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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?

Postscript

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.

KennedyFuneral

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