Synaesthesia is defined as:
"a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."  
Some synesthetes see letters and numbers as colours, others may see days of the week as shapes, some taste sounds, yet others see colours or images in music. Many other combinations exist where the senses are cross-linked or merged. And I've become fascinated with this subject.

I am not a synesthete, but I can discern images from some music, like a sixth or kinesthetic sense. It's more than just listening to the music, it's about feeling its vibration and energy, experiencing emotions and sensations. Music may rouse goosebumps or stimulate muscle tension. Breath rate, blood pressure, pulse and skin temperature may change. We may be compelled to move or dance. Pain relief is a possibility. We experience higher energy or a feeling of relaxation. We may see colours or images or movement.

Receptiveness varies from person to person. Images may come based on genre, chords, melody, rhythm, tempo, instruments, vocals, loudness or softness, high and low pitched sounds. 

After coming across several instances of creating art from music, including learning from a friend with synaethesia that she sees each number as a specific colour, I took a class this past spring through Almonte's Mississippi Valley Textile Museum on colour approaches inspired by the senses (other than sight). Later a local pianist shared that she had an artist painting her music while she played at a recital. The abstract pictures, done in gouache, are stunning! 

After deciding to create some pictures based on pieces of music, I discovered that some songs speak to me, others do not. It's all about being tuned to the music, being mindful and turning off all else while listening. And being open to whatever may come up - difficult or positive. The images are not necessarily realistic, but often a level of abstraction.

I then happened upon an ad about an upcoming show at the Atomic Rooster on Bank Street: Tones is an exhibit of art - not just of creating while music plays in the background - but about creating a work of art inspired by the music. And artists are asked to include a YouTube link so the visitor can listen to the music while viewing the work based on that song. 

     Tones (Art Inspired by Music)

     Dates:                November 27 - December 18, 2018
     Opening party:  Tuesday December 4 from 7-10pm. 
     Location:            Atomic Rooster, 303 Bank Street Ottawa

I hope to enter 2 or 3 fibre art pieces in this show. The one piece I have completed so far, the abstract pictured below, is based on Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve. 

The colours came to me first, reflecting both harmony and contrast in the music. After painting the background and choosing fabrics to include, shapes began to form in my mind based on the rhythm and repetitions in the music and on the directions in which it was going.  The next layers represented bits of the melody and chords. It was not really a thought process of creating, but rather done at an intuitive level while listening repeatedly to the song. What a great way to get out of our usual grooves of creation. 

I'm looking forward to seeing Tones at the Atomic Rooster and what other artists are creating. Let me know if you'll be putting in a piece or two or visiting the show. 


"Music is full of longing and movement.  Painting should be the same." I read this quote in Hundred and Thousands: The Journals of...