Sing A Rainbow
By Indigo Star 9th March 2017
The Colour of Sound
Colour appears in music it time and time again, a perfect example can be found in the popular children’s classic ‘Sing A Rainbow’, we even have a whole genre of music called the Blues that often laments on the woeful human condition of sadness and emotional disarray. We use colour in language to describe strong feelings with terms such as ‘seeing red’ to denote anger, or ‘green with envy’ as the hue of jealousy.
Have you ever considered what sound and music might look like? Did you know that each sound has a corresponding colour and through mathematical science we can calculate the colour of sound and connect the plethora of frequencies visually and audibly perceivable to us.
So how does it work? I hear you ask. Well first you have to understand the fundamental nature of vibration that sound and colour share. Frequency is a measure we use for both and is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit in time. The sounds we hear are much lower frequency than the light we see and therefore sound and light vibrations are very different.
In the 17th century it was Isaac Newton that made the pioneering discovery that white light shone through a prism dispersed, separating into different wavelengths which produced the seven colours of the rainbow.
Light (colour) is formed of electromagnetic waves which are synchronised oscillations of electric and magnetic fields that radiate at the speed of light through a vacuum. This extensive range of continuous frequencies is known as the Electromagnetic Spectrum of which only a narrow band of wavelengths between 1014 & 1015 Hertz are actually visible to the human eye. Though light is a very fast moving wavelength, slow it down enough and it stops being visible and becomes audible.
Sound on the other hand causes air molecules to vibrate in moving compression waves which involves the two simple elements of pressure and time. These fundamental elements can be used to describe absolutely every sound we hear.
Some people are born with a rare condition called Synesthesia, found roughly in 1-4 percent of people. This trait causes them to experience a mixing of the senses which means they involuntarily see colour when look at particular letters, numbers and other symbols or in connection to the sounds that they hear. Many research studies have revealed how we might perceive sound as colour, such as the work of one of Russia’s most innovative and controversial early modern composers, Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) who developed a substantially atonal music system to which he associated colours with the various harmonic tones of his atonal scale based on his own experience of synesthesia.
He developed a mapping system called “clavier à lumieères” (literally “keyboard with lights”) depicting sound pitch and colour correlation.
Alexander Scriabins’ musical colour map
Take a look at the link below to see a fine example of this when Ali Nikrang for Mozarteum Kultur GmbH wrote a program to visualizes a piano performance in realtime using the “colour theory” by Alexander Scriabin.
The Sound of Colour
In more recent times the colour blind artist and musician Neil Harbisson has overcome his colour blindness by working alongside technologists including Peter Kese, a software developer from Kranj, Slovenia and more recently, Matias Lizana, a computer engineering student at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona. Together they have utilised modern technologies to create ‘The Eyeborg’ which used a webcam to detect light and a sound conversion computer program along with headphones to transmit the sound to his ears which was further developed to transmit the sound directly to his skull bone. Though this work Harbisson is now able to perceive a greater spectrum of colours and in turn paint what he hears by using the device as a source of inspiration which informs his painting.
It’s not only in art and music that we find the colour sound combination to be of intrigue and usefulness. Therapists across many cultures have understood the power of sound in conjunction with colour because we are made up of electromagnetic vibrations and frequencies also. Even ancient civilisations used colour and sound as a form of healing practice through chanting to invoke colourful vibration to re-tune the body into balance which is still practised by many today. Often based around the perception of an energy point system within the body called Chakras, each correlating to one of the seven colours of the rainbow and a corresponding sound frequency. Our ancestors developed techniques such as chanting and mantras which would create resonance within the body believing it to have beneficial and restorative effects. Why not try it yourself?
Take a look at the diagram below, get comfortable and sit quietly for a few moments then take a deep and calming breath in and out, notice how you feel. Then begin to sing each of the notes in the corresponding vowel sound whilst visualising its given colour. How does it feel inside when you make each sound wave and imagine it in colour? When finished take notice of how you feel, is it a different when you began? You could write it down and try it a few times to see if you get different results each time.
What colour are you most attracted to right now?
Here are suggested qualities associated with the 7 colours of the chakra rainbow. If you would like to enhance those qualities within yourself, your life and your creativity, introduce them into your day through diet by eating coloured food, dressing in colour, singing the vowel while focussing on the corresponding chakra and colour.
Paint With Music
The exciting times we live in present myriad opportunities to access a wealth of information and resources which are becoming increasingly available to us.
Our ability to express ourselves freely and creatively expands in all directions as we continue to find new ways in which to perceive the world in which we live.
As we marvel at the world and express our perceptions, an inevitably fusion of multi mediums, beliefs, creative ideas, technologies and talent occurs in a perpetual spiral of discovery. One such artist who did exactly that is music composer Ólafur Arnalds with his composition Ljósið. Olafur collaborated with video artists to create an eloquently stunning and colourful visual representation of his music. Perhaps you could work with other artists too?
Explore for yourself by perhaps creating your own unique piece of musical art, this could be done by painting whilst listening to a particular song that inspires you, or perhaps write a piece of music based upon the colour sound charts below. Have fun creating your own new painting with music technique.
Good luck and enjoy the wonderful world of colour, light and sound!