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Is there a parallel in the human reaction to color as there is in the reaction to their corresponding acoustic frequencies?

This summer I stumbled over the realization that the equal-tempered acoustic scale fits very neatly into the visual spectrum of light. ... Too neatly. I mean that, when converted from Hz into wavelength, acoustic tones have one corresponding color: (rougly) F2 - violet; E2 - edging on dark blue; D2 - baby blue; C2- Kelly-ish green; B1 - light yellow; A - orange; G - red).

Now I'm beginning to consider that perhaps the two - light and sound - may have other parallels. Based on what you know about how color affects human behavior, is there any evidence to suggest that the same affect happens with that color's corresponding acoustic note? (and vice versa)

EXAMPLE: If we now that the color red is known to make consumers hungry, does a G have a similar effect on people?

Please expand this topic.

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  • Feb 5 2013: I am naturally synaesthetic in a high degree. I have always understood that this type of cross-over is usually present in babies'. brains, but that in most people these connections are gradually lost - some retain them.
    I do have very unusual (fragile) membranes as I have a serious connective tissue disorder (Marfan Syndrome). I am highly sensitive to both sound and colour(and also scent), to the point where I have to limit my level of stimulation.

    I would like to say that the whole subject is, I feel, extremely complex. First of all there is the question of 'which blue'?, also what does one person mean by 'blue', especially 'light blue' dark blue' 'bright blue'...etc....A lot of people are not clear about the difference between hue and tonal value.
    Then there is the subjectivity involved in the translation of the aural frequencies. I have never met someone else who sees the same as I do to the same notes,or indeed who is affected in exactly the same way by a specific piece of music. Incidentally the most beautiful and the most rewarding pieces for my synaesthesia are late Beethoven, and sacred or chamber works of Mozart. But I also can see just a sequence of ordinary sounds in colours, at times.
    There is also another complexity which is to do with the scientific properties of colours and pigments. I.e. if, say,a piece of cloth is appearing red to us, it is actually mostly absorbing green light, depending on its saturation. Is it not also a 'green' vibration therefore? It's a matter of naming. For me, middle C is a dark red, and G is a clear green, like a cobalt green. 'A ' is a pure blue - in my terms! I do also play my piano, and close my eyes sometimes and play to the colours I see. It is painful if the piano is out of tune! (My father had what is known as perfect pitch, and was a pure mathematician, I don't know if that is of interest- I think being sensitive to vibration and geometric form is linked).
    I hope this is useful and of interest
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    Jan 26 2013: As for visual frequencies, known as colors, I have no such drastic examples of having its impact on us, yet I was mainly referring to short-term cause and effect cycles, which may not apply here.

    I could imagine, that an all 'Grey in Grey' environment will have an incriminatory effect on our mood and mental health. Probably that's why I don't like big cities, as only farmed and artificially arranged parts of nature called 'parks' are just not enough for my liking ... :o)

    There is just a funny and 'short-term working' use of color I know and came to know about it within a company I once worked for, which was in the steel-industry. There they introduced the color 'pink' to mark dangerous areas of the machinery in order to prevent and lower serious accidents of their workers.

    I was told, that especially men react 'alarmed' when exposed to the color pink, at least more alarmed as to the usual markings of the yellow and black stripes. My question if this reaction of my gender could somehow be related to traumatic childhood experiences in which 'little and nagging sisters', dressed in pink, did play a major role in them, has never been answered ... :o)


    Any pink colored part on this machine - it is a cold rolling mill - is a moving part and therefore dangerous to those who operate it, especially to those having a lot of routine. I assume, that this coloration would not have the same effect on woman, possibly even on the contrary, yet I never came across a woman who was operating a rolling mill. And if I would have, so would I have questioned the efficiency of this coloration ... :o)

    Personally pink does not put me in 'alert mode', even though I have to admit that it does not range among my favorite colors. But I grew up with a older brother only, which may support my theory ... :o)
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    Jan 26 2013: For some reasons two attempts to add another comment below didn't work, so I will placed it here to avoid another loss ... :o)

    On infra-sound an experiment has been conducted in the UK in 2003, named the 'Infrasonic 17 Hz tone experiment' :


    which is a good example of how much we can be influenced by external frequencies.

    And not just we. As elephants and whales are suspected to use infra-sound for long-distance communication, especially whales can become a victim of being receptive also for other bands of frequencies, especially high intensity sonar, which is often used on navy vessels.

    With frequencies ranging from 50 Hz up to 100 kHz, to gain finer resolution in water.mine tracking, some of those frequencies and intensities are expected to be 'receivable' and 'transformable' into painful sensation of certain whale species and the size and shape of their jawbone, which act as 'antenna' to cause their troubles.

    Whale stranding is no natural phenomenon and a good indicator for openly held or hidden naval-manoeuvres.

    By this beautiful talk by Douglas Adams, starting at 0:43:36, I became aware of a similar problem which the Baiji, a Yangtze river dolphin, is facing:


    and took it as a reminder, that judging by ones own senses and environmental conditions only is not enough for all of our species.

    As non-lethal weapons, sonic weapons have already been developed and are reported to have been used even during the Occupy turmoil in NY and to scatter large groups of protesters. The weapon used is called LRAD, which stands for Long Range Acoustic Device, and I am certain that the non-lethal aspect was not just the only one during its development, as the military industry is known to know no limits ...


    So next time we go protesting, we bring our ear muffs, which probably become illegal soon to be worn in public ... :o)
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    Jan 24 2013: Looked again and did find something this time:

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      Jan 24 2013: I admit this is one article that fueled this question! Glad we're on the same track.
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    Jan 24 2013: The phenomenon of synaesthesia, which somewhat goes in your direction is, as much as I know about it, which isn't much, individual only:


    As well as the beauty of most colors and tones are just in the 'eye of the beholder' ... :o)

    For some reasons there seem to be 'exceptions' though which are interesting and definitely worth to find out more about them.

    The color green is known to have a 'calming' effect on people - as it is a dominant color in nature - and already used in many factories around the world, in which machines, cabinets and other equipment is colored this way. Red, representing blood, is the choice for dangerous and risky elements.

    So we seem to come with some evolutionary preferences in our luggage, yet different from colors a tone does not stand as much just for itself and as isolated frequency. Here we have either combinations, which is known as music and triggers a 'like' or 'dislike' or they come in a mixture of frequencies, such as the sound of a heart beat, which highly effects us yet also comes in rhythms as a sequence of sounds.

    What was astonishing to me for sound was to read that the purring of a cat is assumed to have 'healing supportive' characteristics, and that cats 'purr' also in situations without joy or relaxation, such as giving birth and to recover from a broken bone. I could not find more about it on the internet yet I do remember that purring even speeds up the 'growing process' of bones during recovery, which, as a predator, can be quite relevant in nature. If those physical influences of sound could be demonstrated and transferred to humans, as well as those of light, we may learn a lot more about us as we currently do ... :o)
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      Jan 24 2013: Synaesthesia is definitely one of the primary triggers for my turn down this particular vein of thought. What started as a question at eleven years old ("Did what my Mom listen to while she was pregnant with me shape what I like in music now?) has found me here, now, in a state of total awe at the remarkable ways that the ear-brain system affects us, most of the time invisibly. I want to embrace the synaesthetic mind to help people learn better.

      I do have a range of other questions that are related, albeit distantly, to this one. I'm excited to hear your take on my extrapolation of sound on other senses:
      - Do humans distinctly prefer music that employs a rhythm that resembles the human heartbeat? If so, why? I definitely think there may be something to the omnipresence of a mother's heartbeat in the developing fetus for 3/4 a year that could impact what we find nurturing, comfortable, and relaxing. Conversely, do we grow ever more uncomfortable as we are subject to music or environments that distances itself from homeostatic pulses? Example: Do people like 4/4 pop music in a range of 72-110 bpm over math rock that sometimes employs a 5/8 time signature with bpm ranging 165+ bpm because the former better resembles our own natural pulses? (Bare with my terribly messy questions.)

      - Is there something naturally annoying to us about microwaves, vacuums, cars, televisions, etc because the frequencies they operate in are much higher (in octave) than what we would find in a machine-free world?
      The "machine-free world" being the natural one humans have evolved in.

      - That leads me to another basic question: has the human mind created feelings of happiness around the sonic mechanics of the natural world (e.g. binaural effects from wind through trees, ocean surf, etc)? I suppose this would be an evolutionary take. If not, how has the mind developed keen ways to relax the mind?

      We really ought to be having this conversation in real-time. These questions are endless.
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        Jan 26 2013: I have to admit that I've never made consciously such deep connections between visual and hearable frequencies like you are doing, even though as a mechanical engineer I was working on both fields multiple times. Yet I have my doubts that a 'synaesthetic mind' was able to be taught or trained to 'help people learn better', as it seems to be an 'abnormal' yet natural condition which needs a certain 'wiring' within a brain for it to work. As the 'auditive cortex' and the 'visual cortex' are no direct 'neighbors' a connection made in between them and their 'association areas' seems to me beyond our capacity of intentional 're-wiring', which we call learning. The only possible way I can think of to 'bypass' some of our internal filters and 'border guards' if we are no borne synaesthetics may be certain hallucinogenic drugs and their effects are neither 'controllable' nor in any way to be kept permanent... at least those we may wish for ... :o)

        What you call your 'terribly messy questions' is nothing but fine and scientific curiosity and it only appears messy unless your discover their answers... :o)

        Thanks to you I now now about the existence of 'math rock' which I have never heard before so I did some listening and viewing to get a sense of what you were referring to. Not all of it seems to be easily 'dance-able', at least in a common fashion, which to me is a 'measure' of synchronization towards my personal inner 'rhythm'. And when I found this brave guy on youtube, I knew it could become difficult to me as well ... :o)


        Compared to this much slower Hip Hop song:


        the dance itself can gain way more speed even in between the beat while staying synced within the overall rhythm.

        Yet both examples may just represent extremes and we should asked good choreographer what can be done for math rock by applying professionalism ... :o)

        ... to be continued.
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        Jan 26 2013: I think most humans prefer music that 'resembles the human heartbeat', as we are clocked beings after all. You as a female even more than I as a male, given the menstrual cycle, which, in its timespan, resembles the moon cycle and could be taken as a good example of 'synchronization' towards our evolutionary background.

        Drummers and percussionists who play in groups have no other choice but to synchronize their 'inner' clock to stay tuned and because of this and with a good combination in interpersonal 'chemistry' they report to be able to become 'one' all together and to get in 'flow' as a whole group. They can even 'communicate' with one another by subtle yet added 'top waves' which probably stays unnoticed for passive listeners. Any you can be certain, that all their heartbeats synced, or at least are on harmonic levels, as otherwise this 'flow' would not occur. I once was able to talk to a drummer about this, his experience and he reported, that there are days on which the group could not synchronize and therefore ended the training.

        So 'synchronization' and 'resonance' seem to be natural yet individual abilities we possess, as we arose within a clocked universe. Day/night, the seasons, mealtimes, sleep cycles are just a view and rather coarse clocked cycles we are exposed to and part of and there are several others we may not even have realized for ourselves.

        Our 'mirror neurons' may be another example of synchronization in between two personal 'frequencies', which seem to establish a more effective 'inter-personal' exchange or cause the opposite if one refuses to sync accordingly. Yawning is a beautiful example of becoming 'unwillingly willingly' an echo-chamber towards a person we like, or at least 'don't mind', as it never becomes 'infectious' to us with people we have personal 'issues' with ... :o)

        ... to be continued.
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        Jan 26 2013: What we know in music about harmony, is probably a window into our human 'frequency settings' and besides to the music of the traditional Chinese theater, it seems to apply almost anywhere on this planet ... :o)

        For the so called 'new' or 'experimental music, such as those of György Ligeti, I am probably just not intelligent enough to get the hang of it and to understand the message, if there is any at all. Also many 'sound sculptures' or 'sound installations' are way beyond my simple mind, so I walk just by them in order to escape ... :o)

        About the whole electromagnetic spectrum of waves I am still not certain if and how it effects us, as I found it to be a very controversial field among scientists and that it became necessary to know who financed which study and what 'outcome' was 'wished for' by whom. And because of this and the fact, that I didn't dig deep into this matter, I just assume that we are influenceable by those wave-forms yet without knowing to which extend.

        Since I am on this planet I have always been penetrated by our 'man-made' signals, so I have no comparison how I would feel if there were just the natural ones. Yet I am very careful about any 'new age' views on 'waves' of all sorts, as I have my doubts about the sources of their 'knowledge'.

        Yet I consider the noise of our industrial world as almost all 'unhealthy' to us, as most of them are 'just' byproducts and have neither been considered enough nor designed to meet our general tendencies. But the term 'noise' is to coarse to distinguish all possible forms of it and as you mentioned the 'wind through trees' and the 'ocean surf' those are perfect examples that some sort of noise can have a calming effect on us.

        So far I had three experiences in my life in which a sudden absence of noise almost 'screamed' in my mind, to stress the illogicalness of this picture, which made me understand the level of which I am used to a constant surrounding and random 'murmur'.

        to be continued ...
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        Jan 26 2013: Deserts are known to trigger this effect and are feared for this by many. And because there is no desert in Germany where I grew up and live now, I had to stumble across an old 'bomb crater' in a forest, in which I walked to get 'cut off' any audible noise. Another time there was a night in heavy snowfall and no vehicle on the streets moving. And because snow falls silently to the human ear and possesses a tremendous sound-damping ability, it was just all silent all around me. But as you are from Alaska, what am I telling you? :o) And once I lived in the basement of an old manor with walls more than a meter thick, which, in my first night, made me hear and realize the swoosh of my very blood in my ears. That much and constantly we are wrapped in waves, that the absence of those which are audible, can put us on hold for a moment.

        To certain noise patterns like 'pink' or 'white' noise the human brain seem to be receptive, as if it triggered some sort of 'cleaning' or 'resetting' to our neural patterns. And as the intrinsic nature of our thinking is 'electric', almost exclusively, it would be even surprising if we weren't influenceable by matching, stimulating yet external wave sources in its pure and un-composed character.

        I once read an article about a family, which all of the sudden started to feel noticeably 'uncomfortable' all of the sudden in their apartment and this for no obvious and detectable reasons. They reported 'racing hearts', 'indisposition' and difficulties to focus and concentrate on something. Several investigations later the source of all this was found in a nearby factory, in which a new machine was installed which produced a certain yet inaudible infra-sound on very low frequencies, which traveled far enough to reach their home. And after some arguments with the company, some decoupling of machine parts and the installation of damping measures, the families life turned back to normal again.

        to be continued ...
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      Jan 24 2013: The purring thing also related to my observations living in a "concrete jungle" this summer.

      I moved to New York from Alaska and found that there is absolutely no respite from concrete and my feet began to hurt faster than it would in Alaska - where I can take dirt trails home or (a lot of the year) walk through snow. I applied what I know about how sound interacts with materials to this new lifestyle and realized that my new feet and knee problems are definitely from these New York streets. The facts: when a sound wave encounters a material, it will fraction to a certain degree and change course depending on the hardness of the material. Wood absorbs much of a sound wave, letting a lot of the energy of a sound wave to split off of the original and travel along the surface of the wood. However, for materials like concrete, very little of the energy in a sound wave is lost when it hits, sending most if it right back. And, since human walking is a vibration - consisting of a frequency and energy just like sound, despite being inaudible -, I can conclude that humans living on a harder material will feel the repercussions of continually reabsorbing that energy. I think this is what is damaging my feet and knees as they absorb this extra energy, acting as collateral.

      Would you say you agreed with my line of thinking here?
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        Jan 26 2013: Moving from Alaska to New York must have been a 'cultural shock' in several ways to you... :o)

        And as I was told one either 'like' this city or 'don't' I found myself 'undecided' and was just missing nature which I prefer to live in or close by. But I was just visiting and did not live there, which probably one need to do to become certain about the 'big apple'.. :o)

        Again you made me reconsider, as I have never seen 'walking' as a form of 'vibration'. But that's what it is, seen in a wider perspective, and your feet and knee problems are most likely caused by the amount of concrete you are walking, as your joints and skeleton isn't yet used to it. Different shoes can make a big difference here to restore some of the damping you left in Alaska, and at least it gives you a perfect 'excuse' that you have no choice this time to buy yet another pair... :o)

        To your 'line of thinking' I agree partially, as even though the process of walking may be seen as vibration, this new encountered symptoms are caused by a repetitive pattern of direct forces which probably overload the cartilage tissue in your joints by directly impacting it and to which it has not adapted yet. Structure-borne sound is not the main cause of this pain here, even though it will be generated in your bones any time your feet hit the ground, yet it will be the smallest portion of force your joints have to deal with at the moment. And as time heals all wounds, it will just be a matter of it, when your cartilage tissue and bone structure adapts to let you walk pain-free the streets of NY... :o)

        Also I do not consider the human walking to be inaudible, on the contrary, as this is the cause why we finally invented 'sneaking'... :o)

        After all this comments of today, which is my record on TED so far, I will close by wishing you to get well soon! :o)
  • Jan 23 2013: Interesting hyphothesis although I wasn't aware of any crossover in the brain for audio and video analysis.
    Also, your assumption of the relationship between colours and sounds may not be the direct one that you propose.
    For instance, I am a fan of G but not Red. To me G is more of a Green and Bflat is Blue, ESharp is definetly Red.
    Also, from an accoustical point of view, we appreciate combinations of sounds (chords, progressions and particularly resolutions) I have never considered the same blending of colours to have the same effect.
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      Jan 24 2013: I have been undertaking much reading that examines synaesthesia - the relationship people make between two senses. Some are born with a savant-like tendency to relate one to the other (i.e. using colors to do math) while others can develop it throughout their lives and journeys in music - interestingly, particularly music.

      Also, you're right - the harmonics of the audible spectrum doesn't transcribe at all when considering the visual spectrum.
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    Jan 22 2013: I'm not sure if this will answer your question, but consider the impact that "binaural beats" have on an individual. The effects are verifiable. The consequences are quantifiable.
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      Jan 22 2013: I've researched binaural effects but this isn't really what I'm talking about. Thanks for responding though.
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        Jan 22 2013: Well, perhaps you are thinking about how playing music helps those with severe dementia and alzheimers. It's not a specific music, like how Mozart improves test scores and gives a short term bump in IQ (and perhaps more long term when used consistently with infants - still unknown)

        the problem with the dementia & alzheimers cases are that the music must be something that they can relate to and enjoy. One might like big band music while another likes Elvis Presley and yet another enjoys Mozart.

        If not this, then perhaps you could make your question more understandable? :-)
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          Jan 24 2013: I want to know how much we know about the eye-brain systems can be applied to the ear-brain system.

          I'm sorry my implications tends to fall short on forums like Ted despite its prestige as a forum among social networks. I really ought to be in the same room with others so as to immediately clarify or pursue an idea someone has as it comes up.
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      Jan 26 2013: Do you know why this simple yet effective recording technique, which is used for 'binaural beats', did not become a general quality standard for music recordings?

      I served the net yet could not find any music in any style but a view yet uninteresting examples, as the majority of my findings seems to be 'reserved' for 'new age' applications only.

      In case you know a source, I would be thankful if you would share it.