Certain images make sounds. Not sounds that could be mistaken for “real” sounds – no, more like the hint of a sound. That’s been my life for at least the last ten years. Or maybe I’ve always been this way, I don’t know. The reason I don’t know is because it’s like a background noise that I’ve lived with for years – so subtle that I hardly notice it’s there.
When I slowly became aware that this was something unique to me, I figured it was just due to an overactive imagination. But the noises are really odd. A sort of humming or clicking sound when I look at complex circular shapes, for example. At least, I think that’s what I hear. I don’t really know, because it’s so faint as to be almost imperceptible. OK, fine, I thought to myself at the time. Maybe I just “think” I hear these things because to have something like synaesthesia (like Nabokov, Feynman, etc.) is to be unique and special. Maybe all these sounds were just some strange form of “wishful thinking.”
The event that finally pushed me to accept that my image-sounds took place just when I’d started graduate school. It was late afternoon. I was on Wikipedia, brushing up on trigonometry. As I stared at this animation, I realized that it was making a sound. Clearly, definitely, making the impression of a sound – lower when the ball was at the bottom of the circle, higher when the ball was at the top. I sent the link to a good friend of mine and asked if it made him think of a sound.
He “heard” nothing.
Since that day, I’ve done my best to figure out what triggers the “sounds” that I hear. It seems that motion, especially circular or wavelike motion, can bring it about. Static circular shapes can occasionally trigger it. However, one of the most noticeable is a pretty girl smiling – that sounds like sand blowing across the ground in the wind. Unique and definitely hard to connect with the stimulus, that’s for sure.
Being slightly synaesthetic is rather mundane, actually. It’s hard to talk about your experience because no one else really shares it. My brother in law suggested that it might help me “see” more in an image than non-synaesthetes do, but I suspect not. I simply get the information two different ways. The sounds are so hard to pin down that to this day I sometimes wonder if it’s all just imagination. And then I’ll glance at some object, thinking of nothing in particular, and I realize that I’ve got a faint suggestion of a sound to go with it.