. MONA stands for the Museum of Old and New Art and MONA is in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Oh, I get it! This cute tune by Calvin Harris is called “Bounce” because it goes up and down and up and down. Makes me want to move too. http://youtu.be/ooZwmeUfuXg
I can’t help wondering if the Drawn From Sound exhibition has anything to do with musical synaesthesia. I would like to see the exhibition, but unfortunately time might not permit it. The curator of this exhibition is flautist Cat Hope.