The science of synesthesia

Synesthesia art is the expression of synesthesia, a rare condition where a person experiences a crossing of the senses. Sigourney experiences associated colour-sound synesthesia (chromesthesia) and uses this to create art in vivid colour.

Synesthesia is where a sensation such as sound, touch or smell triggers an automatic and involuntary reaction in another sense. People around the world encounter synesthesia in a range of ways, often without realizing their experience is unique.

A synesthete may be able to taste a word, see personalities in letters or hear color. People with synesthesia experience these crossed associations as part of everyday life and they often go unnoticed until an unexpected conversation brings a revelation.

I spoke to author Sarah J Harris about my experience of synesthesia in the recent podcast for her debut novel, The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder. We explored Covent Gardens and chatted about the colours of the sounds around us and what it’s like to have synesthesia.

Listen to the podcast at Soundcloud or iTunes

What is is like to have synesthesia?

When I found out I had synesthesia it was totally by chance. Up until I was 23 I thought that everyone experienced sounds the way I do. I was perplexed, if so few people shared this experience then why were the blues called the blues?

To me it’s so clear, those vocals are obviously blue, that’s their inherent colour, as clear as breathing. It feels the same as walking past a blue house everyday on the way to work. Your mind learns to tune it out but there’s no denying that it’s blue. You don’t focus on it everytime you walk past but if someone asked, you could recall the house and describe the lighter blue on the left side, the darker trim along the roof.

Creating synesthesia art is my way of communicating the colours I see when I hear sound. I love making real my experience and sharing it with others through art. It is my way of letting people in on this wonderful cross sensory world.

“If you ask synesthetes if they’d wish to be rid of it, they almost always say no. For them, it feels like that’s what normal experience is like. To have that taken away would make them feel like they were being deprived of one sense.”

– Simon Baron-Cohen,

synesthesia researcher at the University of Cambridge

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