Chromesthesia: Background information when reading The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley X
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 336 pages

    Jul 2015, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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This article relates to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

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Synesthesia, which manifests in many different forms, is a condition where two or more senses intertwine. For example, Thanial, one of the main characters in The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street, "sees" music. For him, notes, voices and other sounds are perceived as specific colors. He has chromesthesia, a form of synesthesia where a person associates a sensation (usually hearing) with color.

While the concept of synesthesia has been recorded since at least the early nineteenth century, it was only in the 1980s that research into the phenomenon really started to take off and since the '90s has been the subject of research papers and novels. While scientists are still uncertain about the exact mechanisms of synesthesia, many believe that it's caused by a kind of cross-wiring of the neurons and synapses in the brain, so a sensation in one area automatically sets off a perception in another. The condition presents on a spectrum, with those affected experienced varying different levels of synesthesia.

A visual representation of chromesthesiaPeople with chromesthesia are said to receive a double "whack" of input to color perception centers of the brain, from both visual and auditory stimuli. Although relatively rare, it turns out that chromesthesia and music often go together. While it is commonly stated that many musicians have chromesthesia, it's probably more the case that among people with chromesthesia, a significant number are musicians. For example, a study evaluated a sample of 82 synaesthetes and asked questions about how much time they engaged in art. Synaesthetes were found to have a tendency to spend more time engaging in creative disciplines, relative to non-synaesthetes. Different degrees of creativity were also linked to the type of synaesthesia experienced. For example, people who had chromaesthesia were more likely to play musical instruments than other synaesthetes.

The Classic FM website profiles many musicians with chromesthesia. For instance, the French pianist Hélène Grimaud saw D minor, "the most dramatic and poignant [note as] blue," and C minor as black. She discovered her chromesthesia playing Bach when she was 11 years old as the notes on the piano created "something that was very bright, between red and orange, very warm and vivid." The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin saw E-flat major as a reddish purple while the key of D major was golden-brown. On the other hand, Rimsky-Korsakov stated that E-flat major was blue, B major was a "gloomy dark blue with a steel shine" and the key of C major was white. And Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-American violinist, described B-flat on the G string as deep forest green and A on the E string as red. When speaking about his composition "Rhapsody in Blue," George Gershwin is reported to have said, "I took 'blues' and put them in a large and more serious form." It is assumed that he also had chromesthesia.

Musician Franz Liszt is said to have chided the orchestra he was conducting, that their tone was too rose, that it needed to be deep purple — a scolding that might not have worked even if others in the orchestra had chromesthesia since the type of color that a particular sound evokes in one person is not necessarily the same for another. Other famous musicians known to have had this condition are Jean Sibelius, Olivier Messiaen, and György Ligeti who linked sounds with both colors and shapes. Hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams and musician Billy Joel also have chromesthesia.

Picture of visual representation of chromestheisa from

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Sharry Wright

This article relates to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It first ran in the July 22, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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