What Color Makes You Sing?

In praise of color!

God did not create the world in black and white. Our world vibrates with vivid color from the cerulean blue sky above to fluorescent coral reefs sea deep.

Courtesy TED Radio Hour
Courtesy TED Radio Hour

Generally, colors are hues we see, but Neil Harbisson hears color. Now, you ask, what is it like to hear color?

Born completely color-blind, Neil once lived in a monochromatic world. Fortunately, colors have sound frequencies that can be transmitted through bone conduction. Thus, Neil now “sees” color via a device attached to his head that allows him to perceive color in this unique way.

Recently on NPR’s TED talks, Neil was showcased in a broadcast headlined as “Wearable Sensor Turns Color-Blind Man into “Cyborg” [electronic man]. Here’s more:

Neil Harbisson is an artist, cyborgist and colorologist. His unique experience of color informs his artwork, which before his device the “eyeborg” was strictly black and white. By working with cyberneticist Adam Montandon, Harbisson helped design a lightweight eyepiece that he wears on his forehead that transposes the light frequencies of color hues into sound frequencies.

Harbisson’s artwork blurs the boundaries between sight and sound. In his sound portraits series, he listens to the colors of faces to create a microtonal chord. “When I see someone, I hear their face,” he exclaims.

As an artist, Neil paints sounds, transposing music to color. In the City Colours project, he expresses the capital cities of Europe in two colors.

This system works in reverse too. When Neil hears Mozart, who composes with many G notes, he sees lots of yellow. Justin Bieber, on the other hand, shows up as pink because of his many E notes.

Neil’s dressing is influenced by sound and key signatures as well. He admits, “I dress so it sounds good.” On the day of the interview, Neil admitted to being attired in C-sharp major. I have no idea what color this would be though he did say his favorite color is the invisible infrared, which emits a very low, soothing sound.

Neil suffers from or is blessed with (depending on how you look at it) the phenomenon of synesthesia which Dictionary.com defines as “a sensation experienced in a part of the body other than the part stimulated. For example, sound may evoke sensations of colour.”

Most of us are not color-blind like Neil nor do we experience color as a shape or sound. Yet like him we value a colorful life.

Your turn: What color makes you sing? How does color affect you?


Today marks the 51st anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On that day, the world stopped. We as a nation were mute with sorrow and, accordingly, many wore sombre clothing as a token of respect. None can forget the valiant Jackie Kennedy veiled in black and by her side, John-John and Caroline, both in light blue suggesting hope for the future.



32 thoughts on “What Color Makes You Sing?

  1. I’ve always found synesthesia fascinating. Color blindness, too–and just how we see colors versus how animals see them. One of my daughter’s college housemates was color blind, and he was an art major. Her boyfriend is color blind, too, but he didn’t know it until he enlisted (that was many years ago before she knew him).
    Kind of related on senses–years ago when our family went out to dinner at a Thai restaurant, our girls had pumpkin ice cream for dessert. One of them said,”It tastes just like a pumpkin candle smells.” My other daughter and I agreed, but my husband had no idea what we meant. He still doesn’t. 🙂

    As for Kennedy–I was in second grade in Dallas. I remember the event. I never thought about the blue in the photo before, and it makes me think of Lincoln’s assassination and how all the photos then were in black and white.
    It also made me think of the girl in red in Schindler’s List.


    1. The connections between the senses you mention vibrate with those in my mind too. You must be familiar with Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses, which makes sense of many of these mysteries. I used to assign passages from her book for my Composition II students to paraphrase.

      As I read your comment, I immediately saw the little red-coated girl in Schindler’s list. Imprinted on my brain.

      Your comment about your husband’s being “nose blind” made me chuckle.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting. In literature, synesthesia refers to a technique adopted by writers to present ideas, characters or places in such a manner that they appeal to more than one sense like hearing, seeing, smell etc. at a given time. The modernists who wrote during the time of French Impressionism used this technique widely, notably Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud from France and Rubén Darío, from Nicaragua.
    I did not know about the biological meaning.
    November 22, 1963 I was in a science class, eighth grade 100 miles east of Dallas. Mrs. Cruse was my teacher. I couldn’t wait to get home.


    1. Thank you for bringing both the literary and scientific meanings together in your comment about synesthesia.

      You taught me something too with your mention of the Modernists who used the technique of synesthesia in their writings. I’m tempted to check out those authors again viewing them through a new lens.

      I think we all remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated, a perfect blend of time and place.


  3. Another fascinating blog post, Marian. As the comments suggest, you’ve made our minds connect on multiple levels.

    I first heard of synesthesia from a music faculty member at Goshen College, who was fascinated by the study of the sound spectrum and light spectrum, as Neil Harbisson is. I’ve never forgotten his lecture using a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his own poetry.

    As for the Kennedy memory. . . .it’s vivid. So much so that I included a scene in tenth-grad history class with Mr. Price, my favorite teacher, in my memoir BLUSH.

    Your photo here, however, made me aware of the use of color at the funeral in a new way. I may have seen this photo. I think I purchased the special edition of Life Magazine?? But my memories are of our small, rented, b & w tv sitting on the window ledge in the kitchen and the whole family gathered around it That whole day is black and white, and I remember the deep sadness as I learned a new vocabulary word — “caisson.”


    1. BLUSH is on my desktop right now. When I’m finished commenting here, I will search for this anecdote and re-read it.

      One of my colleagues at LMS, Verna Mohler, developed a list of vocabulary words based on the assassination and funeral events that followed. I am certain “caisson” was on the list.

      As always, your comment makes me think and remember, Shirley.


  4. I wasn’t old enough for the time of President Kennedy but I was for the assassination on Bobby Kennedy.

    As re’ colors, for clothes I like bright colors like turquoise or royal blue, jade, magenta, purple, and black, white and grey. I don’t like brown or orange or yellow or beige/khaki. I don’t like pastels or faded colors or florals.

    For my house I like painted white, inside and out. Though I do have a pumpkin colored front door…It’s not a bright orange, closer to bittersweet. But it was called pumpkin spice on the can. My furniture is navy and dark red and forest green, geometric patterns. I don’t like florals.

    My color likes and dislikes don’t seem to change with time or age or current fad.


    1. Athanasia, your comment made see a whole spectrum of colors including the florals which you said you do not like – ha! Color psychologists could analyze your color preferences and probably come up with some clues to your personality. Incidentally, many of my own color choices coincide with yours – particularly the royal blue and magenta.

      Right now a bittersweet wreath is hanging on my oaken front door. Happy Thanksgiving!


  5. Wow, I learn so much from your blog! My mother lost her eyesight for a short time when my baby brother was born. They were both not expected to live…they both did! When she regained her eyesight she was partially color blind. She had to depend on my dad for picking clothes that would look good together for the rest of their lives!

    I remember the day President Kennedy was shot. I was home with my small children, watching television. So I saw the first news flashes. I immediately called my husband at work. Right after I called him all lines into the Dow Chemical Plant were closed!
    I have always loved the Kennedy family, I’m saddened on this day.


    1. I appreciate your comment about your mother re-gaining her eyesight after losing it for a short time after your brother was born. Right now we are praying for one of my friends at the gym whose eyesight was affected after what appears to be a stroke. Pam is healthy and active, so we are hopeful that a miracle will happen in her behalf.

      I always appreciate the anecdotes your mention. They add richness to our comment column, Anita.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There is a really good book ‘Splashes of Colour ‘ by Claire Morrall that explores synesthesia…worth reading .
    The colour that makes me sing has to be green I love it . I am a piscean and of course I love water . My husand and myself can never agree if the ocean is blue or green …when I see it blue he sees it green and v.v .
    I have seen Jackie Kennedy, in black, when the president was assassinated but never seen the one with the children in blue for some reason . I cant believe it’s been 51 years wow .


    1. I want to check on Claire Morralle’s book as you suggested. Probably our public library has it>

      By the way, I think the ocean is blue-green or green-blue: whatever makes you happy. Thanks for your response, Cherry.


  7. Once again you have opened my mind to colors and sight. It’s amazing that my favorite color is pink. Yet I don’t have anything pink in my home nor do I wear anything pink other than a scarf. Yet I’m attracted to burgundy and reds. My front door and my wall going upstairs is burgundy. Yes, weird. I love flowers because I love colors. Never knew baby blue signified bright future; I always learn something new reading your blog.

    I was at my aunt’s home the day of the assassination. Everyone was crying. So sad.


    1. Red and burgundy are actually pale reds. You are not a pale personality, so it’s easy to see that you prefer red to pink, Gloria. How is that for an analysis!

      I’m not sure that light blue signifies a bright future, but it is certainly more cheery than navy or black, both funeral colors. Happy Thanksgiving, Gloria!


  8. Marian – As a Holistic Health Practitioner, one of my supporting certifications is in Color Therapy, so this post especially resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how Neil Harbisson hears color. Cool. Very cool!

    This year (2014) as an anchor writer for Sibyl Magazine each article I contributed showcased a different color under the main heading, “The Color of Wellness” and detailed how specific colors are used clinically.

    What color makes ME sing? Chili pepper red and sage green!


  9. Dear Colorful You, Laurie. I’m not at all surprised that you have certification in color therapy. The rods and cones in our eyes were made to appreciate color. Thank you for mentioning your contribution to Sybil magazine – I distinctly remember your discussion of the color indigo earlier this year.

    Chili red and sage green match the accents in my kitchen, which along with white appliances make for a cheery space. One day we may share tea there. You never know!


  10. My favorite color? I used to tease our daughters that it was ‘plaid.’ It’s blue (turquoise or French blue) or a shade of purple (violet or lavender will do).

    My Mom called me at the bank I worked at (my first job directly out of business school) to tell me that the President had been shot. I was devastated. I wonder if Jackie had selected the blues their children wore. An excellent choice. 😉


    1. I like plaid too and all of the vivid colors that go with it, Judy. Blue is said to stand for truth and natural beauty. Regardless of who made the color choice of blue, Caroline and John-John served to mitigate our sorrow just by their innocent presence I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent post, Marian, and thanks to Georgette for connecting the literary definition, too.

    The color that has always made me sing is yellow. Bright, sunny yellow or pale, calm yellow–either brings music to mind. But my current favorite is periwinkle. For morning songs, the blend of blue-purple-gray is the combination that fills my songs with hope.


    1. I like your array of colors. There are pops of yellow in my kitchen wallpaper. And somewhere I read that periwinkle goes with all women’s hair and skin colors. Anyway, it was the color Crista chose for the attendants at her wedding. I like it too.

      Blue-purple-gray are sky colors I appreciate either morning or evening. Thanks for chiming in, Marylin.


  12. I’ll read this again Marian and check out the links – but just to mention that my father was colourblind yet flew for the RAF. Both my sons are colour blind, the one more than the other and he is an artist … how he does it I don’t know.
    Thank you .. and in haste ..


    1. Susan, thank for commenting even though you are super busy. Apparently, you come from hardy stock where color-blindness is no impediment to success. Like Neil, your sons’ other senses are probably heightened to compensate. Again, thanks for stopping by today.


  13. A new topic for me–thanks for expanding my mind! A popular phrase in publishing (and I suppose elsewhere, fabric design, home design etc.) is looking for a bookcover or a color on a cover that “pops.” I think the only cover that makes me sing is green on a beautiful spring day.
    For me, my strongest memory of the Nov. 22 1963 weekend is that it was the weekend my dad finally broke down and bought a television, our first. We stayed glued to it, like the rest of the nation. And of course it was not color, plain old black and white. Still powerful.


    1. I’m not surprised that your favorite color is green, which echoes country living and the fresh vegetable that go with it. I like all colors, especially vivid ones that go pop!

      About your comment concerning the Kennedy assassination: At the time, I was at Lancaster Mennonite School where there was not a TV in sight. We stayed glued to the radio.


  14. Fascinating! I had never heard of Neil Harbisson. My husband is color blind so our children enjoy quizzing him on colors. Is this green or brown, Dad? Pink or gray? They have fun with it and my husband doesn’t mind :).


    1. It sounds as though there is a lot of laughter and kidding around in your family. Thanks for the comment – so quick!

      One of my long-time blog friends, Laurie Buchanan, also lived in Boise. I see she has commented on your recent post. You are probably familiar with her, but if not here is her website: http://tuesdayswithlaurie.com/

      Again, thanks for connecting with me today!

      Liked by 1 person

Thank You for Leaving a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s