Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's the "sound" of yellow?

A flower-pot of basil can symbolize the soul of a people better than a drama of Aeschylus.-- Ion Dragoumis

Alfredo Triff

Here is one of Kandinsky's weird mind experiments in Concerning the Spiritual in Art: Yellow ---> Triangle ---> High intellect. Was he tripping?

The Russian painter was not the first to ponder the phenomenon known as synesthesia, the ability of mixing sensory domains, akin to a Baudelaire,* Schönberg and Nabokov, to name just a few. Not to say they really had it (people's mental states are utterly private kind of events). At least they tried to evoke them. 1 in 25,000 people have true synesthetic experiences (more often women and lefties).

What kind of cerebration is required -to bring about linguistic or sound "personifications"- in order to "hear" colors, "smell" words and "feel" geometric figures? Maybe it just takes curiosity and will-power. Let's say I force myself to conceive a prime number's color (do I "get it" as when one is caused to see blue, or do I sort of "fancy it," as vicariously invoking d'Esseintes perception of lapis-lazuli in Gustav Moreau's Salome as described by Huysmans in Against Nature? Pressing the issue: Could one ever taste E=mc2?

That's where Symbolist poetry, deep hermeneutics and LSD comes in! Poetry may help implode sensory limits, just the way psychedelic drugs brought forth cognitive shifts enabling a generation to "smell" colors in Hendrix's fuzz-wailing solos. Hence, Jack Bruce's verse for Cream's Slwbar: "Got that rainbow feel, but the rainbow has a beard."

Back to Kandinsky. He was obsessed with synesthesia. What's the sound of yellow? was a question he may have asked Schönberg in 1911, right during the time the Viennese composer concocted his groundbreaking Pierrot Lunaire. Sadly, Kandinsky lived the waning of a synesthetic furor that harked back to Mid-Nineteenth Century.*

My hypothesis is that synesthesia waned as pre-Modern cultural High to reappear as post-postmodern Low, every-day life phenomena. We live in the midst of a global crisscrossing of sensorial input: Hybrid, virtual, rhyzomatic and syncretic. It's so pervasive we rarely see it. Here are some of my own: Listening to Arabic, Bronx-inspired Hip-Hop, punctuated with sampled-strings from Mahler's 5th in a Miami night club. Eating Pan-Asian sushi prepared by a Cuban/Dominican chef in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Seeing a black & white remake of a 1940's American film Noir with Spanish subtitles, Spanish actors and directed by a Chinese, in Barcelona. I'm no Baudelaire, but I swear I can hear "Pork Pie Hat" from Mingus' 1959 Ah Um and feel the humid, saltish breeze of late autumn in New York's Bowery, circa.1959, as if living it inside Allen Baron's 1961 film, A Blast of Silence.

On that note, even Wittgenstein's question in his Remarks on Color, "Could the letter A be red?" seems somewhat less fanciful.
*Baudelaire has this idea of "universal analogies" to imply, among other things, an absolute parity (even sensory interchangeability) between the arts.**Romantic composers experimented with the idea of music communicating non-musical images. The so-called programmatic music was often based on a poem or story. Berlioz, Liszt and Mussorgsky (amongst others) have important programmatic compositions. As the Symbolist painters pursued pictorial representations of narcotics, Wagner was giving shape to his idea of total art and Scriabin experimented with "colored" music (he may have inspired Schönberg to push into atonality).


Anonymous said...

Great post, Triff!

It is true that we constantly mix stuff up. With me is music and memories. I could listen to a piece of music and be transported to places I may have never been to.

A.T. said...

Thanks and keep visiting.

Anonymous said...

Muy buen post Alfredo..me cuadra mucho K....es puro ESPIRITU

Pedro Vizcaino

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks, Pedro.

Anonymous said...

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