Synesthesia: von der Mehden allows us to see the world through another’s eyes

 A creative project expressing how synesthetes experience objects and colors through space when hearing music, sounds and voices is presented at UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall. (Majdolin Al Jajeh/ The Daily Campus)

A creative project expressing how synesthetes experience objects and colors through space when hearing music, sounds and voices is presented at UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall. (Majdolin Al Jajeh/ The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts performed the “Synesthesia” Tuesday night in von der Mehden, a show designed to bring synesthesia to life by combining music with unique visuals.

Synesthesia is a psychological phenomenon in which someone experiences a crossover of the senses: sensory stimulation of one sense results in stimulation of another sense. Commonly, a synesthete will hear something and experience some kind of visual accompaniment. The show sought to recreate this through light, color and music.

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The stage had five, tall screens. The screens were translucent and lined with LED lights. The screens, and the stage, were lit by colored lights. The concert was divided into four parts, each followed by a question and answer segment with the audience.

Tyler Bizier and Matt Lazarus, two synesthetes at UConn, designed the visuals in the show to reflect their own personal experiences of the songs.

The first part of the show featured Olga Radović on piano, playing a series of Preludes by Alexander Nikolayevich Skryabin. Bizier and Lazarus controlled the LEDs live on the screens via a Bluetooth app on their phones.

The second part of the show was set to a Beethoven piece played by Andrew Peng on violin, Own Lee on cello and Morgan Lee on piano. The lighting on the screens was designed by Bizier and Amanda Hernandez with projections by Heejo Kim, another synesthetes. The colors switched from pink on the screens and blue shining over the players to red and green to other stunning combinations; the colors were constantly changing to reflect the song, and all of it was overlaid with a video of static.

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Synesthesia is unique to everyone: Bizier sees static everywhere. Colors interact with it and what he sees often takes up physical space. He also sees voices as colors, and said the voice of one of the girls in the audience was magenta.

He mentioned he experiences time differently than other people, and he has to listen to a certain playlist while driving because if he listens to unfamiliar music, unexpected visuals can pop up and be incredibly distracting.

“It can be overwhelming for sure,” Bizier said. “Concerts are interesting.”

The third part of the show was a piece by Ernő Dohnányi played by Brian Roach on violin, Brandon Kaplan on viola and Bronwyn Reeve on cello. The lighting was designed by Lazarus and also included projections by Kim. The colors acted as more of a backdrop and the animations became the focus. White, sketchbook-like streaks crossed the screen, laid over various background colors. They changed fluidly and seemingly drew themselves across the screen.

“Mine’s not hallucinatory,” Lazarus said about his synesthesia. “My colors take the backseat to the visuals.”

The visuals have layers and are like shapes on paper to him, often with different opacities. He sees them more-so in his mind than in space.

Bizier and Lazarus said it was interesting to see each other’s synesthesia represented, almost like hearing someone speak another language.

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The last part of the show was based on non-synesthetic experiences: color association by people who don’t identify as synesthetes. In studies, people were asked to pick colors that reflect a specific point of the song they were listening to. What was found is that people tend to pick the same colors, though much of this reflects culturally-ingrained ideas. For example, Salsa music tends to be seen as red, Irish music as green and death metal as black.

The last song’s lighting was designed by Michael Chybowski, who helped put the show together. He doesn’t identify as a synesthete, so his design was more concrete than the others in the show. The colors he chose were based off of the mood of the show, such as blues and greens to reflect the calm parts of the music, rather than things he sees.

As people, we often talk about trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. This show offered the unique experience of actually being able to do that with synesthesia.

“It was really interesting,” student Elaine Tantalum said. “I had never heard of synesthesia before so it was fun to learn about it. I could even see what they were seeing which helped me understand it more.”

The concert was a one-of-a-kind experience that kept audience members hooked. The Q&A sections were alive with curious questions and the audience involvement was immense.

“I thought it was really mesmerizing and enthralling,” first-semester digital media and design major Natalie Curtis said. “It was really enlightening to see through someone else’s point of view and to see how it fits into their lives.”


Courtney Gavitt is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.