October 05, 2005

Music as Other Senses

There's a certain type of piece that begs to be perceived visually to me. I'm thinking of music that has such vivid textures and contrasts that you can follow it in terms of the interplays of qualities of sound. The earliest examples of this I can think of are in Beethoven, like the slow movement from the Fourth Piano Concerto or the opening of the Ninth Symphony. Ligeti has a knack for writing music like this. There are a number of examples just among his piano ├ętudes. Incidentally, composers with strong ties to the visual arts, such as Debussy and Feldman, do not elicit this reaction from me. Music in which I can see a plot lurking about that's constructed in terms of sound-color synesthesia is of a completely separate nature (Messiaen, obviously).

I guess what I care about aren't these specific examples of sound to vision translation, but the idea of perceiving aural events as if they were something else, a kind of artificial synesthesia. This cross-sensory action isn't a result of an oddly wired brain (I think); it's created for "practical" reasons. The opening of Beethoven's Ninth is supposed to sound like it's creating itself, emerging out of a void. You can listen to it in terms of a straight harmonic progression, but it's more attractive to me to hear it as a kind of dance emerging from the darkness. Thinking of the kaleidoscopic counterpoint of "Arc-en-Ciel" as if it truly is light refracting through water droplets makes the music that much more vivid.

These examples seem intentional to me, as if these composers' conceptions could not be limited to one sense. Anyone else have similar listening experiences? Any composers in the audience care to share if they've explicitly tried to create such moments?

1 comment:

wang said...

Some say that people who has pitch tend to associate notes with colors. e.g. A=maroon, D is grey, etc.