Synesthesia and the 3 Forms I Experience

Since synesthesia has been a great part of my love of orchestral soundtracks and Fumito Ueda’s creations, I thought I would share a little of what I experience. The below description is something that I have been trying to document over several years, but without reading how other people experience it (or any form of synesthesia) so that I am not influenced by their accounts. It is a little long, but I hope you still find it interesting.

1. Auditory-Tactile (Sound → Touch) synesthesia is something I commonly and very consistently experience, both with and without my immediate awareness. I get twitches (not muscle spasms, but minuscule jerk reflexes) that are dependent on the volume, texture and direction of the sound. These I experience in my tongue, facial muscles, scalp, and limbs. I also experience this in a more complex form when listening to music.

The below sensations occur regardless if I am standing next to live instruments, if I am sitting next to speakers, or if I am wearing headphones where no physical vibrations are passing through the rest of my body. These also occur despite the width of the virtual sound-stage of a recording. The wider the stage, the more natural the audio sounds and the better my synesthesia experience is. However, though a narrow sound-stage doesn’t sound as natural, I will still experience sensations just as vividly, although modified from what I would traditionally feel.

  • Violins are felt like a mask on the surface of my face and ears,
  • high voices are on my forehead, through my mid/upper vocal tract, and in the soft palate of the oral cavity,
  • low voices are in the vocal tract, throat-latch, chest, and on my upper arms,
  • brass (save horn) is on my upper arms, sternum, and shoulders,
  • reeds are felt on my sternum,
  • bass is felt through my chest, torso and legs,
  • most woodwinds are felt through my vocal tract and (as a fuzzy crest) over my head and the tips of my ears,
  • vessel flutes, such as ceramic ocarinas, are felt in my sinuses and skull,
  • harp and classical guitar are felt within my scalp, face, hands, feet, arms (if upper registers), and legs (if lower registers),
  • and certain ridged textures (found in synthesizers, certain bass instruments, and the lower octaves of accordions) are felt through my eyes.

Some of these instruments I experience in many more ways than others. Depending on the texture of a particular instrument, the physical sensations elicited can start to overlap with those of another, although they will never become indifferentiable. This is why I can feel classical guitar in more ways than I can woodwinds (especially ocarinas, which are Helmholtz resonators). Primarily, this is because woodwinds have drastically fewer overtones than most other instruments. The guitar, too, has more octaves and a greater dynamic range. Playing technique further feeds the diversity of textures, timbres, and tones.

2. Auditory-Visual (Sound → Sight) synesthesia I experience somewhat as frequently. This is often manifested as highly-detailed, textured patterns that take up my eyesight and occur whenever a single, large sound is created in contrast to a quiet room. I experience these during the day as well as the night and they are predominately in grey scale.

Another manifestation occurs when I am listening to musical notes and chords. As it is primarily dependent on the texture and fullness of a tone, and not so much on the pitch or frequency, the color elicited by one instrument can mimic that of another, although the shade and associated patterns will never quite match. The complex interaction of timbre, volume, dynamics, etc. easily changes depending on whose arrangement and performance of a piece it is.

3. Tactile-Gustatory (Touch → Taste) synesthesia is something which I have been acutely aware of for most of my life as, it can occur without the presence of associated visual or olfactory stimuli. Yeah. Not everything has a flavor (which I perceive on my tongue), but the most common material I can taste is highly conductive metals. I was once given an unknown object and told to see if I tasted anything. This one I did, and strongly. Then I was given what felt to be a highly similar object. But I couldn’t taste a thing. When the little test was over, I was told that the first was made of untreated metal. The second one, however, was galvanized. I had my eyes open the entire time and could see what I was about to hold, and yet, I only experienced “taste” with the first.

Unfortunately, unlike the two auditory forms of synesthesia I have, this last one dealing with taste has been on a decline as I have grown older. When I was little, tastes were very strong for many types of objects and materials. Now I mostly only taste metals (even if I cannot see or smell them), each metal having its own flavor, but much of this sense has been converted into tasting texture. This is not that I taste flavor with most textures, but that my tongue feels texture as if it were another one of my fingers and an extension of my hands. This later form lends itself well to my perception of textures by sound and sight in my other two forms of synesthesia, and so often rounds out my listening experiences.

All of the above descriptions happen without me having to think about it, and they have been going on since as long as I can remember in some form or fashion. The first two forms are one big reason why I cannot stand rap music; I cannot keep a train of thought in my head with it playing. But James Horner’s Apollo 13 soundtrack is absolutely fantastic with it. Track “09 All Systems Go (The Launch)” is a really good example of a piece that stimulates my synesthesia in a great way:

“09 All Systems Go – The Launch”, Intrada special release, remastered audio. James Horner.

Another is this, a performance by Sigur Rós:

Performed by Jónsi, the lead vocalist of Sigur Rós. “Riceboy Sleeps (album, live performance)”

Here is how to credit the header image…

3 thoughts on “Synesthesia and the 3 Forms I Experience

    1. Yeah, I have found that when synesthesia is brought up, it usually has to do with colors and numbers. It makes sense, since color-grapheme synesthesia easily lends itself to tests and studies, but I though that I should explore and share what I experience since other forms are much less studied.
      Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

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