List of people with synesthesia

List of people with synesthesia

This is a list of famous people who have, or had, the medical condition synesthesia. Following that, there is a list of people who are often wrongly believed to have had synesthesia because they used it as a device in their art, poetry or music (referred to as pseudo-synesthetes). Finally, there is a short list of people who have received a speculative, posthumous diagnosis of synesthesia, or who are thought to possibly be synesthetes based on second or third hand sources. These are listed as "still under review" in the expectation that additional data will help to clarify their status.

[ Sean A. Day] , a synesthete, and the President of the [ American Synesthesia Association] , maintains a list of synesthetes, "pseudosynesthetes" and individuals who are most likely not synesthetic, but who used synesthesia in their art or music.


Rollo Armstrong

Producer/mixer, member of Faithless (born 1967). Music → color.

Steve Aylett

British author (born 1967). Music → color.

Amy Beach

American pianist and composer (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944).It turns out that the 19th-century American classical composer Amy Beach had both perfect pitch and a set of colors for musical keys (musical keys → color). Here are two quotes from biographies:

Leonard Bernstein

American composer and conductor (August 25, 1918 - October 14, 1990). Timbre → color synesthesia, which he talked about during his "Young People's Concerts" series (the "What is orchestration" segment). [ [ The Leonard Bernstein Official Site: For Young People ] ]

Eugen Bleuler

Swiss psychiatrist (April 30, 1857 - July 15, 1939). Originator of the term "schizophrenia". Phonemes → color. [Bleuler, Eugen, and Karl Lehmann. 1881. "Zwansmässige Lichtempindungen durch Schall und verwandte Erscheinungen auf dem Gebiete der andern Sinnesempfindungen." Leipzig: Fues's Verlag.]

Robert Cailliau

World Wide Web pioneer at CERN (January 26, 1947). His website includes his color-coded alphabet. []

Stephanie Carswell

Australian actress and soprano (born 1985). Lexeme → color.quotation|"Monday is yellow; Tuesday is quite a deep red; Wednesday is sort of a grass green; Thursday is a much darker green but still quite bright; Friday has always confused me, it’s either a very dark purple, blue or grey; Saturday is white; and Sunday is sort of a light peach colour. For anyone who doesn’t understand what’s happening here, I have a neurologicalcondition called synesthesia which means that I ‘see’ words in colours."| From "Stephanie Carswell Q & A web site" [ [ Stephanie Carswell Q & A web site] ]

Antoine d'Abbadie

French geographer and explorer (January 3, 1810 - March 19, 1897). Number form synesthesia. Galton, Sir francis. 1881. "Visualized numerals." "Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland"; volume 10: 85-102.]

Tony DeCaprio

Jazz guitarist.DeCaprio is a member of the [ Synesthesia List] , and has outlined his musical note → color synesthesia there, as well as on [ his own website] .

Duke Ellington

Composer and pianist (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974). Timbre → color.

Richard Feynman

Physicist (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988). Winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics. Feynman had colored letters and numbers (graphemes → color).

Hélène Grimaud

French pianist (born November 7, 1969). Grimaud has colored numbers (graphemes → color) and sees music in colors (music → color).

David Hockney

Artist (born July 9, 1937). Music → color.Hockney sees synesthetic colors to musical stimuli. In general, this does not show up in his painting or photography artwork too much. However, it is a common underlying principle in his construction of stage sets for various ballets and operas, where he bases the background colors and lighting upon his own seen colors while listening to the music of the theater piece he is working on. [see Cytowic, Richard E. 2002. "Synaesthesia: a Union of the Senses." Second edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.]

Brooks Kerr

Jazz pianist. Musical notes → color.

György Ligeti

Composer (May 28, 1923 – June 12, 2006). Grapheme → color.quotation|""I am inclined to synaesthetic perception. I associate sounds with colours and shapes. Like Rimbaud, I feel that all letters have a colour.""Major chords are red or pink, minor chords are somewhere between green and brown. I do not have perfect pitch, so when I say that C minor has a rusty red-brown colour and D minor is brown this does not come from the pitch but from the letters C and D. I think it must go back to my childhood. I find, for instance, that numbers also have colours; 1 is steely grey, 2 is orange, 5 is green. At some point these associations must have got fixed, perhaps I saw the green number 5 on a stamp or on a shop sign. But there must be some collective associations too. For most people the sound of a trumpet is probably yellow although I find it red because of its shrillness …."| From György Ligeti, p. 58. [Ligeti, György. 1983 (1981). "Ligeti in conversation." London: Eulenburg Books. Page 58.]

Franz Liszt

Composer (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886). Music → color.

Trash McSweeney

Lead vocalist and guitarist for The Red Paintings. Chordal structure → color. []

Olivier Messiaen

Composer and organist (December 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992). Chordal structure → color.Olivier Messiaen was self-admittedly a synesthete, as is quite well detailed in his own writings and in interviews. Many of his compositions, such as "Oiseaux Exotiques", "L'ascension", and "Couleurs de la cite celeste", are directly based upon his, in a sense, trying to "produce pictures" via sound, writing specific notes to produce specific color sequences and blends. [see Samuel, Claude. 1994 (1986). "Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color. Conversations with Claude Samuel." Translated by E. Thomas Glasow. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press.]

Stephanie Morgenstern

Actress and film director (born 10 December 1965). Graphemes → color; musical notes → color. see Raskin, Richard. 2003. [ An interview with Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis on "Remembrance"] . "P.O.V., A Danish Journal of Film Studies; number 15 (March): 170-184.]

Vladimir Nabokov

Author (April 22, 1899 – July 2, 1977). Grapheme → color.In his autobiography, "Speak Memory" (1966), the Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov tells us of hisquotation|"fine case of colored hearing. Perhaps 'hearing' is not quite accurate, since the color sensation seems to be produced by the very act of my orally forming a given letter while I imagine its outline. The long a of the English alphabet (and it is this alphabet I have in mind farther on unless otherwise stated) has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard g (vulcanized rubber) and r (a sooty rag bag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of o take care of the whites. I am puzzled by my French on which I see as the brimming tension-surface of alcohol in a small glass. Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl. Adjacent tints do not merge, and diphthongs do not have special colors of their own, unless represented by a single character in some other language (thus the fluffy-gray, three-stemmed Russian letter that stands for sh [Ш] , a letter as old as the rushes of the Nile, influences its English representation)."
" ... In the green group, there are alder-leaf f, the unripe apple of p, and pistachio t. Dull green, combined somehow with violet, is the best I can do for w. The yellows comprise various e's and i's, creamy d, bright-golden y, and u, whose alphabetical value I can express only by 'brassy with an olive sheen.' In the brown group, there are the rich rubbery tone of soft g, paler j, and the drab shoelace of h. Finally, among the reds, b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with 'Rose Quartz' in Maerz and Paul's Dictionary of Color. The word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow, is in my private language the hardly pronounceable: kzspygv"| From Vladimir Nabokov, p. 34-35. [Nabokov, Vladimir. 1966. "Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited". New York: Putnam.]
It should be mentioned that Nabokov's mother, Elena Ivanovna, was a synesthete, as was also his wife, Véra, and his son Dmitri Nabokov.

Joachim Raff

Composer (May 27, 1822 - June 24 or 25, 1882). Timbre → color.In 1855, the composer Joachim Raff "declared that the sounds of instruments produced color impressions of various kinds. Thus the sound of a flute produced the sensation of intense azure blue; of the hautboy [oboe] , yellow; cornet, green; trumpet, scarlet; the French horn, purple; and the flageolet [bassoon] , grey. The clearest and most distinct shades were those evoked by the high notes" (Krohn 1892 : 22). It is unknown whether Raff was a synaesthete; he may well have been, but this small set of colored timbres does not provide enough information, without more direct claims as to where the correspondences originate from. [Krohn, W.O. 1892. “Pseudo-chromaesthesia, or The Association of Color with Words, Letters, and Sounds.” "American Journal of Psychology"; volume 5: 20-41.]

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Composer (March 6, 1844 – June 8, 1908). Musical keys → color.Rimsky-Korsakov synesthetically experienced colors for musical keys (musical keys →color). For example, for him, the key of C major was white, and the key of B major was a gloomy dark blue with a steel shine. [This is according to an article in the Russian press, Yastrebtsev V. "On N.A.Rimsky-Korsakov's color sound- contemplation." "Russkaya muzykalnaya gazeta", 1908, N 39-40, p. 842-845 (in Russian), cited by Bulat Galeyev (1999).]

Jean Sibelius

Composer (December 8, 1865 – September 20, 1957). Sound → color.quotation|"For him there existed a strange, mysterious connection between sound and color, between the most secret perceptions of the eye and ear. Everything he saw produced a corresponding impression on his ear – every impression of sound was transferred and fixed as color on the retina of his eye and thence to his memory. And this he thought as natural, with as good reason as those who did not possess this faculty called him crazy or affectedly original."
"For this reason he only spoke of this in the strictest confidence and under a pledge of silence. 'For otherwise they will make fun of me!'"| From Karl Ekman, pp. 41-42. [Adolf Paul (1890), "En Bok om en Människa", as quoted in Ekman 1938: 41-42] [Ekman, Karl. 1938. "Jean Sibelius: His life and personality." Translated from the Finnish by Edward Birse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.]

Daniel Tammet

Autistic savant (born January 31, 1979). Grapheme → color/shape.: [] . [see Tammet, Daniel. 2006. "Born on a blue day." London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.] .

Sabriye Tenberken

Of Braille Without Borders (born 1970). Multiple synesthesiae.quotation|"Tenberken had impaired vision almost from birth, but was able to make out faces and landscapes until she was 12. As a child in Germany, she had a particular predilection for colours, and loved painting, and when she was no longer able to decipher shapes and forms she could still use colours to identify objects. Tenberken has, indeed an intense synaesthesia."'As far back as I can remember,' she writes, 'numbers and words have instantly triggered colours in me ... number four, for example [is] gold. Five is light green. Nine is vermillion... Days of week, as well as months, have their colours, too.' Her synaesthesia has persisted and been intensified, it seems, by her blindness"| From [] [see also Tenberken, Sabriye. 2003/2000. "My path leads to Tibet." New York: Arcade Publishing.]

Michael Torke

Composer (born September 22, 1961). Multiple synesthesiae.This claim is supported by Torke's numerous interviews with major synesthesia researchers. [see Duffy, Patricia Lynne. 2001. "Blue cats and chartreuse kittens: how synesthetes color their worlds." New York: Henry Holt.]

Baron Karl Robert Osten-Sacken

Russian diplomat and entomologist (1828 - 1906). Number form synesthesia.


Hip-hop producer and artist (born April 5, 1973). Music → color.


* Alexander Scriabin (6 January 1872 – 27 April 1915) probably was not a synesthete, but, rather, was highly influenced by the French and Russian salon fashions. Most noticeably, Scriabin seems to have been strongly influenced by the writings and talks of the Russian mystic, Helena P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society and author of such works as Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine.Dann, Kevin T. 1998. "Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge." New Haven and London: Yale University Press.] The synesthetic motifs found in Scriabin's compositions – most noticeably in "Prometheus", composed in 1911 – are developed from ideas from Isaac Newton, and follow a circle of fifths. [B. M. Galeyev and I. L. Vanechkina (August 2001). [ "Was Scriabin a Synesthete?"] . "Leonardo"; Vol. 34, Issue 4, pp. 357 - 362.] [Scriabin, Alexander. 1995(1911). "Poem of Ecstasy" and "Prometheus: Poem of Fire"." New York: Dover.]

Proposed others which are still under review

* Syd Barrett (January 6, 1946 - July 7, 2006), composer; multiple synesthesiae
* Davey Havok (born November 20, 1975), musician
* Jimi Hendrix (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970), musician
* Robyn Hitchcock (born March 3, 1953), musician; claims that musical chords appear to him as distinct colours
* Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885), writer
* Richard D. James aka Aphex Twin (born August 18, 1971), Cornish electronic music artist; musical sounds and words → color
* Wassily Kandinsky (December 16, 1866 – December 13, 1944), painter
* John Mayer (October 16, 1978), musician
* Anthony Powell (December 21, 1905 - March 28, 2000), writer
* Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959), architect, claimed to hear music sometimes while designing buildings
* Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer, describes colours experienced by the protagonist upon hearing a female character's voice in "Rapaccini's Daughter."
* Geoff Emerick, recording engineer, described sound tones in terms of colours.


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