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Visualizing Sound: Cross-Modal Mapping Between Music and Color

  • Author(s): Griscom, William
  • Advisor(s): Palmer, Stephen
  • et al.

Within the realm of perception, the phrase "cross-modal correspondences" refers to consistent associations between features in two different sensory domains, such as the fact that people commonly associate low-pitched tones with larger visual images and high-pitched tones with smaller visual images. These cross-modal correspondences play an important role in helping our brains solve the multisensory binding problem, that is, deciding what information from one domain to combine with information from another

domain. It is less obvious what kind of role cross-modal correspondences might play in music perception and music visualization. In this dissertation, I will describe three different research projects that explore questions about cross-modal correspondences within the context of music: 1) Do people have consistent associations between different colors and musical intervals and chords? 2) Do consistent visual associations exist for musical timbre? 3) What is the relationship between normal cross-modal correspondences and the

neurological condition known as synesthesia, in which individuals actually experience visual sensations when they are listening to music. Across all three projects, I found that participants had a surprising level of consistency in their associations between visual and musical features, as well as intriguing evidence for a role of semantic and emotional features in guiding these cross-modal correspondences.

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