“Synesthesia has been something of a hot topic in music news recently, with the likes of Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Dev Hynes and Frank Ocean suddenly keen to talk up their colourful experiences..One man helping to educate the public is British composer Nick Ryan. He has grapheme-colour synesthesia but also sees corresponding colours, shapes and textures to sound and music. Like Pharrell, he sees his synesthesia as a boon – it makes listening to music very enjoyable– and he has long wanted to recreate it for a non-syn audience.” H. Williams-BBC
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.
Excerpt: How synesthesia inspires artists By Holly Williams
“The experience of colour as we usually understand it is a visual one: objects have colour, artists use colour, and we can recall a colour in our mind’s eye. But for some people, colour is a more multi-sensory affair, linked to sound, texture, taste or shapes. Music has a hue – like the parping of a trumpet that evokes a shower of burnt orange. Numbers, letters and days of the week have their own shade: the number one is white, the letter L is blue and Monday is red.
This neurological phenomenon is called synesthesia; if you don’t have it, it sounds strange, like the straining of an overactive imagination. But if you’re part of the estimated four per cent of the population who are synesthetes, such descriptions are as obvious and natural as the sky being blue and the grass being green.
Synesthesia is best described as a union of the senses; one sensory experience involuntarily, and consistently, prompts another. There are up to 70 different types – from tasting the time to smelling a symphony – although the most common involve colour…
[Nick Ryan] Working with Synes, an audio-visual collaboration with digital artists Quayola & Sinigaglia… the work recently premiered at London’s Roundhouse as part of Imogen Heap’s Reverb festival. Highly textured, precisely coloured digital imagery was projected on a large screen, morphing to match his music, which blended electronics with sounds made by the London Contemporary Orchestra. I wanted it to be multi-sensory, because such is the nature of synesthesia he says. It’s a sensation scrapbook, which the audience is immersed in.
Electronic booms were matched on screen by crashing waves of monochrome static; sustained, growling strings and deep bass were illustrated with slowly warping spidery nets and grids of deep pink and ice-white.
How effective it was for the non-synesthete, I couldn’t say – but it certainly made me realise my own response to music is more synesthetic than I’d previously thought. Some graphic matches felt satisfyingly correct; others, downright wrong. That pale grid shape? Far too light and clean and carefully constructed for the sound – it ought to have been altogether darker, heavier, more organic”
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
The K-W-L chart is used to activate students’ background knowledge of a topic in order to enhance their comprehension skills.
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about synesthesia. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- The experience of colour as we usually understand it is a visual one.
- But for some people, colour is a more multi-sensory affair.
- Music has a hue.
- This neurological phenomenon is called synesthesia.
- One friend has tastes and textures as well as colours for words.
- For some, synesthesia can actually be a bonus, aiding their creative endeavors.
- Research on synesthesia was disregarded until the late 1980s.
- synesthesia is not a rarity.
- Ryan is far from the only artist to attempt to recreate their synesthesia.
- Like Pharrell, he sees his synesthesia as a boon.
Directions: Students choose the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
- The experience of colour as we usually understand it is a visual/visor one.
- This neurological phenomenona/phenomenon is called synesthesia.
- Synesthesia is best described as a union/uniform of the senses.
- One friend/fiend has tastes and textures as well as colours for words.
- Synesthesia has been something of a hot top/topic in music.
- One of the main things is most artists/art have it.
- One man helping to eradicate/educate the public is British composer Nick Ryan.
- He has grapheme-colour synthetic/synesthesia.
- Ryan is far from the only artist to attempt to recreate/create their synesthesia.
- Synesthesia is a senses/sensation scrapbook which the audience is immersed in.
Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- A number of famous artists has experienced synesthesia.
- Holly Williams explores its history.
- The experience of colour is a visual one.
- Synesthesia is best described as a union of the senses.
- One friend have tastes and textures as well as colours for words.
- There are up to 70 different types of synesthesia.
- For some synesthesia can actually is a bonus.
- Synesthesia is not a rarity.
- One man helping to educate the public is British composer Nick Ryan.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following two statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each one, then discuss the meaning with your group.
“The singer-songwriter [Pharrell Williams ] recently insisted in an interview that synesthesia“is not a rarity. One of the main things I try to educate the public on is, most artists have it.” That might be overstating it, but there is a rich history of it in the arts. Notable synesthetes (or suspected ones, given its relatively recent currency and familiarity as a scientific term) include composers Olivier Messiaen, Franz Liszt and Jean Sibelius, Russian author Vladimir Nabokov.”
“Research on synesthesia is not as extensive as you might expect: it was disregarded as a phenomenon until the advent of MRI scans in the late 1980s, proving that corresponding areas of the brain really do light up in synesthetes – but it’s thought it may be more common in artists.”
IV. Listening Activity
Video clip: Seeing Sound, Tasting Color: Synesthesia; interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman.
While Listening Task
Directions: Students are to choose the correct response from the ones provided from the video.
1. Anesthesia means
c-feeling in general
2. Synesthesia means
b- too many feelings
3. An example of Synesthesia would be
a-hearing music while hearing tones
b-seeing colors while distinguishing shades
c-hearing music while seeing colors
4. Examples of over-learned sequences are
a-letters, numbers, weekdays
5. The characteristics of Synesthesia are
a-conscious, planned, external
b- rehearsed, mindful, aware
c- automatic, unconscious, and internal
6…of the population have some form of Synesthesia.
a- 3 percent
b- 4 percent
c- 6 percent
7. The study of Synesthesia provides insight into understanding
a- how different brains can percieve reality
b- how different brains can percieve colors
c- how different brains can percieve numbers
8. Historically, most people who had Synesthesia
a-knew they had it.
b-have lived their lives not knowing they had it.
c- thought that they had it.
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group create a list of questions they would like to ask David Eagleman or any of the recording artists mentioned in the article.