Synesthesia: Seeing Sound

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:14 am

I found a news link on CNN.com last week about synesthesia, a mental disorder that mixes sensory experiences. The most common form and the easiest to diagnose is when someone hears music or sounds and simultaneously sees colors. The article’s opening paragraph says this: “When Julian Asher listens to an orchestra, he doesn’t just hear music; he also sees it. The sounds of a violin make him see a rich burgundy color, shiny and fluid like a red wine, while a cello’s music flows like honey in a golden yellow hue.”

“Seeing color in sounds has genetic link”

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of “Lolita,” famously had this condition, which the study in the article has linked to genetics. There have also been a number of famous composers who had the disorder, notably Franz Lizst, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti, and (particularly) Alexander Scriabin. The linked Wikipedia article sheds doubt on the fact that Scriabin actually had the disorder, although he is known for associating colors with notes and keys. In his work Prometheus: The Poem Of Fire, composed in 1910, he actually wrote a part for a “color organ” which projected colors during the performance.

Since I was young, I’ve associated colors with keys as well (although I certainly don’t have synesthesia), but my associations are completely different from Scriabin’s. The Wikipedia article mentions a conversation between Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: “Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue.” These all sound foreign to my color sense. This is how I’ve always thought:

C major: yellow (the color of light)
D major and D minor: deep blue
E-flat major: orange
E major and E minor: orange
F major: green
G major: light blue
A-flat major: red
A major and A minor: red

(Obviously it’s an incomplete list. I’ve never taken the time or had the inclination to sit down and work out a system, the way Scriabin did; these are just the particular keys that have always struck me in particular ways.)

Thus you may see the connection in the bridal processional I wrote for my wedding, where C major represented purity and innocence and A major represented passion.

It’s certainly an interesting topic. Any readers out there with synesthesia that would care to weigh in?


A Look At Coldplay In The Studio

Posted by AJ Harbison at 6:39 am

In the News section of Coldplay’s website, they have a blog written anonymously by “Roadie #42″ with updates from tours and time in the studio. The latest post is an interesting look inside their latest stint in the recording studio with Brian Eno. Even if you’re not particularly interested in Coldplay, the blog post is cool because it explains part of the role of a producer in the making of an album (which not too many people understand), and it’s fascinating to be brought into the band’s creative process. It’s well-written too; my favorite passage: “One of my favourite tracks from these sessions comes from a drum loop [drummer Will Champion] brings into the studio early on. It’s like the backing track from Lost! has been struck down with a very heavy fever and has taken off on safari through a surrealist painting.” Check it out!

“Roadie #42 – Blog #66 (#42 is our mole in the studio)”


TLB Returns… With A Vengeance

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:38 pm

Forgive me, dear readers–it’s been now nearly ten days since my last post. I’ve been busy, between planning the final details for the wedding, trying to unpack a new apartment and actually trying to see my fiancée every once in a while in the middle of it all. But I have returned! And even though there’s only one week left until the wedding (!!), I will try to be better about posting more consistently.

Just a short post this evening; I want to tell you about a few new outlets that I’ve recently hooked TLB up to. The ones you already know:

- This site – http://www.thelisteningblog.com.

- RSS feed – http://www.thelisteningblog.com/feeds/posts/default.

- Twitter – http://twitter.com/listeningblog.

The new ones:

- LinkedIn: I’ve had a profile on LinkedIn for a while, but this week when I was there I noticed a new application called Blog Link which connects to your blog and posts snippets of your entries on your profile. http://www.linkedin.com/in/ajharbison.

- Facebook: I’ve also had a Facebook profile for a while, but I’ve recently switched over the Notes importer from my old Matrix blog to TLB–so now my TLB posts show up on Facebook as Notes. AJ’s Notes on Facebook.

So there you go–two brand-new ways to connect to your favorite listening blog. And I promise I’ll give you a real post in a day or two. Stay tuned–keep on listening!

P.S. For those of you who may be interested in learning more about Twitter, or reading a good take on it, I found this article today on the New York Times website, by David Pogue, who is a terrific tech writer. Check it out, if you’d like: “Twitter? It’s what you make it”


iTunes Plus Upgrades Now Available A La Carte

Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:31 pm

My soon-to-be former roommate (and soon-to-be best man) Mike alerted me yesterday to an article published on Macworld. Apparently, when iTunes upgraded to higher quality, DRM-free music, you could pay 30 cents per song to upgrade music you’d already purchased–but in order to do that you would have to upgrade your entire library all at once. This would have (and did) cost iTunes users hundreds or even thousands of dollars if they chose to do so, and left them without the ability to only upgrade certain songs.

But fortunately, as the article says, iTunes has announced that users can now upgrade individual albums and individual tracks to iTunes Plus. There are still restrictions–as some of the comments say, if you purchased an album as an album you can’t upgrade individual songs from that album–but it’s much improved. It does make one wonder why they didn’t implement this policy when they first introduced iTunes Plus; it’s a rather shady business move if they were just trying to get some dedicated suckers to give them some extra cash before they introduced the pick-and-choose version. But in any case, I’m glad of the new turn of events. The article can be found at the link below.

“iTunes Plus upgrades go à la carte”


Newborns Already Know How To Rock Out

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:49 pm

I saw a headline on MSN.com this morning entitled “Babies born ready to rock out, study says”–so naturally I was intrigued and had to check it out. Apparently this study has found that even newborn brains can properly interpret musical rhythmic patterns, and if an expectation is not met (such as a strong downbeat being omitted from the pattern) the baby’s brain registers an “error message” that attempts to gauge how far off its expectation was. Pretty interesting stuff!

“Let’s rock! Even newborns can follow a rhythm”

P.S. I’ve decided to add a new label to my existing list of 14–posts like this that I find through news sources will now carry a “News” label in addition to whatever else they may be about. Just thought you’d like to know.

UPDATE: My friend Stephen brought to my attention an article on the same topic on Wired, which is a much more detailed article and even includes an MP3 sample of the beat that the babies heard. Check it out:

“Baby Got Beat: Music May Be Inborn”


TLB: Now Available On Twitter!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:45 pm

Thanks to the continual persistence of my roommate, I’ve given in and finally joined Twitter. Twitter is a free online service in the category of “microblogging,” which allows users to post 140-character messages (ostensibly answering the question “What are you doing?”) and connect with a community of friends. (In some ways, it’s an entire social networking site based solely on status updates like the ones on Facebook.) So what does this mean for you, the loyal TLB reader? Two things. First of all, it’s a new way to be connected to TLB and receive updates on posts. Thanks to a service called twitterfeed, I’ve set up my Twitter account so that every time I post an entry here on the blog, a “tweet” notification will be posted to my Twitter page. If you have a Twitter account, you can “follow” (the equivalent of “friending”) me and be notified whenever there’s a new post here. And second, one of the cool things about Twitter is that it can be updated at any time by a simple text message from a mobile phone. So every once in a while (or maybe more than that), if I’m listening to something interesting, attending a concert, or composing, I’ll use my phone to post a short “tweet” to my Twitter page. Kinda like a mini blog post (thus the term “microblogging”). So head to Twitter and check it out!



A Personal Announcement

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:00 pm

I am thrilled to announce that as of Thursday night, my lovely girlfriend has become my lovely fiancée, and I’m an engaged man! I took her out to a nice dinner at Ti Amo in Laguna Beach where we watched the sunset, and after dinner we walked down to the Table Rock beach. I popped the question and she said yes! We’ll likely be getting married early next year, somewhere around February – March. I’m very excited (and so is she), and although I know many of my loyal readers have already heard the news, I’m happy to be able to share it with all of you!


TLB Links Up With Amazon.com

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:32 am

As you’ve no doubt noticed due to the “Amazon Links” sidebar, I am an Amazon.com Associate. What does this mean for you, the loyal TLB reader? Simply this: Every time I blog about a song, a CD, a movie, etc., I’ll add it to the “As Seen On TLB” sidebar box, where you’ll see it along with a short one or two sentence digest of my comments. If you’re interested in buying the song, CD, etc. for yourself, click on it in the box, and if you do end up buying it, I’ll get a small referral from Amazon. Don’t make any special purchases just for me; but if you do buy something from Amazon, go through my site. Even if you click through the box and then buy something else–anything at all on Amazon–it will still count towards my site. Also, whenever I link something in a post (like an album title) to an Amazon page, that will also grant me a referral if you click through it and buy something. So when you use Amazon, go through The Listening Blog and support a poor starving composer. (That is, one who is poor enough at composing that he needs a day job to keep himself from starving, like myself.)


Welcome To The Listening Blog!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:30 pm

Thanks for checking out The Listening Blog! In an effort to improve my own listening and analytical skills, my composition, and my musical writing, as well as share my insights with the world, I post frequently on this blog about what I hear: the music and sounds that my composer’s ear picks up from the Southern Californian sound-world around me. This includes (but is certainly not limited to):

• Movie/film scores
• CDs I’m listening to
• Stuff on my iPod
• Muzak in elevators
• Classical, popular, vocal, choral, instrumental, theatre, and film music
• The pitches of a phone ringing (not a ringtone, just a normal telephone
• Strange things I notice like other annoying sounds I hear as pitches
• . . . and many more!

You’ll find reviews, analysis, observations, criticisms, praise and undoubtedly lots of random comments here. Feel free to subscribe to this blog using the RSS reader and email links in the sidebar, and spread the word to any other composers, musicians or curious listeners you know who may be interested. And if you’d like please check out my music website at http://www.ajharbison.com.

And until next time, happy listening!

“To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also.” – Igor Stravinsky


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