The birth and development of light-music, the very process of creation of light-music works is connected usually with "color hearing" phenomenon, the special case of more general psychic phenomenon, the synesthesia ("co-sensation", in Greek origin). Such connection does exist, though it is not so simple as one might think (when lighting part in light-music work is regarded simply as screen materialization of some synesthetic hints). But let's first discuss the nature of synesthesia itself.

This phenomenon had got focus of scholars' studies at the end of XIX century, the initial impetus being made by the scandalous and famous "color sonnet" of A.Rimbaut, "The Vowels" ("A" is black, "I" has a blood color, etc.). This gave origin to the term "color hearing", rather uncommon one, just as Rimbaut's poetry was.

In Russian poetry there are many not completely common yet acceptable comparisons as "the dawn-blue sound of the flute" (K.Balmont), "the cries are thrown as the handfuls of golden coins" (A.Block). Today we calmly read the phrases such as the painter Tchiurlionis used to "see" music, and another painter Kandinsky "painted" in his mind's eye the timbres of musical instruments, as well as Balmont did. The musicology literature is full of allegations that composers Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Asaf'ev, Messiaen were able to "see" tonalities and chords in colors.

The common positivism of superficial culture, a product of universal education, makes people apprehend the words in the inverted commas above "see", "paint", etc., literally. This initial false premise causes further searching for simple explanation of this phenomenon. A number of explanations had been proposed - and all of them being very trivial: the naive reference to physics (the same wave nature of signals in both cases); a certain anatomic defect (tangling of acoustic and optic nerves); the atavism of psychics ("the recurrence of primitive consciousness"); and up to miraclous incognizable ability (which is accessible only for initiated into the mysteries of some esoteric teaching). But, in due course, many puzzles had been clarified - at least for those who shared with our research group "Prometheus" the keen interest in this problem and having discussed synesthesia at the special "color hearing" sections of the All-Union (later All-Russian) conferences being held in Kazan. To say in short, it is our opinion that synesthesia phenomenon regarding art realm does not relate to any psychic abnormality. Neither Rimbaut nor Balmont or Scriabin had "co-sensation" in literal meaning of the word. By it's psychological nature, synesthesia is inter-sensory association, one of the manifestation of non-verbal thinking, formed generally in sub-conscious sphere. This psychic process may come to the light in a verbal form - as a metaphor or allegory, even double allegory, for here the transfer of meaning is accompanied with the transfer into another sensor modality.

Not long ago, in 2000, I received the current issue of the elite interdisciplinary journal "Leonardo" (in which, by the way, I am an International Co-editor). There I found the announcement of discussion on synesthesia, defined as unusual "brain abnormality". The results of discussion were supposed to be used in - neither more nor less - new algorithms of audiovisual means designing.

It is necessary to say that in the West, especially in USA, a sort of "synesthetic boom" is observed nowadays. The monographies are published, Ph.D. theses are defended, conferences are being held, new synesthetic web sites appear. Almost all of them stress the unique, unusual and rather abnormal nature of the phenomenon, strange yet useful one. That is the manifestation of certain common prejudice. An old mistakes, that had been overcome long ago by European and Soviet science, are rising again! Unfortunately, our prominent academician A.Lurie has made his own contribution to this kind of "reductionism". (His well-known book on "synesthete" Shereshovski has become a Bible for modern researchers who study synesthesia as brain abnormality). Regarding very rare cases of abnormal "co-sensations", which were the symphtoms of either "cerebral arteriosclerosis" or "pregnancy", he mentioned in the same line the "color hearing" of Scriabin and other composers [1]. Maybe he could be pardoned in thinking so, taking into account his profession. But the philosophers sometimes fall into the same error as well.

For instance, V.N.Sagatovsky wrote: "In psychiatry the case of synesthesia (a perception of sound as bearing a certain color) is considered as "suffering". Well, few people did suffer from this "abnormality", Scriabin and Block among them. But if this feature extends the abilities for vision and creative process, not disbalancing other functions of the organism, why should we consider it as a misfortune? The "sublime" ideas of both paranoic and man of genius are equally uncommon, but the former are abnormal not because of their uncommonness" [2, p.338].

And all that was written in Soviet times, by the representative of "the most advanced" materialistic philosophy! Here everything contradicts to that very philosophy, as well as to established facts. It is well-known that both Block's synesthesies ("blue silence", "red summons") and that of Scriabin ("Do-major is red, the color of the Matter") in no sense referred to "the perception of sound as bearing a certain color", having obvious figurative or symbolic meaning. And shy inverted commas of the word "suffering" cannot hide the crude biologization of the phenomenon. The psychic pathology, however "safe" and "useful" it would be, could not be used in the process of personal (especially artistic) communication.

One can only make a helpless gesture and say: "Well, let Scriabin could have cerebral arteriosclerosis, but scarcely he was pregnant!" Jokes apart, let's repeat once more: composers never had such kind of color hearing as it was understood by Luria, Sagatovsky and some others. In general, if we discuss "color hearing" in artistic and not clinic aspect - then the notion "color hearing" itself is a metaphor and to apprehend it literally is equal to believing in the existence of "baked ice".

This kind of arguments were taking place between me and my American colleagues. As for Russian mass media during the last 10-15 years, they refused to be interested in psychological, gnoseological aspects of synesthesia. Nothing has been published on this problem, except precocious, commercial editions of psychological attitude, containing the relashs of early publications or, at best, dull esoteric revelations. That is why we should return to this problem, to stress some interesting relationships. Therefore...

It's hard to believe, but not long ago the notion "association" was apprehended in a different way than now, and in rather negative sense. Thus, the prominent philosopher of XVII century J.Locke called it "some kind of madness". What is as well dificult to believe in, the metaphor was regarded as "language illness" (by English linguist M.Muller, in the midst of XIX century). It seems that the time has set everything in it's proper place. Now it is clear that associations may be classified in two groups: the first includes random and exclusively personal associations, and the second includes common ones, which are far more valuable for communication. In scientific works such terms as "associative thinking", "associative brain" are used widely. The nature of metaphor also has been clarified (by the way, it is based just on associative comparisons, displaying the kernel of a poetics, the essence of verse language).

One might think, common sense has got a triumph - but Homo Sapience once again made us doubt whether he is Sapience at all when studying synesthesia, which is the special case of association (intersensory), and a special metaphor (intersensory transfer). No wonder that already the contemporary of Rimbaut and Balmont, the psychologist A.Binet, one of the first synesthesia researcher, had come to conclusion that metaphor lay in the base of unusual poetical verses, but for him it is an ugly thing. Another striking fact, that long before Binet some philosophers (no less famous than J.Locke) deliberately used in their works synesthetic comparisons, yet always as an examples of absurd (katachresis or oxymoron in philological terms). Explaining the function of money as the form of exchange value, realizing "the brotherhood of impossibilities", K.Marks gave as an example the comparison of famous singer's voice and...comet's tail [3, vol.3, pp.422-443]. But today we calmly take in such verses as "Woman's voice flies as a wind/ It looks black, wet, nighty/ Fills with diamond radiance/ Silvers something somewhere for a moment" (A.Akhmatova). V.Nabokov in his novel "The Gift" cited N.Tchernyshevsky, who, as an example of "meaningless words combination" had invented the combination "blue sound". Thus he actually anticipated the line in A.Block's verse "the ringing blue hour" [4, vol.3, p.216]. Let's remind also the overwhelming "blue clung of the horseshoes" by S.Yesenin. A.Poushkin prefaced his "Egyptian Nights" with the following "nonsense" epigraph: "He is able to make anything out of his voice. - He would better sew a trousers for himself out of it, miss". A hundred years later this was echoed in excellent metaphor by V.Mayakovski: "I'll sew black trousers for myself out of the velvet of my voice".

Hence it follows that synesthetic abilities are not of biological but of social origin. The art is exactly that area where synesthesia is being cultivated and developed as concentrated manifestation of figurative thinking inherent in artistic style and the spirit of a certain epoch.

But why the fate of the notion "association" has appeared to be so hard? The reason is, the "association" (even in etymological sense) refers to "connection", and in any system, any structure it is more difficult to study connections than the components taken separately. A system of reflection of the world via our senses is not an exception.


  1. Luria A. Small book on large memory. - Moscow: MGU Press, 1968.
  2. Sagatovsky B. Philosophy as a theory of a whole and it's role in medicine studies. - Tomsk: TGU Press, 1968.
  3. Marx K., Engels F. Works, 2nd edition.
  4. Nabokov V. Colected Works in 4 volumes. - Moscow: Pravda, 1990.

Published in Conference "Prometheus-2000". Collected theses. - Kazan: FEN, 2000. - pp.73-79