What does music look like?


I’ve never been big on music. I once had a friend tell me that I wouldn’t know good music if a tambourine smacked me upside the head, and he was probably right. I mean, I can’t tell the difference between E minor and A sharp. I can’t match pitch (I’ve tried). You know that thing that musically inclined people do when they hear a singer or a note played off-key (you know the face I mean)? Yeah, I can’t do that either (Well, I could probably make the face but as you have rightly guessed, I wouldn’t notice the off note). Music is simple for me – if it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, it’s bad. There are no in-betweens, almost good, almost bad, or allied variants.

I do like lyrics, though. Perhaps it’s because I’m a storyteller and poet at heart, but I really like song lyrics. I can travel through worlds on the wings of the words of a song. That’s why I tend to listen to the same type of music over and over. I like to visit the same worlds, and good stories take me to those places. Imagine a great story with good background music. That’s what songs were (are) to me. I never thought songs would be more than lyrical stories to me, but one day I heard colors.

My friend had sent me a song to listen to. I remember vividly that I was walking through the boulevard between the Department of Zoology and the Faculty of Technology when I clicked the play audio button. Suddenly, there was a vivid burst of color. I was seeing pastel pink, blue, and yellow on a walkway lined with green trees. I had to stop in my tracks and just feel the experience. I stood for five minutes and forty-seven seconds and allowed the soft, warm colors to dance behind my eyes. I had never heard the song before. It was in Japanese, so I didn’t understand the lyrics enough to take flight on their wings. Yet, there I was, soaring in the midst of the Aurora Borealis.

I don’t know if it was because I was alone in silence or because I couldn’t engage the music the way I normally would, but that day, a new world opened up to me. I saw colors when I heard music. After the ethereal experience, I listened to the pastel song again and again.  I had no idea what the name was, but I knew what it looked like – how it felt. 

I started listening to other songs to see what colors would show up. It doesn’t happen for every song, but once in a while, I close my eyes while listening to a song and find myself in a masterpiece – a carefully carved-out piece of someone’s soul riddled with hues of brilliant blues, vibrant reds, and moody yellows. I found that all the songs that have similar colors have similar themes. They aren’t in the same genre and don’t have similar lyrics. Sometimes, I don’t know what the lyrics mean because of the language barrier but I close my eyes and I see the same colors. They make me feel the same way. The colors are feelings.

I have an entire playlist of different shades of green for when I need to feel inspired and motivated. When I want to feel warm, I listen to mellow yellows and soft pinks. Songs that make me reflective are red. Great stories paint worlds of gold. I don’t know how it works, but I close my eyes and I’m there.

I saw the word “synesthesia” in a Youtube video by Rudy Mancuso. Three years after my first voyage in color, I discovered there was a word to describe my experience. Synesthesia. In the video, the musician explored the question, “What does music look like?” I watched the video seven times, and each time I saw the same colors, but they were different from the scenes being painted on the screen. 

Music is art. Just like visual art, every piece is interpreted differently by the individual beholder – ‘behearer‘. I like to think that I’ve come to appreciate music, even though I had to get here in a very roundabout way. Yes, I know eyes are for seeing and ears are for hearing, but I see music. I still have no penchant for tunes, tones, and chimes, but I’ve come to appreciate music as one with an untrained eye appreciates abstract art. I let the piece speak for itself – show me what to see, where to go, and what to feel. I travel now not only on the wings of words but also on shuttles of color.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Share in the comments!

Also, just in case you’re wondering what the pastel song is called, it’s Back to the Dreamlight by Empire. Give it a listen and let me know what you see!

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