Channa Vithana / Synth-Aesthesia

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Synthesiser Music (SM) has been one constant that I am always fond of keeping. For a long while I didn’t really understand why certain musical pieces made with or containing SM affected me so, until recently when I had a conversation with an established artist and friend concerning synaesthesia (see footnote #1)

Synaesthesia is an interesting occurrence because …….

in the case of a student my artist friend taught; she would see and feel people as objects, colours and aromas rather than as humans. Another art tutor (with beard) was viewed by her as consisting of molten toffee; thus sweet-tasting, with a gooey texture resolving into a tobacco-scented finish. She was an A-level art student and in all academic seriousness used this skill/affliction (delete as you will) for her creative process and works.

Before those with involuntary vistas of molten toffee call the people in white coats, or think I am in any way like the oft-lampooned – There’s charcoal, with a hint of burning rubber and a dash of road kill - television wine taster of peculiar vintage, let me unstitch synaesthesia just a little bit.

Synaesthesia isn’t only …….
molten toffee; it is also expressed through other emotive senses like sound, smell, taste, touch and of course sight.

Colours should of course be considered as most of us have heard of music reproducing an acoustic chroma (saturation) of sorts. Colour in music has obviously been extensively documented and explored; so there is little point in slicing that iceberg-tip here. However I shall focus briefly on some examples of colour in music that are familiar to me. Further I shall look at an assortment of licit pharmaceutical musical references to help examine some of the properties of SM.

Eddie Van Halen?

World renowned rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen has coveted, and described in the past, his “brown” (guitar) sound. Though capable of playing guitar with a fluidly natural beauty, he is also rather adept with keyboards. Listening to his group Van Halen and their synthesiser immersive opening from their album ‘1984’ never fails to bear me a karmic feeling.

As an entirely electronic sound, this short synthesiser piece may not have an easily attributed colour like “brown” to it but is a different synaesthetic sensation for me and is like a chemical release in the body. Reproduced well, it is akin to being in a floatation tank with your senses heightened but dislocated; a form of meditation where you are relaxed but definitely not asleep.

This title track neatly merges into the hit single ‘Jump’ which is also awash with swathes of synthesisers, this time in an enhanced, elongated composition resembling one of Eddie Van Halen’s otherworldly guitar solos.

For me, the highest-quality ……..

synthesiser parts in music, such as the output of Vangelis (especially the Bladerunner OST) bring on a gliding and soaring experience to music that is transfigurational. The writer and composer David Toop released a compilation and companion book called ‘Ocean Of Sound’ which looked at the history of ambient music. ‘Ocean Of Sound’ included some dazzling and unlikely examples of ambient music by the likes of Miles Davis, Aphex Twin (electronica), King Tubby (dub), My Bloody Valentine (enigmatically transcendental rock), The Beach Boys, Tibetan Chanting Monks, actual Howler Monkeys, Eric Satie and the sound of an early morning Steam Horn from a Steel Mill in the US.

The Aphex Twin track ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ is a deliriously enjoyable synthesiser experience because it is an enveloping and expansive instrumental bonbon entirely living up to its synaesthetic title. It ironically never sounds artificial or saccharine and works simply because, like all good music, it has a strong underlying melody within its musical structure. (A longer version of ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ can be found on Aphex Twin, ‘Classics’.)

To be more precise ………

the floating feeling I get from SM is like a huge endorphin rush, similar to basking in the afterglow from strenuous ‘exercise’ or eating a sublime piece of chocolate cake for instance. I can go further with this expression of rushing where it is the equivalent, for me, of all the good and none of the bad from a class-A drug .

Nevertheless ………

a musician friend of mine was rushed to hospital recently with a fully ruptured appendix and he was given morphine to balm the pain. Morphine is of course pure heroin (no battery acid or bleach additives, etc). He related to me afterwards the feeling of the morphine sinuously flowing deep into his bloodstream and not only healing the pain but releasing the most startling feelings.

He said he felt like he was floating on an overwhelmingly emotional wave. Consequently, while foolishly looking forward to a fully ruptured appendix of my own; his experience has a clear affinity with the way I feel when experiencing the sublime rush of a synthesiser melody reproduced live or on a commensurately musical hi-fi system.

To be continued in part 2…

Footnote #1

Being positive one can view synaesthesia as creative phenomena, and depending on your aptitude or tolerance for such discourse – it is alternatively perceived as a bad state of mental affairs; a plague-like affliction to be got rid of…

A dictionary definition states synaesthesia as “1. The production of a mental sense-impression relating to one sense by the stimulation of another sense. 2. A sensation produced in a part of the body by stimulation of another part.”

Footnote #2

With the exception of the class-A amplifier kind, I have never taken or felt the need for class-A drugs.

Footnote #3

The singer and guitarist Chris Rea allegedly had an encounter with temporary drug addiction after an extended period of serious medical treatment requiring the administration of prescription morphine for the pain. Luckily he came through the illness and his unintentional addiction to release some of the best music of his career. He has also formed his own record label. From this era I would recommend ‘Hofner Blue Notes’ as a gloriously meandering set of musical pieces using the famous bass guitar that bears the name of the album. Note the word ‘Blue’ in the title...

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