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Auditory-visual synesthesia

If the synesthetic concurrent is (or includes) colour, it can also be called Chromesthesia or Coloured hearing


With this type of synesthesia, sound and/or music trigger visual perceptions. The most common visual concurrent is colour, experienced alone or together with other visual components such as shape, texture, spatial position and movement or direction. These other concurrents may also occur without colour being involved.

Projectors and associators

The visual experience may be projected (the colours or shapes are seen physically, superimposed on reality) or associated (they are seen in the mind's eye, or a strong impression of the colour, shape, etc. is perceived although nothing is actually seen in external space). Associator synesthetes are the clear majority: it is estimated that about 10% of synesthetes are projectors and 90% are associators. Some synesthetes have both types of experience, projection and association, although this does not appear to be common and it seems that the majority have one kind or the other but not both.


Auditory-visual synesthesia is one of the most common types of synesthesia and it is estimated that up to 40% of synesthetes could have one or more of its subtypes. It covers many different experiences, with a variety of specific inducers (general sounds, musical notes, instruments, chords, genres, the human voice, etc.) and concurrents (colour, shape, texture, position, movement etc.).

Types of auditory-visual synesthesia (the links go to a description and examples)

Tone-colour (musical note-colour) and other visual concurrents

Chord-colour and other visual concurrents

Timbre-colour and timbre-shape (musical instruments)

Chromesthesia

Song-colour and Musical genre-colour

Key signature-colour

General sounds-vision (colour/shape/texture/position/movement)

Voice-colour (and other visual concurrents)

Types of synesthesia triggered by hearing WORDS, which could perhaps be considered auditory-visual:

Phoneme-colour and word-colour experienced on hearing words spoken

Ticker tape synesthesia


Some questions and answers about auditory-visual synesthesia:


Do all synesthetes see the same colours, shapes, etc. in response to the same sounds or musical stimuli, or are they very different?

They vary enormously from person to person. What might be green triangles for one are morphing blobs of different colours for another, while someone else might see their visual field filled with blue light. It is true that deeper, lower sounds generally tend to produce darker colours and higher-pitched sounds lighter colours, but apart from that there are few similarities.


Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

It is normally considered a natural, pleasant experience. It often creates an exceptional appreciation of music and is greatly enjoyed, although it can also be neither pleasant nor unpleasant if the synesthete is not focusing on the visual experience (with background music they are not paying much attention to, for example) and in this case unless their synesthesia is very strong it can go virtually unnoticed. However, some people are prone to having a sensory overload if faced with too many stimuli at the same time, and others can find it impossible to concentrate with music playing (they cannot drive or study with music on, for example), or they may not like some of the colours or shapes in particular.


Is it useful?

In most cases, having auditory-visual synesthesia is a source of pleasure and great musical appreciation. For some, it can be a help in composing music and they even go on to be successful professional musicians. For others it guides them on finding the right notes when they sing, helps determine their musical tastes – which may be different from those of the majority – or simply adds to the pleasure of listening to music or even to the sounds of nature.


Does the volume of the music affect the experience?

Yes, although not in the same way for everyone. For some synesthetes very loud or live music creates a better and more intense visual experience, with brighter colours, while for others it is impossible to listen at a high volume as they find it too unpleasant to be able to see anything at all. As the volume of a song gradually fades to zero, some synesthetes’ colours become more transparent before finally disappearing, while for others they get lighter and lighter, or more muddied, or the shapes become smaller or they move into the distance to become lost on the horizon… there is a great deal of variety.


What kinds of music do people with auditory-visual synesthesia most enjoy?

Any type of music, depending on the person, as some react to the timbre, others to the musical notes, others to the singer’s voice, and so on. For some a simple melody is the best but others enjoy a large number of different instruments being played at the same time as it creates a much more interesting panorama of shapes and colours. Some genres often mentioned by synesthetes are electronic music, as it is more textured (EDM, glitch, psytrance, vaporwave for example) and classical music, although there are many more favourites. This is my personal playlist of tracks that have produced the most exhilarating experiences for me as a timbre-shape/colour and auditory-tactile synesthete: as you can see, it’s very varied.


Is it consistent? Do synesthetes always see the same thing when they hear the same sounds?

Basically, yes. There can be some differences in the experience depending on the degree of focus and relaxation, sound quality, etc., but the visual response tends to be the same or very similar in the same circumstances.


Can it occur at the same time as other auditory or musical synesthesias like auditory-tactile or sound-to-smell?

Yes, many synesthetes have more than one type of auditory synesthesia at the same time. For some, their strongest type dominates and cancels out the others in response to a particular sound stimulus, while for others interesting combinations are produced where visual concurrents coexist with smells, tastes or touch sensations.


What is the definition of “chromesthesia”? What types of synesthesia does it include?

The term chromesthesia refers to any type of synesthesia in which the inducer is sound or music and the concurrent is (or includes) colour. For a list of types, see the page about chromesthesia


Some auditory-visual experiences that raise the question “Is this synesthesia?”

Seeing figurative images or landscapes on listening to music

Seeing or thinking about a kind of “music video” on listening to music

Seeing a flash of light with closed eyes on hearing a loud or sudden sound

Seeing the singer’s words visually on listening to a song


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