Wednesday, 19 January 2011


In the creative projects I do I use the word synesthesia understood as a creative exploration of the connection between the senses. However the word itself also describes a neurological process which automatically links one sense to another (one's sensation perceived with one sense has a "correspondence" in another sense). People who experience synesthesia are called synesthesists. For the first time in my life, tonight, in an art gallery (South London Gallery), I have met one, who was part of a live performance. 3 musicians (Julien Discrit, Thomas Dupouy and Laurent Montaron) were playing a static music piece on three traditional reed organs and the synesthesist, Claude-Samuel Levine, "translated" the sound into a colour system which was simultaneously projected into the space. The performance was conceived with artist Ulla Von Brandenburg.

The synesthesist had one table were several cards of different colours had been laid, that he would pick up and use to form, on another table, a visual scenario according to the sounds the musicians played. I was really amazed and happy as it was the first time I saw a phenomena like synesthesia being investigated with a live performance. This could lead to other performances to further investigate this phenomena, why not using other senses...

The venue was packed and spectators were so impressed that after the performance many (including I) gathered around the synesthesist to ask him questions, which was rather confusing for both us and the guy I assume. In fact there wasn't a proper introduction or a Q&A time with the artists and the synesthesist. This is a shame: given the public's interest and being synesthesia a rather unknown-to-many territory, this would have helped the audience to get more into the "sensation" of such an interesting performance. I wonder what the actual artists' idea was...

However, the synesthesist was very kind and I managed just to ask whether he had worked with perfume. Unfortunately (for my ears) for now his experience (and maybe his synesthesia?) is related to music and sight, he is actually a composer too.

Claude also said that another couple of fascinating facts: first, when he hears a sound he can see its movement. Second, he actually experiences synesthesia with words and vowels too: for instance when he hears the vowel A he sees the colour yellow. So for the first time in my life I have met someone to relate to for an experience that I had only "heard of" in a poem. Did Rimbaud know about synesthesia or did he "just" contribute to its use in literature?! I wish I could ask him...


A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue : vowels,
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:
A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies
Which buzz around cruel smells,

Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
In anger or in the raptures of penitence;

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
The peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
Which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:
O the Omega, the violet ray of Her Eyes!


A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d'ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles ;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux ;

O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges :
- O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux ! -
A. Rimbaud

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