Audio-tactile synesthesia

In another project, I’ve been building electro-magnets that make guitar strings vibrate at their resonant frequencies.



I can tune the frequency of the magnetic field to vibrate the string at it’s fundamental frequency as well as it’s upper partials (the frequencies in the string’s resonant harmonic series). This means I can change the pitch of the string between the different overtones of that particular string. Not only do I hear the pitches, but often times I’m holding the electro-magnet and I’m feeling it vibrate at that same frequency, its pretty fun.

On days when I’ve been working with the piece a lot (handling the electro-magnet, feeling its vibration, and hearing the overtones), later on, wherever I go in the City I’m feeling the rumblings and vibrations of the City, and hearing an overtone series wherever my ear can pick it out. Its pretty incredible actually.

In the course of researching ‘what the world I see would sound like if it were audible,’ the idea of synesthesia is certainly a logical choice for exploration, but I’ve avoided it for some reason. With these electro-magnetic strings, did I induce a type of synesthesia in myself? Did I somehow end up in the topic of synesthesia anyways?

Synesthesia literally means putting different sensations together. Often times we think of it as seeings sounds, but there are many different types. One such type is audio-tactile, where you feel sounds as vibrations, or vice versa. Who knows, maybe what I was experiencing was like being in the ocean all day, later on that night lying in bed you still feel the waves pushing you around, your body has a tactile memory of the ocean. But there have been studies where people have learned synesthesia. In one such study they taught a young man with aspergers to associate colors with emotions to be better adapted to social situations. As he grew older he could tell how he felt about a person based on the halo around their faces.

So maybe I did or maybe I didn’t actually induce synesthesia in myself, I don’t know. It was a cool experience none the less. What if people could feel the world in this way? A wearable device that vibrates frequencies from the surrounding environment on the wearer’s body would be pretty simple to fabricate.

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