Synaesthesia, Art and Nostalgic Music

Synaesthesia, Art and Nostalgic Music

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Aprogramme combining music inspired by nostalgia, with a synaesthesiac artist simultaneously transcribing the emotion of the music into a visual art form, was performed at the Cadogan Hall last month. This groundbreaking concert was streamlined round the world. The Concert, with the London Chamber Orchestra and the artist Jack Coulter, was exclusively sponsored by Bruton of Sloane Street’s London Performing Arts programme. Bruton are Estate Management Specialist Operators in prime Central London and without heir generous support this remarkable Concert could not have taken place.

During the recent season at Cadogan Hall, which explored emotion in music, this concert was themed ‘nostalgia’ and included Purcell/Britten:Chaconne, Mendelssohn:Violin Concerto in E Minor. Opus 4, Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite and Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 Classical. The Violinist was Benjamin Beilman and Rumon Gamba conducted. Jack Coulter performed his art during Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Dr Chris Fassnidge addressed the audience and gave a brief and lucid introduction to the phenomenon of perception known as synaesthesia, a rare neurological condition. Jack has one of its many forms.

Some people with synaesthesia ‘see music’. Every note triggers flashes of colour, every rhythm dances in a pattern around them. Other noises fill their vision e.g environmental sounds, engines, chatter and background noises. Sensory wires in the brain mean one sense can be experienced as another. A sound can have  its own smell and some material can trigger a certain taste. In the grapheme type, letters or numbers are perceived as colours. In spatial sequence or number form synaesthesia, numbers, months of the year or days of the week elicit precise locations in space.

The reason for the development of synaesthesia is not known. Possibly it develops in early childhood when children are intensively engaged with abstract concepts for the first time. Colour, number and spatial sequence are presented to children early in their education.

Most people with synaesthesia regard it as a gift, but they are often troubled with sensory overload and migraines. Synaesthetes are often creative.

Jack Coulter was born in Belfast in 1994 and has a degree in Fine Arts. He was influenced by post war 40s abstract impressionism. His work has been described as ‘visceral, vivid and inexplicably upsetting’. It certainly is. He said, “Harsh sounds resonate harsh colour visualisation and faded sounds resonate faded colour visualisation” He also said that,“My synaesthesia plays a big part in my life. I am an artist and my day to day being consists of stimulation in visual means”.

The audience were spellbound by Benjamin Beilman’s sublime performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and they were amazed by the huge overhead projected screen showing Jack Coulter,
in his studio, making a transcript of the emotional music into a painting. He was seeing the music in bright colours and moved to its rhythm as he created his painting.He was translating the sound into fireworks of arising colours which moved and faded as the sound faded. He was seeing how sound changed the perceived hues, brightened and scintillated with directional movement.

This scene was extraordinary to watch and the completed painting echoed the music. Jack used his hands, broken glass and knives; no brushes. The Concert was, indeed, a rare experience. Two powerful creative forms, Art and Music joined in an unearthly, harmonious perfection.

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