CPD: Synesthesia, Sensory Processing and Music


Janet is a perfumer with a love of creative arts, including music. She has synesthesia and experiences smell and sound as colour. This can cause sensory overwhelm – sometimes Janet and her daughter can be walking and, after experiencing a trigger, the world just goes black. Both smells and sounds can set it off. For example, Janet sees maths as colours (when a maths problem is solved a beautiful pattern is made). It can affect the ability to sing and talk when one is experiencing a synesthesiac moment.

Looking at processing is very interesting when you come to the synophasic brain. If you look at perfume, for example, each molecule of oil has a powerful signature because each one has its own frequency. If you imagine an atom, it has electrons whirling around it at speed in their rings and these produce vibrations, a signature of sorts. Perfumers can recognise smells through this vibrational signature and shape. We use our nose as our spectrometer or translator as our nose is able to distinguish different elements within each oil. Each perfume or smell isn’t one musical note, it’s a whole chord of musical notes. Each smell has a colour associated with it too. If you have synesthesia your brain isn’t able to separate this information so well so you can get sensory overload; it adds layer on layer of sensory information from one sensory input (e.g. a sound). This means that you see the world in a very different way, one in which our education system in the UK struggles to adapt to. You have your own palate, though everyone’s palate is slightly different. More people have synesthesia than we know. 

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