Sound-texture synesthesia

A person with this type of synesthesia consciously perceives textures on hearing different sounds. However, in practice these textures usually accompany another concurrent of their synesthesia – normally sensations of colour, shape, taste or touch – rather than being evoked individually, so sound-texture might not actually not be a type of synesthesia per se. It can coexist with auditory-visual synesthesia, for example, triggering visualisations of strongly textured colours, or shapes with both colour and texture.

It is different from auditory-tactile synesthesia in that it does not involve real physical tactile sensations on the body (for more about how they are different and what auditory-tactile consists of, go to the page on auditory-tactile synesthesia).

However, an interesting case is that of tone-texture (musical note-texture) synesthesia. Although it is uncommon, some synesthetes distinguish the notes on the musical scale exclusively by the different textures they feel on hearing each one. Go to the page on tone-texture synesthesia On this page, you can also see an illustration of how both colour and texture together can be very important in distinguishing musical notes.

These are some examples of what we could call sound-texture synesthesia:

In conjunction with auditory-visual synesthesia (sound-sight):

"I think it's important to distinguish texture from physical, tactile sensations. As a primarily timbre-color synesthete I see textures in music. Like, I'll have the distinct image of cloth or stone or something that accompanies the colors, but I don't feel that cloth or stone physically touching my body. I just have an image of it and therefore recognize it as texture."

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)

“For me it goes mostly like this:
Note = color
Register = brightness/intensity
Timbre/Frequency = texture and shape.”

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)

"A cat's meow is brown, smooth plastic, specifically like looking into a hollow plastic cone."

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)

An example of voice-shape/texture

“Some things I’ve associated with people’s voices are - a wooden block, just cubic with a couple of weird crater holes in them because of the airy tone - a thick, dense, maple syrupy texture that sort of pours out of a bottle - the soft and cool pinch of spraying cologne on your wrist (don’t ask idk either LMAO) - a bag of yellow chips puffed up with air.”

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2022.)

In conjunction with auditory-gustatory synesthesia (sound-taste):

"For instance, a certain kick drum might taste like the texture of an eraser, or a snare might taste like the texture of a toothpick."

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2016.

In conjunction with auditory-tactile synesthesia:

“I feel textures and materials underneath my fingers while listening. Each genre or ‘sound’ of music evokes a different feeling. Smooth jazz and classical music feels like glossy wood or plastic while rock music feels like sandpaper or grout.”

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)

Sound-texture as a type in its own right:

"There are some sounds that feel like velvet to me, or bubble wrap. Like when I hear a certain song, it's like I can actually feel the velvet in my mind. Or Alicia Keys for example, her voice sounds like the feeling of a soft rope. (…) I’m having a hard time explaining it. Like the sound IS the texture. When I hear Alicia Keys sing, it’s like I can feel a soft red rope intertwining."

(Source: This post on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.

“To me it feels like sounds/notes are raised bits and the spaces between them are grooves. It's like running my mind's finger over a rubber stamp. Depending on how crisp the sounds are, the "edges" can also feel pointy, square, round or a combination of those words. The "thickness" and "transparency" of sounds is something I also perceive.”

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)

This explanation helps understand how synesthetic textures are experienced on hearing music:

"I hear songs as a mixed bag of sensations and the texture is one of them. (…) I don't physically feel it, more like I simply know what it would feel like if I touched it."

(Source: This comment on Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)

Cross-modal correspondences: something everyone can do

Up to a point, all of us are able to associate textures with sounds. These associations are called “cross-modal correspondences” or "cross-modal associations” because they involve two different sensory modes, but they are not considered synesthesia as they do not occur consciously. The differences are as follows:

A person with sound-texture synesthesia: whenever they hear a specific sound, they perceive the same texture. They feel, see or taste this texture, normally as part of their other types of synesthesia in response to the sound, and simply consider it to be one of the inherent properties of the sound in question. This can happen with all sounds or just some in particular.

A non-synesthete: they don’t normally perceive impressions of texture from sounds in their day-to-day life and they never think about it. However, if asked they would say that certain sounds match certain textures much better than others.

On this subject, it’s interesting to think of the numerous expressions that reflect a link between sound and texture. To mention just a few related to the human voice, voices are often described as being soft, velvety, gravelly or brittle, and these adjectives all refer to tactile sensations for concepts that are impossible to touch. They’re not connected with synesthetic experiences, but as figures of speech they are appealing and easy to understand and use as they stem from the cross-modal associations we all instinctively find to be accurate.

Go to the page on musical note-texture synesthesia

Go to the page on auditory-tactile synesthesia

Go to the page on auditory-visual synesthesia

Go to the page on auditory-gustatory synesthesia

This page last updated: 30 August 2022

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