This is a fascinating story of a color-blind artist who learned to hear color. It may take a moment to comprehend what this would mean to you. It would be a real flip in perception. It’s kind of like the optical experiment where someone wears glasses that turn everything upside down, but within days – maybe hours, I don’t remember – the subject begins to perceive everything as right-side up†again. Somehow the brain overcomes the distorted lens and re-establishes a perceptual frame in which the perceiver’s feet are on the ground.
Neil Harbisson, colorblind his whole life, asked†Adam Montandon, a student in cyborg technology, if he could help him create something that would enable him to hear color. They came up with a simple device made up of a webcam, a computer, and a pair of headphones and created software that would translate any colour in front of Neil into a sound.
The greater significance of this as you read the story is Neil’s comment, “There is no end to the evolution of this electronic eye.” Maybe it will translate touch into sound, or smell into touch, or heart rate into color, 0r emotional range into music. In the end, it is the perceptual translation of a vibration from one medium to another. Maybe we also will be able to know the color, tone, taste, and feel of our higher self and soul. This is related to synesthesia, but implies much more.
I will talk more about this in an upcoming post. For now, Neil Harbisson’s translation of color into sound is another dramatic example, ala Einstien, that “everything is energy.” It would make sense, then, to identify what are healing vibrations and translate them into several perceptual modes. This is already being done to some extent with music therapy and art therapy. The question is whether technology can be used to enhance the healing vibrations even further or deeper for the individual.
The man who hears colour
Artist Neil Harbisson is completely colour-blind. Here, he explains how a camera attached to his head allows him to hear colour.
Until I was 11, I didn’t know I could only see in shades of grey. I thought I could see colours but that I was confusing them.
When I was diagnosed with achromatopsia [a rare vision disorder], it was a bit of a shock but at least we knew what was wrong. Doctors said it was impossible to cure.
When I was 16, I decided to study art. I told my tutor I could only see in black and white, and his first reaction was, “What the hell are you doing here then?” I told him I really wanted to understand what colour was.
I was allowed to do the entire art course in greyscale – only using black and white. I did very figurative art, trying to reproduce what I could see so that people could compare how my vision was to what they saw. I also learnt that through history, there have been many people who have related colour to sound.
At university I went to a cybernetics lecture by Adam Montandon, a student from Plymouth University, and asked if we could create something so I could see colour. He came up with a simple device, made up of a webcam, a computer and a pair of headphones and created software that would translate any colour in front of me into a sound.
If we were all to hear the frequency of red, for example, we would hear a note that is in between F and F sharp. Red is the lowest frequency colour and the highest is violet.
I started using it 24 hours a day, carrying it around in a backpack and feeling that the cybernetic device, the eyeborg, and my organism were completely connected. I haven’t taken it off my head since 2004, except to change the equipment when it breaks.