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  • Evolution of Gravitational Synesthesia in Music:To Color and Light!
  • Bulat M. Galeyev, (artist, researcher) (bio)

The author presents a detailed history and theory of a basic form of synesthesia, little studied to date, connected with the associative perception of gravity in music. This synesthesia appears to be common to all other kinds of art as well.

Anyone who has ever been occupied with the study of musical cosmology ("music of the spheres," "harmony of the universe") cannot help thinking: Isn't this related to synesthesia? Some researchers (e.g. A. Wellek) have admitted—though it may be a stretch—that, yes, this is one of the primitive synesthetic reflections: music, an audile phenomenon, is compared to the visual world and, by extension, the cosmos.

In various epochs, analogies between the structure of the cosmos (at the comprehensive level of understanding) and that of the "cosmos of music" were a subject of consideration by philosophers. Let us put aside the transcendental analogies born out of Eastern thought, especially in its ancient Indian form (nada as an atom of sound, from which the universe was born, and so on) and note the interesting and outwardly more logical concept, developed by E. Glikman, who has given a detailed and rather elegant account of the correspondences between—on the one hand—modality, tonality and atonality in music, and—on the other—corresponding cosmological constructions developed in different epochs, by Ptolemy, Newton and Einstein, respectively [1].

Just as interesting is another universal synesthetic analogy, in which music is compared with the artificial model of the cosmos at a lower level—a building, a temple or architecture in general. While favored by Goethe, Schlegel and Schelling, this comparison met with furious objections from Schopenhauer and, in later times, the Soviet musicologist B. Asaf'ev. The latter characterized it as "vulgar" and "hateful." In spite of that, his criticism gave way to an attitude that can be regarded as genial:

In architecture the mechanical law of gravity reigns. . . . And what about music? Does the law of gravity work within it? Does there exist the pressure of weight, antagonistic to the process of growth? A similar sensation does exist, but, due to the nature of musical movement, it manifests itself not only in a vertical direction, but mainly in a horizontal one, drawing the sounding forward: a centripetal movement to a new center [2].

The distinctive features of gravity in music—not, of course, true gravity, but a metaphorical type ("synesthetic," within the context of this work)—will be a subject of this retrospective analysis (on a hypothetical level).

Some musicologists whom I have tried to involve in this investigation have reacted negatively to the word "metaphoric," considering it a synonym for "subjective" and "incidental," unworthy of scientific analysis. But incidental metaphors in science do not last long. However, let me refer readers to the authority of E. Kurth: He considered such properties as the "weight" of sound "purely illusive," but then went on: "Nevertheless they cannot be regarded as introduced from without. On the contrary, they contain constitutive features, without which the whole of music would escape comprehension." Moreover, he asserted that "attraction is the main property of music," and in its absence there would be "no motion of a tone" in audile perception [3].

Let us first define what (common) synesthesia is and then return to that involving "gravity" as a special case of synesthesia in music.

In its psychological aspect, synesthesia is most succinctly characterized as "inter-sensory association." This is the ability to "see" (i.e. imagine seeing) the plasticity of melodies and the coloring of tonalities or, in some cases, to "hear" the sounding

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Fig. 1.

Diagram of synesthetic links between external sensations.

© B. Galeyev

[End Page 129]

of colors and so on. Such synesthesia is a common property of human psychology; everyone can understand synesthetic transferences in poetic and ordinary language (such as "bright sound" or "flat timbre"). As I have shown before, synesthesia is an essential aspect of language and, more generally, of all figurative thinking, including all imaginative thinking (for all kinds of art, including music) [4].

From the point of...


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