Tag Archives: Voices

Vale Chris Cornell

For me the human voice in song is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For synaesthetes enjoyable experiences are often coloured. Many but not all voices of popular singers have specific colours, in my experience: men’s voices typically brown, women’s red, baritones deep brown, counter-tenors and falsetto yellows and whites, harsh Italian tenors shining gold, but there was only ever for me one orange singing voice – that of Chris Cornell, the late singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Orange is the colour of experiences that are so intense that they are close to painful.

Person recognition a crucial point in plotline in another classic movie?

We stayed up late to watch the 1940s classic movie Gaslight the other night. What an amazing story and brilliant acting from Boyer and Bergman! Charles Boyer was not an unusually handsome man, but her certainly knew how to use his eyes, and he also knew how to use his voice.

Was it the detective recognizing a family resemblance between Paula and her late aunt that caught the attention of the detective, or was it that combined with a visual recognition of Serges Bauer?



Personification at the heart of imagination in stories loved by children

The Thomas the Tank Engine stories, with railway stock who have faces and voices and dialogue and relationships and dramas, and the Wizard of Oz story, with a tin-man and a living scarecrow and curmudgeonly apple trees are just two examples of classic children’s fiction which translated very successfully to popular family screen entertainment, and both are full of objects that are personified. Many synaesthetes like myself have naturally and mysteriously developed conceptions of letters of the alphabet and numbers as having personal characteristics such as genders and personalities, as well as individual and specific colours. These synaesthetic ways of thinking formed in childhood and has become embedded in the structure of the brain. It is possible that all people once experienced synaesthetic thinking as children, but synaptic pruning did away with all that fanciful nonsense for most of us. Perhaps we were all personifying synaesthetes when we were little kids, and perhaps that explains why object personification pops up so often in children’s entertainment. To complement the winter school holidays one of our TV channels is broadcasting The Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat and viewed the whole thing and forgotten half of it, but there was some familiarity in the deep and gruff sound of the voice of one of the apple trees. Could any grown tree have a voice that is not dark and resonant? I doubt it. Irrational as it is, object personification operates according to psychological rules and relationships, and big dark brown things tend to have deep voices.

I’m sure I’m not the first to observe that popular movies are full of psychology, and the Wizard of Oz is as good an example as any. There’s the object personification in many of the characters. There’s also some interesting psychology in the way that Dorothy feels that she has known her three strange new friends for a long time, but also logically knows that can’t be true (the story is set in a dream with bizarre characters which Dorothy’s sleeping mind has created out of memories of real people in Dorothy’s real life). “Oh, you’re the best friends anybody ever had. And it’s funny, but I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?” Would face processing researchers call that “implicit familiarity” or “covert recognition”? It is actually person recognition, not just face recognition, but then again, I’ve been arguing at this blog that face recognition cannot be separated from person recognition. Faces are only memorable because they are the front windows of minds. I think Dorothy’s strange and unexplained feeling of familiarity is a nice illustration of the way that person recognition is swifter and more emotional than the verbal labeling of people with personal names and place names that we are able to do once we are able to figure out where that person fits into our autobiographical memory bank. That memory bank is quite a thing to search, so it can take a while. I like the way that the Dunning-Kruger Effect or something like it is woven into the centre of the narrative of The Wizard of Oz, the tin man not understanding his own emotional dimension, the scarecrow suddenly spouting a bit of geometrical wisdom once told he does have a brain, and the lion needing to be told how brave he actually is even though he had been through so much. There’s also a message about the possibilities of human development, effort and experience changing what we are, if we care to give it a red-hot go. That could have something to do with synapses. Of course, this story has a lot to say about the psychology of quacks, con-artists, fame and inflated authority figures, but the odd thing is, despite the many decades of popularity of this book and the Hollywood movie, great hordes of educated people in America and other English-speaking countries continue to be conned and robbed by quacks, con-artists, famous people and inflated authority figures. Yes, I’m no genius for pointing out the main message of the story of The Wizard of Oz, but if it is such an obvious message, then why does it appear to be so seldom heeded?

How’s your ability in voice perception?

Guess a person’s age from their voice. New Scientist. 


I tried the test but got no score or feedback about how I did compared to others who’ve done the test. I think I did well, with most age judgements within 10 years of the correct answer, a few, maybe 4 I guessed the ages within a year or two.

I maintain that there are some women who have voices that sound much younger than their age. They are unusual, but they do exist. There is an interesting collection of reasons why men can have voices that sound deeper and older than their years. Hormones probably influence how deep a man’s voice is, and this effect can be confused with the effects of age. There is a common belief that alcohol can have a temporary deepening effect on the vocal cords, giving a deeper tone the day after a big night. I think there’s something in this theory, but I’m not sure how much it is supported by hard evidence. The Uncyclopedia’s recipe for a rich bass voice describes a lifestyle that is not for everyone: “The diet of a bass consists of alcohol, cigarettes, more alcohol, fried meat products, children, ex girlfriends, yet more alcohol and even more cigarettes.” The late Jim Morrisson had a reputation as a hard drinker and had a singing voice well beyond his years. Till Lindemann has a brown-coloured monster of a voice, and a family background in which people hit the bottle hard. Genetics clearly plays a major role in vocal pitch, often displaying a pattern of inheritance. I have known one family in which both the father and sons from infancy onward all had markedly deep voices. An unusually hoarse voice can be caused by a genetic connective tissue or collagen disorder. Inhaling Sulphur Hexafluoride can deepen the voice temporarily, but that’s a pretty silly thing to do. Lots of things besides the ageing process can alter the sound of the voice, so reading age in the voice is not always a simple thing.