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The color of music

What is the color of music? Does music even have a color? Well if you have synesthesia, a rare sensory phenomenon that comes in many forms, different songs, and sounds may resonate as certain colors. Synthesia isn’t just about seeing music in color. Some of the most notable types of synesthesia include associating different letters, numbers, and sounds with different colors. 

Synesthesia has been discussed several times in recent years. There was the viral post from late 2019 that highlighted how one woman saw different names based on the colors for each letter in a person’s name. There is even a cool website that lets you enter in your name and see which colors this particular synesthete would associate with your name. These are the results for TAMBER.

Synesthesia has come up several times before too. Another viral post from synesthete Melissa McCracken showcased how she saw the color of music and visualized famous songs (including the song Lucky by Radiohead) by turning them into paintings. Before that, N.E.R.D. paid homage to the phenomenon with their 2008 album entitled, Seeing Sounds.

I find the concept of synesthesia, especially auditory synesthesia, mesmerizing. Our name – TAMBER (or timbre as is the correct spelling of the musical term) – is a music term that refers to a sound’s tone quality or color (hence our blog name Color of Music). Coincidentally, there is a correlation between the words timbre and synesthesia. 

Though I wouldn’t call myself a synesthete, I do believe that there is a color of music for many of the sounds I hear. I often associate different songs with different colors. When I took this Are You A Synesthete quiz, I scored surprisingly high, with the results suggesting that I am prone to synesthetic experiences. 

So, I thought I’d compile a list of some of the songs that evoke different colors when I listen to them. My criteria for the list was simple. To start with, I’ve selected the colors of the rainbow (plus white and black) as the colors for my selection choice. Most synesthetes will tell you that different letters or sounds will be varying shades of a color. The letter “k,” for example, could be teal while the letter “u” is cerulean. While this is also true for me, I’ve decided to put songs into simple “blue,” “yellow,” “green,” etc. categories. I also selected a song, at random, that I felt was most associated with a color. In my personal experience, the color of music is more strongly correlated to certain colors for some songs than in other songs. 

Hope you enjoy!

White

  • Mi Santa – Romeo Santos (ft. Tomatito) – Formula vol. 1
    This 2012 hit was the third release from Santos’ Formula vol. 1 album. The song also features the seductive stylings of Tomatito, the famed Spanish guitarist. It is Tomatito’s fluttering finger-work on the guitar that creates a strong association with the color white for me. As he strums higher on the guitar and yodels out a sound reminiscent of the chants during an Islamic prayer call, Tomatito conjures an otherworldly essence. Add in Romeo’s naturally angelic voice, and I’m sure that white, purity, and innocence are word associations that the singer was hoping to spark in this song.

Red

  • Artificial Sweetener – No Doubt – Return of Saturn
    I absolutely love No Doubt’s earlier albums. Return of Saturn was on constant repeat as a kid, as my stepmom was a huge No Doubt fan. Return of Saturn, in particular, is one of those albums that sparks a music memory for me. Even writing the album’s name brings back the smells of my stepmom’s new Dodge Durango and the feeling of the Texas heat in mid-summer. Artificial Sweetener is one of my favorite songs from No Doubt’s third studio album and is a song that just drips red to me. From the sinister-sounding guitar to the Gwen Stefani’s delivery of lines like, “Oh, yes I’m guilty/ for leasing myself out / not ready to go up for sale,” this song is a deep crimson red to me. 

Orange

  • Foolin’ Round – Patsy Cline – Showcase
    Patsy Cline is one of my all-time favorite singers. I love the desperation and naivete in her voice on so many of her songs. Foolin’ Round is one of my favorite songs of hers because while many of her hits like Crazy and She’s Got You, have an innocence and subtle desperation to them, Foolin’ Round is a bit more jaded. “And don’t worry if I’m lonesome, ’cause I’m used to that / And when you’re tired of foolin’ ‘round with two or three / Then come on home and fool around with me.” These are the lyrics of a woman weary of her husband’s philandering ways. The conflicting energies of the song’s lyrics in juxtaposition with its upbeat melody create a fiery, reddish-orange color in my mind whenever I hear it.

Yellow

  • Sunshine – Flight Facilities (ft. Reggie Watts) – Down to Earth
    What more is there to say about Flight Facilities’ Sunshine? Reggie Watts’ warm and cheerful vocals just elicit visions of a sunny, late summer day. If I had to give this song a specific color, it would be the golden yellow of the late afternoon sun during the dog days of summer. 

Green

  • Mr. P.C. – John Coltrane – Giant Steps
    What can I say about the greatness of John Coltrane? What can’t I say is the question. In an extensive catalog of masterpieces, Mr. P.C. stands out to me. I know that real “jazz heads” are probably thinking, “typical,” since it is one of the more famous commercial works of Coltrane and not one of the more obscure masterpieces. The timbre of Coltrane’s saxophone typically feels like various shades of green for me. However, the earthiness of Coltrane’s sax in this 1959 piece stands out to me. The song – a tribute to the bass player, Paul Chambers, who accompanied Coltrane in his earlier years –is an earthy brown-tinged green to me. 

Blue

  • Taking in Water – Jessie Ware – Devotion 
    Taking in Water, from Jessie Ware’s first studio album, might sound like an easy pick to associate with the color blue. After all, water is blue. But it’s not as simple as word association when it comes to why this song sparks the color the blue. The song’s three-note piano intro before the beat, for example, is reminiscent of the sound of dripping water. The beat following the piano intro is somewhat redolent of the sound of a person diving into the water, from the perspective of the person underwater. And THAT is the point! These are precisely the emotions that the producer was trying to provoke. Using instrumentals to paint a picture of water alongside lyrics like, “A piece of gold at the bottom of the blue / Too heavy to swim / But too beautiful to lose / Holding my breath / Diving down to give you air / I never knew / The colors that surround you.” The lyrics themselves are also quite melancholy and easily lend themselves to be associated with the color blue.

Purple

  • Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above – CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy
    Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above is a fun song and album. CSS blends electronic beats and synthesizers to create a retro yet futuristic beat in this 2005 song. The high pitch tones and synthesizers create a cloud of purple – calm yet upbeat. Those same words can be used to describe the lyrics and vocals of frontwoman Lovefoxxx. On such a hype beat, she manages to sound cool in a way that tones down the song, mixing in a bit of a blue element into the otherwise red and upbeat tempo – creating a very purple-like song.

Black

  • Wake Up Alone – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
    On a depressing album entitled Back to Black, Wake Up Alone is by far the darkest song on the album. In particular, lyrics like, “He’s fierce in my dreams, seizing my guts /He floats me with dread / Soaked in soul / He swims in my eyes by the bed / Pour myself over him / Moon spilling in / And I wake up alone,” are powerful enough to take even the happiest and most in love person to a dark space. And this is why I associate the Wake Up Alone with the color black.

Are you a synesthete? Is there a color of music from your perspective? Comment below and let us know. 

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