Neil Harbisson – The Man who can Listen to Colour

Neil Harbisson can hear colour thanks to an eyeborg devise which translates colour into sound using a chip at the back of his skull.  The chip makes sounds by pressing against his head but from next month it will be inserted into the bone.    Neil was born with achromatopsia, a condition that means he sees only shades of black, grey and white.  While at Dartington College in Devon, he went to a lecture given by Adam Montandon who is an expert in cybernetics –  the study of communication and control processes in biological, mechanical, and electronic systems.  Adam Montandon helped Neil develop his first “eyborg” device, which lets him hear light waves.  Now Neil has his “eyeborg”, colour and sound are a synergy:
“The very first thing I looked at with it (the eyeborg) was a red notice board.  It made the note F, the lowest sound on the spectrum.  Red was my favourite colour for years.”
He began to perceive sound as colour too:
“Telephone rings became green; Amy Winehouse seemed red and pink.”
He likes listening to paintings by Andy Warhol, Joan Miro and Mark Rothko, because they all produce very clear notes.  Da Vinci, Velazquez and Munch sound disturbing because they paint with so many shades of the same colour and produce notes that are too close together and Neil hears them as if music from a horror movie.
Neil always wears his eyeborg.  His passport has a picture with him plus eyeborg.  His bedroom is black and white, which are silent colours and let him sleep.  His other floors are painted red, which makes the lowest note and gives a depth to the house.  His green front door is a middle sounding note that acts as a tuning fork before he goes out.
While most of us are aware of the link between sound and shape –  there is a good site that explains this on:
the transference of colour into sound and vice versa, is not so well known.  Artists of The Dada Movement in the 1920s, experimented with transposing sound into colour and produced some extraordinary pictures with the distinctive colours of the movement.  Our Max Your Voice logo colour was chosen from this colour chart.
The awareness of the link between sound, form and colour can enhance our daily lives.  When I’m working on voice and speech with clients who feel that they are “tone deaf”, I use colour to differentiate between different notes.
Neil Harbisson gives concerts where he plugs himself into a set of speakers and plays the colours of the audience back to them.  See and hear you there…

Neil Harbisson


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