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Auditory-olfactory synesthesia

Also called sound-smell synesthesia


With this type of synesthesia, certain sounds – musical sounds particularly, although it can also apply to general sounds – evoke smells. It is relatively uncommon (in Sean Day’s study, only 1.58% of the 1,143 synesthetes questioned had this type), although it appears that people with other types of auditory synesthesia can have occasional experiences with it. When it occurs more permanently, for some people each musical note might have its own odour, for example, while for others the aromas are triggered by particular musical genres, the timbres of each instrument or other aspects. It is also a possibility that a characteristic of the music evokes an emotion in the listener and this emotion in turn triggers a clearly perceived smell. It is consistent: the same sound or musical stimulus tends to produce the same olfactory concurrent. A certain degree of focus, concentration or relaxation appears to be necessary in order to experience the smells. Which are not always pleasant by the way: bad smells are described equally or more often than good ones.





Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:

 

General sounds-smell

“The sound of stepping on a stick like you'd find in a forest smells like cinnamon and French toast.”

(Source: This post and comments on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia2015. This person has olfactory concurrents for many types of sounds – general and musical, and also voices.)


Timbre-smell

“Acoustic guitars smell like honey, drums smell like pine needles. It all depends on the way it’s all played though, too.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia2018.)


Musical genre-smell

“I can't listen to reggae for example, it smells bad to me, the rhythm and the guitars...”

(Source: a comment posted in the Facebook group “Synesthesia”. 2018.)


“I smell music the majority of the time, though a lot smells either very tangy and citrus-y, or nature-like. When I'm in band class, we all smell salty like the ocean.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia2015.)


Song-smell

“Songs have very vivid smells for me, but only songs I’ve heard before. Usually it’s the smell of the place where I first heard the song, occasionally it’s the smell of where my most impactful listen through the song took place.

I don’t smell new songs until the second listen.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia2020.)


Music-emotion-smell

“It's a general impression or even an emotion. For example I find some classical music (and atonal) oppressive or "disappointing" and that gives me a kind of rotting smell, some positive, happy parts of music look and smell like cherryade, a smell of silk is also something positive, I get a burning smell sometimes and I haven't yet worked out why. I only get smells occasionally, while I get visuals 99% of the time.”

(Source: Pau 365, in this post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia2018.)


Other musical subtypes would be tone-smell (with musical notes), chord-smell and key signature-smell.


Voice-smell

“My mom's voice smells like flowers and perfume and fruit and sugar and stuff like that.”

(Source: This post and comments on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia2015. This person has olfactory concurrents for many types of sounds – general and musical, and also voices.)

 

Lexical-olfactory synesthesia

This is a type of synesthesia where words have a smell. It can be triggered by reading the words, hearing them spoken, or simply by thinking about them. If the impression of a smell comes from words that are heard it could perhaps be considered a kind of auditory-olfactory synesthesia, although it would probably be better classified as a conceptual type of synesthesia as it is also related to the semantics of the word and not merely its sound. If the olfactory concurrent is triggered by letters that are heard or the individual sounds contained in words it would be a case of phoneme-to-smell, and if it is in response to the part of the word that carries its basic meaning, i.e. the root of the word, it would be lexeme-to-smell. These latter types are rare and I am not aware of any cases of them, although a similar case involving phonemes and taste rather than smell is described in the page on lexical-gustatory synesthesia.

 

Go to the page on lexical-olfactory synesthesia


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