Imagine being one of those rare individuals who sees colour when hearing a piano sonata; or who experiences taste on hearing a symphony. Such is the neurological wiring of approximately 5% of the population known as ‘synaesthetes’.
If you’re not a synaesthete and you want a taste of what it’s like to be one, Synaesthesia + the second festival exploring this rare phenomenon through music, lights, art and food may be one to attend, running in at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, in mid-August.
Brian Ritchie, bass-player with Violent Femmes and now living in Hobart co-curated the first Synaesthesia at MONA in 2012 with Lyndon Terracini and Simon Rogers. This year, he and Rogers reprise their collaboration with Marko Letonja, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, creating Synaesthesia +. Also on board is David Walsh, the creator of MONA, whom Ritchie says “is the main source not only of inspiration but also of funding.”
Speaking to SoundsLikeSydney from Melbourne, Ritchie is very satisfied with the inaugural Synaesthesia. “ We’re not trying to radically reposition it – we just want to continue to develop it and let it evolve because we think we have quite a good format.” That format is an unremitting schedule of performances, lectures, panel discussions and demonstrations amidst the cavernous spaces and art of MONA.
Held over two days, the wealth of aural and visual art is punctuated by sensational meals, prepared and presented in ways to challenge. Chef Vince Trim is working on different menus for each day. “One of the menus features food of unusual colour combinations, creating the same kind of disorienting effects that we’re going for with the lighting and the music” says Ritchie.
This year, the use of light will be expanded. “We want to create even more of those effects of the music and the lighting bleeding together. We’ve got our in-house team who know the museum intimately. They’ve been working on the lighting for several months now and we’re looking forward to giving people a great experience combining the lights and the music” he continues.
In an example of recreating for the audience what a synaesthete might experience, Richard Tognetti’s performance of solo J S Bach will be fed via a microphone into Robin Fox’s oscillospcope which in turn will be projected onto a screen. “Robin Fox'” says Ritchie “is one of Australia’s premiere synaesthetic composers. His music and visuals always have a one to one relationship. In this case he will take the sounds Richard Tognetti is making and use that to create imagery so when people hear the Bach they will be able to see clearly the relationship between the sounds and the vision.”
Although Synaesthesia + will contain the music of Bach played as a recurring theme in different ways, it’s not all about Bach, “though we all agree that Bach’s music is universal and can be found and interpreted in many different ways. At times, Bach’s music will be performed as he wrote it. At other times, his motifs or influences are used to construct new works to interpret a concept. “
“We’re trying to explore many different aspects of synaesthesia from a musical perspective and that includes the music of composers known to be synaesthetes like Messaien, Ligeti and even Theolonius Monk.”
Although Ritchie’s main claim to fame is as a bass player, surprisingly, he also plays an instrument at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, the shakuhachi. ” Last time I performed, this time I’ll be one of the experiments” he jests.” Not only are we trying to create the synaesthetic experience we’re also exploring the themes in workshops where we will connect musicians to EEGs and see what happens when they’re given various stimuli, how it affects their playing and how the music can generate visuals effects.”
In 2014, Synaesthesia + will focus more on classical and contemporary art music reducing the amount of pop and cabaret music and retaining the jazz element.
“As far as we know there is no other event of this type combining music, lights and food in such a way that explores a theme like synaesthesia and were calling it Synaesthesia + because we’re going into some other psychological and musical territory. We think it’s a radical concept and if people will give it a chance we think they will enjoy it as a really different experience.”
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Synaesthesia + runs at MONA in Hobart from August 16-17, 2014. Click here for more information.
This feature was amended on 30 July, 2014. SoundsLikeSydney was advised that Violent Femmes began touring in 2013 after a ‘long sabbatical’ and so Brian Ritchie is the ‘bass player with Violent Femmes’, not the ‘former bass player with Violent Femmes’. Our apologies. SdeS.