08 April 2008

Color turning into sound turning into color

I was of course excited to get an e-mail from the lovely Dylan Trees with the subject "Synaesthese-tastic" last month. The article he pointed me towards was fascinating; it tells the story of an artist/musician whose life was changed by a cybernetics expert he met in art school. Cybernetics, Wikipedia says,
...is the interdisciplinary study of the structure of complex systems, especially communication processes, control mechanisms and feedback principles. Cybernetics is closely related to control theory and systems theory.
For this to start making sense: I should point out that the artist, Neil Harbisson, has achromatopsia – complete congenital colour blindness (he sees the entire world in black and white).

Upon a visit to Harbisson's art school, Adam Montandon (the cybernetics expert) heard about his condition and decided to work on helping Harbisson be able to paint in color (all of his work up to this time had been in black and white). He developed a machine called an Eyeborg that converts colors into sounds. When Eyeborg's mechanics are explained, it makes sense, but at first I had no clue how a device like this could even work. Well, different colors reflect light at different frequencies, right? This is how the thing looks:

When Harbison looks at a color through the lens, the sound frequency of the color is calculated and fed back to him as a specific noise that corresponds with that color's light reflection frequency. After a buffer period of learning which sound correspond to which color, Harbison is able to paint in the colors that the Eyeborg is "seeing." Pretty awesome, yeah?

He has an exhibit of city street scenes approaching in London; he's also working on the coolest-sounding project ever:
representing each capital city in Europe as a square made up of two triangles of different colours. In Monaco, it was azure and salmon pink; in Bratislava it was yellow and turquoise; and in Andorra it was dark green and fuchsia.
I would love to see that. Pretty awesome technology and concepts. One of the comments on this article presented a good idea to go along with it: "It would be very interesting to hear the sounds that he heard while viewing the individual paintings. Something the gallery should organise, perhaps." What if those ridiculous telephone-looking things that people walk around museums with actually played the sounds as one walked by each painting, as opposed to telling the story behind it (which could be reserved for the introductory plaque at the beginning of the exhibit)?

EDIT | Something amazing happened. Montandon (the creator of this amazing technology) commented on this entry, leaving a link to more information on his blog. Thanks Adam! I look forward to reading more.
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