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Colorful music

“The correspondences between sounds and colors have been the subject of various attempts over the centuries. Science and art come together”
Bernard Valeur

In search of correspondences between sounds and colors, the story has been enriched by attempts to link between sound frequencies and frequencies of light. And the first tests are not current, they date from Antiquity. Let’s find out how we got to making singing bowls.

From Greek Antiquity to the 17th century:

Aristotle (-384 / -322), Greek philosopher of antiquity, already noticed that if there were melodious or dissonant sounds, there were also pleasant or unpleasant colors. So, he thought, the harmony of colors is governed by relationships between numbers, like those of musical harmony! Relations that Pythagoras had already studied using ropes. Thus, the classification of Aristotle will last until the 17th century. However, several reading grids on color harmony and musical harmony were proposed, such as, for example, that of Marin Cureau de la Chambre (1594-1669), French philosopher, counselor and doctor of Louis XIV.

The Enlightenment

However, it was not until the beginning of the 18th century with Isaac Newton to bring more science into the understanding of colors. Because he demonstrated that white light is made up of different rays that appear colored to us and that we can combine to reconstitute white light. Newton (1643 – 1727) tried to draw an analogy between the colors and the seven notes of the diatonic scale: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. He was convinced that there should be a perfect match between the various colors and the notes of the scale notes and colors.
In fact, he based this analogy on the widths of the colored bands produced by the decomposition of the white light of the Sun by a prism. Then, he matched them with the length of the vibrating strings, capable of emitting the notes of the diatonic scale.
In addition, Voltaire (1694 – 1778), 18th century French philosopher and writer, wrote in Newton’s Elements of Philosophy (1738): “This secret analogy between light and sound gives rise to the suspicion that all things in nature have hidden relationships that maybe we will discover some day” Newton was far from being the only one who wanted to match the colors and notes of the range.

Impossible mission

In reality, however, it is impossible to isolate in the rainbow bands corresponding to a given color with precise borders. So why did this illustrious scientist venture to this hypothesis?
In fact, at the end of his life, his desire to be in harmony with the coherence of creation and the harmony of the world prevailed over scientific rigor. This is especially true for the indigo color. What you need to know is that he introduced it into his color list so that it had seven (7 is a so-called sacred number and Newton was very attached to it). So, if you have been taught that the rainbow has 7 colors (purple, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red) it’s that Newton has been there!

In the 19th century

If we go back in time, we meet a 19th century occultist, master Philippe of the city of Lyon. He argued: “Sounds, like light, are made up of colors that have a great influence on the body. Do (red): it excites the brain and acts on the stomach and intestines. Re (orange): it acts on the stomach, abdomen, intestines … Mi (yellow): action on the heart, spleen. Fa (green): it contracts the diaphragm. Soil (blue): it acts mainly on the upper part of the organs and on the arms. The (indigo): gives tremors (heart and cardiac region). If (purple): it acts directly on the heart itself.” But, if we are careful here, we see the notes and colors of the 7 major chakras of the Vedic tradition appear. In India: the do is linked to muladhara chakra, the re is linked to svadhishthana chakra, the mi is linked to manipura chakra, the fa is linked to anahata chakra, the soil is linked to vishuddha chakra, the la to bindu chakra (ajna ) and the if is linked to Sahasrara chakra

Is it credible to establish a correspondence between sounds and colors?

From the point of view of wave frequencies, no bridge can be made between sounds and colors.
There are no links between the frequencies of sounds audible to the human ear and the light waves visible to the human eye.
There is also no analog wavelength for sounds and for light.
Can we pass from one frequency domain to another by an octave interval (= doubling the frequency)? No ! The frequency range of visible light extends over about an octave while the sound frequencies cover more than 10 octaves! So … how do you get the case?

Colors don’t really exist

Indeed, from the point of view of the physiology of perception, color does not exist in itself: it is a construction of our brain. Because, at a given wavelength of light, our brain associates a color, but the reverse is not true: the impression of yellow can result as well from a monochromatic light as from a mixture of green lights and red. So there is no relationship between color and wavelength (or frequency). On the other hand, our ear can distinguish a pure sound (a single frequency) from a complex sound (several frequencies), and recognize several notes in a chord! For all these reasons, sound-color matching is impossible on rational grounds. And yet … some people have a colorful sensation when hearing sounds: it is synopsia or synesthesia. It gets complicated!

From the 20th century to the present day

If nothing rational allows us to assert these correlations, let’s approach the world of subjectivity, art and creativity! Among the composers who have sought to establish connections between music and colors, we must mainly cite three:

Alexandre Scriabine (1872-1915), pianist and a Russian composer
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Austrian composer, painter and theorist
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), French organist, pianist and composer

3 musicians to remember for their work

Alexandre Scriabine was a singular personality and misunderstood by critics and the Russian public. This mystic of ecstasy leaves a deeply original work. In reality, he had synesthesia. Thus, this ability allowed him to associate a color with each note.

On the score of his symphonic poem Prométhée, he indicated the colors that were to be projected at the same time as his music. In fact, in 1915 at Carnegie Hall, a color keyboard, called Chromola (specially made for the occasion by Bell laboratories) allowed colors to be projected on a screen. For each key, a color! What a wonderful attempt to illustrate his own perceptions!

Arnold Schoenberg, meanwhile, was an Austrian composer, painter and theorist. In his opera The Happy Hand, he also planned colorful projections accompanying the representation of this work.

Closest to us, Olivier Messiaen is certainly the musician who has deepened the relationship between sound and color in music. It was mentally that he had the ability to see colors when he heard music or when he read a score. However, it was not synesthetic. For him, “Music is a perpetual dialogue between space and time, between sound and color, a dialogue which leads to a unification: time is a space, sound is a color, space is a complex over time, sound complexes exist simultaneously like color complexes”.

Contemporary experiences

Nowadays, we can meet healthcare and sound professionals. Fabien Maman is one of them, with his school of Tama-Do, his research and his works (Le Tao du Son published by Trédaniel).
He did not write directly on the links between music and colors. On the other hand, it offers an interesting approach to the chakras and their sound correspondences. In particular the cycle of fifths for the chakras or even realignment sound series where it evokes specific colors.

As many “light” seekers as possible readings in the note / color correspondence.

Traditions also have their approach to truth in the field. However, the spectrum of our perceptions is always limited to the only possibilities of our sensory functions. So who can claim to know the real of the living?

NAMASTE the Cristallins