Originally posted by JRSB
Here is a table which suggests a consonant effect between pitch temp which can even be
associated with color.
I don't know what 'pitch temp' is. As far as I am aware there is no such term in musical theory or psychoacoustics. Do you mean the frequency of
beats when two notes of nearly equal pitch are sounded together? I have never heard of this being associated with colour.
However, the association of musical pitches with colours has quite a long history, some of which is described on
a different page
of the site you linked to.
'Pitch' and 'colour' are two words with the same meaning. The meaning is 'frequency' - the number of cycles or vibrations a wave goes through in
a fixed period of time, usually a second. 'Pitch' is the frequency of a sound wave. 'Colour' is the frequency of a light wave. It's as simple as
However, direct comparisons between pitch and colour are problematic. As you can see from the link above, people who tried to match the two could
never agree on what colour to assign to each pitch. There's a reason for that, which I'll come to in a second.
Before I go there, I think it's important to remind ourselves that the people who tried to make these correspondences were not scientists. Most were
musicians. I don't know whether they even knew that pitch and colour were examples of the same phenomenon, frequency. The Fourier mentioned on the
page is Charles
, an obscure socialist philosopher, not
, the physicist in whose honour the Fourier series and Fourier transform are named. A
strange coincidence, that the father of frequency analysis should have the same name as a man interested in relating pitches to colours! Odder still,
they were contemporaries in eighteenth-century France.
* * *
The reason why direct comparisons between pitch and colour are difficult is because the brain interprets them in completely different ways.
Our eyes see colours rather like a TV camera sees them. A rain of photons of different frequencies (colours) falls upon them. But we have sensors for
only three colours (or rather colour bands, conventionally labelled red, blue and green), which give off a signal when photons of the appropriate
frequency impinge upon them. These signals are then 'mixed' in the brain to give us the wide spectrum of colours we see. So, to identify different
colours in different parts of the visual field, the brain has to synthesize
the signals from three kinds of sensor.
Our ears, on the other hand, receive only one signal: a pattern of varying air pressure against the eadrum. Your cochlear hairs analyze
wave into different frequencies, which your brain then sorts into groups it labels as different 'sounds' in your environment.
So seeing is dependent on synthesis, hearing on analysis. I'm oversimplyifying, but that's more or less it.
Synaesthesia certainly exists; I've experienced it myself, back in the day when I used to treat my body as a chemistry lab. And it's as easy as pie
to convert pitch into colour and vice versa using the right electronic equipment. But the assignment of colours to pitches is entirely arbitrary. I
could design my electronic synaesthesia machine to flash purple light when it heard a bass tone and red when it heard a treble tone, implying an
inverse relationship between colour and pitch, or hook it up so that bass was red and treble purple (direct relationship) or just at random - bass is
green, midrange is purple, treble is blue, and so on. In the end, it's a meaningless correspondence.
I suppose music that made them feel fearful would have use dissonance, atonal melody and awkward rhythm.
Dissonance - that is to say, interfering tones or harmonics - is a characteristic of nearly all natural sounds, including the ones we find soothing,
such as a gentle wind in the trees or waves breaking on a beach. The only consonant sounds are those that have a 'musical' timbre to them: birdsong,
say, or the sound of telephone wires strummed by the wind. White noise, the sound you hear when your radio or TV is switched on but not tuned to a
station, is the most dissonant sound there is, yet no-one finds it frightening. On the other hand, the blast of a heavy truck's air horn or the sound
of a police siren can both be very frightening if heard under the right conditions, though both are musical sounds.
Similarly, there is nothing particularly scary about atonal melodies. They can sound unpleasant, dull or meaningless, but if you want a really
scary tune, go and listen to Mussorgsky, or Nine Inch Nails, or the first few seconds of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon
Awkward, jerky rhythms are never
scary; they're either intriguing or just annoying. It is a pounding, insistent rhythm that terrifies: the
steamhammer, the piledriver, the sound of marching boots. But the scariest sound of all is a single, loud, sudden sound very close to you.
As you may discern from these examples, it is circumstances and associations that give emotional weight to sound, far more than its musical
attributes, if any.