I have been reading a good amount of Oliver Sacks lately. Having finished the fascinating An Anthropologist on Mars, I am well into his Musicophilia.
This afternoon, I got sunburned having lost track of the time poolside, entirely lost in the fourteenth chapter entitled The Key of Clear Green: Synesthesia and Music.
I have always assumed that everyone “sees” what I see when thinking of numbers, the letters of the alphabet, musical notes and keys, days of the week, and months. In my mind, and I have always assumed, in yours, all these things are assigned specific colors, and whenever they “appear” in our minds, they always appear in their naturally assigned colors.
I had always assumed that my assignment of color to abstracts was based on my rather common poetic disposition. For instance, it is easy to think that Monday is blue because of all the songs that tell us so. I have also always assumed that July is the particularly appealing and highly saturated bleu de travail of Moroccan or Mexican tiles because I associate it with the ocean and the summer sky.
It has always been more difficult for me to explain why I see numbers or letters in color. Three and C are always Kelly green. Four and D are always a flat red. I chalked it up to early childhood exposure to these symbols on the sides of painted wooden blocks kept in a cylindrical tin among my toys, to be spilled out onto the floor for the stacking.
Several years ago, when I read that Laura Nyro had, in a recording studio, demanded many repetitions of a particular piece, perplexing her musicians by screaming “No! No! Do it again. Play it in lavendar!”, her meaning seemed perfectly clear to me.
It seems I may have been wrong all along in my assumptions about this business.
Oliver Sacks says that synesthesia is not something that brings patients to neurologists…Most people who have it do not consider it to be a “condition”…Some estimate the incidence of synesthesia to be about one in two thousand….
He speaks about a painter who became colorblind (He describes this case in An Anthropologist on Mars) as persuasion …that synesthesia was a physiological phenomenon, dependent on the integrity of certain areas of the cortex and the connections between them –in his case, between specific areas of the visual cortex needed to construct the perception or imagery of color. The destruction of these areas in this man had left him unable to experience any color, including “colored” music.
I want all of you regular visitors to tell me whether or not you are synesthetes.
And don’t nobody try to tell me that when you think “Stravinsky” you don’t see it in red, or Mahler in mauve, cuz I can’t imagine them otherwise.
PS: An earlier and equally delicious chapter is called Brainworms, Sticky Music and Catchy Tunes.
And, I learned heaps about autism and epilepsy in An Anthropologist on Mars. Seizures and brain trauma can cause extreme personality changes. This raises a question. Has anyone ever become gay after a seizure or a lightning strike? Could it happen? If so, will doctors eventually change sexual orientation by zapping just the right area of the brain with just the right stimulus? I owe Oliver Sacks a phone call to report on my reading some books he recommended that were supposed to make me an atheist. They didn’t. I’ll try to get immediately into the gay question.
Meanwhile, I am turning away from the screen to gaze at something periwinkle/cornflower blue because that color, in and of itself, seems to induce health in me.