Natalie Dyer talks to Ireland's most colourful people about their experiences of seeing colour in music.
There are those expressions ‘green with envy’, ‘yellow-bellied’ and ‘seeing red.’ Then the superstitious rationale of the virginal, white wedding dress and unlucky green car. A mingling of one's spidey senses is no new thing. So, to those of you not already acquainted with the idea of Synesthesia, it’s a condition whereby one sense is simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses. There are also many different forms of it.
A common category is ‘sequence-space synesthesia’ - when months, numbers, or the letters of the alphabet occupy spatial locations in the mind’s eye. Such synesthetes are eight times more likely to work in a creative capacity, and quite a few talented artists throughout history have had it. Poets. Actors. Also musicians Tori Amos, Dev Hynes, Pharrell Williams and Billy Joel.
Today, we’re talking about Chromesthesia. The one where sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke an experience of colour. Before Ireland’s most colourful people are lined up to talk about these encounters, we find out why they are obsessed with their chosen colour.
What does the colour orange trigger for you?
Emmet Ferdle// Digital Designer at Momondo
“I’m just naturally drawn to orange stuff, it’s like, I can feel a twinkle in my eyes when I see it. I especially love the obnoxious, unnatural shades - neon orange for example - that really commands your attention. But orange occupies a fairly vast space between red and yellow, and I love the whole spectrum of hues it envelops. From a branding perspective, orange is used to represent both unattainable luxury (Hermès, Versace etc.) and bargain-friendly economical (KAYAK, EasyJet etc.).
“It’s also got those fruity connotations (did you know the colour was named after the fruit in English?), as well as being warming or energetic - fire, sunshine, spices. Not to mention safety orange. Those especially bright shades are used to grab attention - traffic cones, construction sites, jumpsuits. I suppose at the core of it all, orange has a reputation for being extremely noticeable.”
What does the colour pink trigger for you?
Sinead Bailey Kelly// Conceptual Designer and Founder of H&G Creations
“I think the colour pink has taken on a whole new meaning for me in the last few years. When I was a young tomboy, I thought it was too girlie of a colour to wear. Since my late teens, I've developed a close relationship with the LGTBQ community and pink makes me feel strong emotions of love and equality. To me, pink has become a gender neutral colour. I'm especially happy to see it gaining popularity in men’s fashion, as it’s a start of a silent revolution on breaking down gender norms.”
What does the colour yellow trigger for you?
Fortune Lago// Hip-Hop DJ
“Yellow triggers sort of a happy emotion. I guess because the sun is yellow. Does it have a reputation? I think maybe it's not too great. Not a lot of people wear yellow or have yellow things like a car. People don’t wear bright colours because they aren't always happy with change. They stick with what gets them less attention. I don't really like trends because once it's a trend it's out of style.”
What do multi-colours trigger for you?
Poppy De Scrace// Bodypaintee
“I find emotions and colour can be closely linked for me. For example, I was in tesco the other day and saw bunches of yellow flowers. I looked at the roses and tulips, then bought some for myself because the colour was brightening up my not-so-happy day. So, I doubt you'd ever see me in a white dress, unless it was to be doused in neon paints or something!”
Hot Press then asked the gang to pin colours on the following music genres:
Emmet described country music as dark tan because he couldn’t stop picturing cowboy boots. Fortune thinks of brown too. “When you’re driving and listening to country, it’s usually in Texas and the first colour you see is brown.” Sinead thinks country music feels warm and slow like yellow. Poppy says that she doesn’t know any country music except Trixie Mattel and a little bit of Dolly Parton, so on that basis she sees pink.
Sinead feels rave is “heavy and dark like red” and Poppy associates the genre with neon colours like acid green (which could also be a word feeling association indicative of the acid dance subgenre). Emmet thinks rave is bright green or luminescent: “flashing wildly, so that everyone and everything in the space is intermittently washed in various shades of green”.
Poppy expressed that as a teenager she went through an emo phase. She described metal as being a combination of purple and silver. “It just reminds me of those days when I would go to the local metal gigs and get out of my own head, into a like-minded community”. Emmet is poetic in his view on the colour of metal music: “[It’s] black but not completely black, more shiny. The kind of black you find if you’re looking at the sea very late at night and the moon is bright, but half covered with clouds so the waves are barely and unevenly lit - almost black”. Sinead feels that metal is “harsh and cold like blue”.
Sinead and Fortune reckon Irish trad is earthy and native like green. Emmet sees a vivid burgundy, but has a more personal account for why that would be. “My bosca ceoil was a marbled crimson colour with burgundy bellows, and the wooden box I carried it in had maroon padding. Saying that, fiddles and banjos can also acquire burgundy tones at candlelit sessions.” Interestingly, Poppy’s impartialness to Irish trad sees her further associate it with a colour that’s long been pigeonholed as boring and bland. “Irish trad is grey. I don't hear it much, but when I do, I have no interest in it. It's fine, but its a background colour.”
Almost everyone considered pop to be pink in some shape or form. For Sinead, it’s “fluffy and sweet like pink”. Emmet said rose pink because he thinks it’s “vibrant, perky and tends to demand a lot of attention”. Poppy looks at it as a pale pink. “It’s fun - but not too offensive or anything”.
Emmet believes that many influential hip hop artists make use of red in some aspects of their visual presentation, from album art to style of clothes. Emmet also considers red to be a strong and energetic colour, which he says pairs well with hip-hop’s mood. Sinead feels hip-hop is cozy and deep like purple. Poppy said that hip-hop is a combination of a few strong blocks of colour: “pink, purple, yellow, blue - colours seen in street art”. The only one who can’t pin a colour on hip-hop is Fortune, who is, co-incidentally, a hip-hop DJ.
On marketing music and colour as one. Emmet reckons he’d be naive to think his opinion on the visuals he associates with a song or artist aren’t based on their YouTube thumbnails, album art, or the colour outfit they wore when he saw them live. Otherwise, if he’s only heard a song and has no visual references to choose a colour from - he pictures a colour based on his own preconceptions. That may be another song he’s reminded of, or what he imagines the artist to look like.
On storytelling by wearing colour. Sinead recently had someone say to her that she’s a walking advertisement for herself. “My brand colour for my business at H&G Creations is hot pink. When I wear all pink, I like to think of myself as a walking business card for H&G.”
Do their music preferences have an influence on their colour obsession? Emmet says it’s something he’s never really considered. “I do love the kind of music that invokes that warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s similar to what I experience after getting home from work freezing and drenched, before switching on my orange lamp, slipping into my orange sweatpants, and curling up on my orange bed”.
Sinead unequivocally agrees that her love of 90s music has influenced her love of pink: “TLC, Spice Girls, No Doubt, Aqua, Vengaboys, Clueless...So many influences on pink vibes in the 90s. Especially Lil Kim - what a boss. Block colour, pimp faux fur, full length coat over a silk night slip. Absolutely into it.” For Poppy, the music she listens to is largely made up of soundtracks: “When I was a teenager I got very into the Mighty Boosh [Old Gregg and The Hitcher, in particular]. It was around the same time my love of green really took off”.
On musicians who use one particular colour as a means of identification. Hot Press suggests singer P!nk and the boyband Blue as an example to the group. Sinead says the most obvious choice of colours for these bands would be to identify that one is feminine and one is masculine. “I think it’s interesting that P!nk would choose pink as a name to identify with. I find her to be a strong woman with quite a masculine energy...So, using the word pink as her name is almost a contradiction of all associations with the colour pink as being feminine”.
Emmet imagines that most artists would choose their names based on personal experiences or random strings of words that just feel right. “I recently read somewhere that P!nk is raising her children gender-neutral. Maybe she chose her name as some kind of reclamation of the colour. Maybe the word was just a nickname. I guess it’s difficult to judge if a colour in a name represents something socially or artistically significant, or something else entirely.”
As an area of study, the research of synesthesia has grown exponentially over the past few centuries. When people first discovered synesthesia in the 19th century, it was wrongly traced back to the eyes due to a prior knowledge of colour blindness. This ideology was shelved when it was discovered that people could actually generate the same senses with their eyes closed, confirming its base in neurology. Since then, the research agenda has moved on from questioning the legitimacy of the condition to understanding how exactly it can affect subjects. It wasn’t until the 1980s that neurologists, Richard Cytowik and Simon Baren-Cohen, began to understand its characteristics.
All food for thought. Or food for the ears, eyes and nose.
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