When it isn’t full of hot air tinged with the malodour of corruption, The Houses of Parliament have the synaesthetic taste and texture of wafers, ice cream and sliced apple.
Synaesthesia is a neurological trait which results in a link between two or more senses that would not normally be connected together. So, in my case I have an extra neural link between the part of my brain that deals with sound and the part that deals with taste. This extra connection means I can taste sounds. In my particular case, the synaesthetic tastes and textures I experience aren’t just simple associations, they come in the form of a mouth feel and it really does feel like I am eating something. This is a part of my own synaesthesia that I find fascinating – the way my brain convinces me that I’m actually eating and subsequently swallowing something tangible. These synaesthetic taste experiences are totally involuntary and can’t be turned off or turned down. They are also consistent over time. My sound / flavour combinations have never altered and the sounds I hear today carry the exact same tastes and textures they carried when I first heard them.
I have always gravitated towards over produced rock music as typically found in the USA. Green Day are a particular band that instantly comes to mind. I didn’t much like them when they were “punks” but as they got all schmaltzy and more professionally produced, I began to take a synaesthetic shine to their music. My sound to taste synaesthesia is primarily triggered by change - be it a change of word sound or a change of instrument - and I like picking up on that sound change and savouring it slowly. Listening to live music for me is no different to taking a bunch of expensive foods and putting them all through a blender. Each distinct sound should be rolled around the tongue for a while before inwardly digesting. Well produced, recorded music is clinically and aurally clean. I perceive music much as I perceive food – what’s important isn’t the taste, it’s the texture. I tend to shy away from over-wordy songs because they produce far too many mismatched synaesthetic tastes for my liking. Billy Joel released a nightmare of a song a few years ago – something to do with starting fires – and the mass of lyrics totally messed up the synaesthetic taste of the music itself. Lloyd Cole is another synaesthetic felon. I also remember having a liking for Trance music because of the lack of lyrics. I find solo, acapella vocalists difficult to deal with because to me that’s like eating soft, creamy caramel – it’s great served up as a single spoonful but not so nice if you have to get through a bucket load of the stuff.
I first remember words having a taste when I was aged around 4 years old. The reason I can clearly remember this is because at that time I used to travel to school every day on the London Underground tube system and I can clearly remember all the station names having a taste. I have to say though, it didn't seem odd or unusual to me at the time and I never gave it a second thought.
My synaesthesia has an effect on everything I do, it is a part of who I am. You have to remember that I’ve tasted every sound I hear for as long as I can remember so it’s as natural and as normal to me as breathing. It would be similar to me asking you how has being able to smell things affected your life. What I will say is that synaesthesia can cause distraction issues at times and there is a strong emotional pull that comes along with a synaesthetic experience. If I don’t like the taste of a person’s name or an object of some kind, then I simply won’t like that person or object. Irrational maybe, but very true.
I happen to like the taste of celery so the answer would be a definite yes! A dollop of cream cheese wouldn’t go amiss either.
An Angry Red. Because that is how society is today. I see it every time I visit my local supermarket.
I have attempted to do this, yes. Unlike sound to colour synaesthesia which is relatively easy to recreate graphically, taste synaesthesia is obviously more difficult to represent in a way that non-synaesthetes in particular can easily relate to. A few years ago I collaborated with two London based food photographers to create an interactive synaesthesia exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. We attempted to portray what it is actually like to be a taste synaesthete. We produced 4 images of famous London landmarks – The Shard, Bank of England, Kings Cross Station and The Gherkin – and displayed them in an exhibition space at the museum. We then invited in small groups and as they paused at each of the images we offered them samples of food so they could experience the actual taste I experience when looking at or thinking of the landmarks on show. These images, along with a brief introduction to synaesthesia were very popular on the night.
In another photographic collaboration we graphically created the synaesthetic taste of a series of traditional English Sunday Roast dinners and we produced four separate complete images – Beef, Pork, Chicken and Lamb. The idea behind this was that each of the separate items that make up the complete image all have a unique synaesthetic taste. For example the sound of a bell produces a taste and texture of horseradish sauce, the sight of a particular type of school blazer tastes of green beans. All of these separate items collected together on a single image produce for me, the taste and textures of a full Sunday Roast dinner with all the trimmings. A more recent project I worked on was the creation of seven taste synaesthesia election posters depicting the leading parties and their respective leaders in the UK 2015 General Election. One new idea I’m working on is producing synaesthetic Family Portraits. In these I create a photographic image which represents the tastes and textures of each family member. Eeuk!
This is a reworked version of Harry Beck's iconic Tube map with the addition of the Docklands Light Railway and the Overground. It accurately reflects every taste and texture I experience while stopping at and passing through each and every station on the Tube system. I have also completed one of these taste maps for the Toronto subway system in Canada and I have begun working on the Paris Metro and Manhattan subway following recent journeys on both.
I’m presently working on a “Synaesthesia Garden” project, scheduled to be exhibited at the prestigious Hampton Court Palace flower show in London this coming July. The idea is to create a garden space that goes some way to reflect the complex sensory experiences of someone with this fascinating neurological trait. It will involve all five main senses and will be aesthetically pleasing in a garden sort of way as well as being thought provoking and fun. As President of the UK Synaesthesia my future focus will be on actively encouraging and supporting science and art projects, especially those that carry a neurological / sensory theme. I will also be carrying on my work to raise general awareness of this fascinating trait and encouraging other synaesthetes to speak out about their unique, enhanced perceptions. Oh, and possibly sell a few Synaesthesia Tube maps!