Imagine living in a world where bright streaks of blue floated across your field of vision every time your cat meowed. What if the red, white and blue of a police siren triggered a sharp pain behind your right eye or a bright flash of yellow appeared every time you heard the word “seven”? For people living with synesthesia, this doesn’t have to be imagined – it’s life. Synesthesia is when one experiences two sensory responses to one stimulus. Deriving from the Ancient Greek word syn meaning “together”, synesthesia is an individualized phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense involuntarily provokes the stimulation of a second sense. Synesthetes don’t just cringe at the sound of a slamming door – they can taste it.
Sensory artist Siana Degitz hears in color. She can also see touch and taste sound. If she’s not happy, Siana has much better luck illustrating how she feels rather than telling you. Going over the highs and lows of each day with her husband usually involves her whipping out a sheet of drawing paper. Each shade of every color helps her distinguish a different layer of emotion. James Blake is one of her favorite singers – not just because of what he can do with his voice but also by virtue of the soothing tones of blue his music arouses. For Siana, singers like Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande are much too pink.
Very little is known about how synesthesia develops. Some synesthetes never realize that they see things differently. Others report that they’ve kept their heightened senses a secret all their lives. Siana didn’t grasp that she saw things differently until college. While attending a live music performance, she couldn’t help but rave over all the colors swarming around her. Her buddies were stumped. They encouraged her to grab a notebook and draw the songs. It wasn’t long before the pages were filled up. Fast forward two years and Siana started painting. It’s been a journey – not even her mom completely understands synesthesia. Siana did research, found a community of other synesthetes and no longer feels alone. She realized she can control what she hears then she can manipulate how she experiences her other senses. Headphones give her that power.
A Tribe Called Blessed
Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige, and Pharell Williams are also synesthetes. Journaling about synesthesia on FaceBook and speaking out at open mic events has helped others to realize their own synesthesia. Parents with students struggling in school have reached out to Siana after recognizing similar accounts from their child. “That’s a celebration for me,” says Siana. “That’s one less kid wondering why the number seven is always yellow, always being distracted at school and wrongfully placed in an ADHD class”. If parents and teachers understand what’s happening with their child, they can help them cope instead of just throwing them in remedial courses. Currently, Siana is developing a Healing Room – a 20-person sound emotion experience where other synesthetes interpret music by drawing, painting, and writing while using Sound Off™ headphones.
Step behind the lens of a scientific phenomenon and follow Siana on her mission to paint a world still waiting to be seen.