Sound personification

(Personifying sequences of musical sounds)

Personification of musical sounds forming part of a sequence, such as the notes on the musical scale for example, can be considered a type of synesthesia. It is an uncommon type. It consists of involuntarily and consistently associating characteristics with these sounds such as gender, personality, human appearance, feelings and interpersonal relationships such as friendship, rivalry, love or marriage. It mainly occurs with musical notes, chords and keys, and there is also a possible variant involving timbre/melody. It is auditory, so it happens when these musical sounds are listened to. See below for the non-auditory case of personification of musical notations (graphemes) on reading sheet music.

Types of personification of sounds or musical sequences:

Tone personification (musical notes)

“The notes B, C and D are siblings. B and C are boys and D is a girl. The notes E and F are the parents of the bcd clic. E is the mom and F is the dad. They are married but hate each other, because they have nothing in common. They avoid each other by working different shifts. The note G is an interesting pease of shit. She gets along well with B and C. She is really just their friend, but is also trying really hard to impress them more, and possibly get in bed with them. The note A is just a weird old dude who likes to invite himself over to the previously mentioned family's house.

(…) It doesn't affect anything else, except notes, and it's only when I hear them.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)

Chord personification

“This happens to me more or less, but with chords. I guess F and A have the same color, and F is a sporty nice girl, but only if F is in the major scale. A is more feminine and Princess wanting to be rescued like.”

(Source: This comment in response to the previous post on tone personification on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)

Key personification

The key a song is in can also evoke personification. For this synesthete, each key has its own gender, character and place in society:

“Most of the keys are feminine or androgynous, although C# minor and Bb minor are definitely men (or at least very masculine). B major is E major’s younger sister or cousin. D minor and F minor are allies who frequently don’t see eye to eye. F major and G major are the closest of friends and take care of F# major, the youngest of the signatures, together. C minor rarely interacts with anyone, and is kind the way an anesthesiologist is kind.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.) 

Timbre personification

In the book Wednesday is Indigo Blue, an example is cited of a synesthete for whom the timbres of the different musical instruments each have their own personality:

"Viola. Feminine. Warm and deeply caring. A deep thinker and feeler, philosophical and thoughtful. Wise and quite experienced. Gentle and loving, affectionate. Usually hugs the listener. Can become quite melancholy. On C-string, rather nervous and high-strung. (…)

Oboe. Masculine. Profoundly emotional and thoughtful. Withdrawn, introspective and prone to melancholy. (…)"

(Source: the book Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia by Richard E. Cytowic and David Eagleman, p.100. The MIT Press, 2009.)

Timbre/melody personification

This type of personification could perhaps also be considered a type of synesthesia.

“I only get it with certain musical genres. Some jazz music, but the one that is totally personality-oriented for me is chiptune. It’s like entering a world of little characters with attitude, personality, age, very basic physical characteristics, and family relationships: father, mother, children, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts… It’s thrilling. I get it most from short, repetitive melodies played on separate instruments that interact. It’s consistent and always happens with the same tracks and types of music. What creates the character from the start is the quality, shape and colour of the sound of the little melody. They follow the movement of the music. I’d say that what they look most like are “emojis”. They’re like little balls, but at the same time they have legs, arms, expression, hair, some of them have a moustache. Male sounds are much more common than female sounds, they make up about 80% perhaps. The female sounds are usually yellow or orange and they move differently. Normally in each track there is a main character, who is male, twenty-something, and he usually has a more boring, sensible personality while the others tend to be more fun.”

(Source: Pau 365, my own experience)

Personification of graphemes representing musical notes

People with ordinal linguistic personification for graphemes (letters) can sometimes attribute personality to musical notes based on the musical notation rather than the actual musical sounds. This probably happens more when the letter notation system (A, B, C, D…) is used rather than the solfège system (La, Si, Do, Re…). In this case the personification appears on reading sheet music, or on identifying the notation (letter) of the tone on listening to it.

“Not for how the notes sound, but for how they’re written on sheet music.

C (Female): C is an enthusiastic woman who wears cat-eye glasses and is D’s mom. She doesn’t hang out with the other notes that much.

D (Female): D is a shy girl who C is always trying to help break out of her shell. She usually only talks to E (they’re half siblings and very close)

(After this all the notes are male)

E: E is a mixture of 4 and 6, he’s a quiet, smart teenage boy who is very protective over D. Wears square glasses.

F: F is the anxious companion of G.

If you add B sharp to any of the notes they get mean, and if you add an F sharp, they become more feminine and sometimes nervous. The clefs also have personalities, bass clef is kind of a hippie guy, while treble clef is a bubbly teacher who always tries to make everyone get along.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)

Go to the page on ordinal linguistic personification and personification in general

Go to the page on auditory-visual synesthesia

Go to the page on letter personification

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