He was in elementary school when he first realized that not everybody saw music as color. Not everybody witnessed ribbons of green when they heard a C-note, or indigo when they heard a G sharp.
Not everybody had synesthesia like Nacho Alarcon.
One day in class, he and his peers were preparing to sing a song. His teacher played a note on the piano for the children’s reference.
“I noticed that she played the wrong note and called her on it,” Alarcon said. “She asked me how I knew it was the wrong note, and I described how the different notes both sounded and looked different to me. We talked after class, where she told me that she doesn’t have any colors associated with pitch and that she’d never met anyone before me who had.”
Synesthesia is having a sensation other than the stimulated sense, as defined by Merriam-Webster. Alarcon describes his color-tone synesthesia as an “involuntary cross-wiring of the senses” and “a multi-level experience.”
He said the wind even has a color, the tone depending on the wind’s speed.
Like his teacher, he’s never met anyone with this type of synesthesia, but he’s heard stories.
“I know it’s been rumored that Jimi Hendrix had sound-color synesthesia and that’s part of why he was so good,” he said. “Also at the same time, he was usually not sober.”
For Alarcon, listening to music can be an amazing experience. Concerts, for example, are extra stimulating.
“It’s a lot of color,” he said. “When I was a kid, I never liked it. Either because I thought the colors didn’t mesh well, or because I was just distracted musically by people coughing and seeing color … being like, ‘Stop! There’s stuff going on.’ But now I’m just sort of used to it and it’s cool.”
As psychedelic as this sounds, he said it can also make everyday tasks more difficult, like driving. Imagine the tone of the engine, the turn signals, and other cars driving by. Each one would cause colors to fly into Alarcon’s view.
Why does this happen?
He talked about the possibility of genetic inheritance, but he said he doesn’t know of any family member with any type of synesthesia.
He also said it might be related to a childhood accident. When he was three years old, a rock shot from a lawn mower and hit his right eye, blinding him.
“Since I can remember, essentially, I’ve been visually impaired. So I’m blind in my right eye. And so (my synesthesia) could possibly, I guess, be trauma related.”
Whatever the case, he knows music on a different level than the average music lover because of his synesthesia.
“It heightens the experience,” he said. “It’s just a good thing.”