Ever since I can remember, I’ve seen words in colours. These colours are constant and unchangeable, and as much an intrinsic property of the word as the arrangement of the letters. The word “pal,” for instance, is always neon green. The word “bollocks” is always light blue. The word “agreeable” is always pillar-box red, and so on.
I had no idea this wasn’t the way everyone perceived language until I once mentioned to my mate that “Wednesday is so obviously yellow,” and she looked at me as if I’d just offered to sacrifice my first-born child. After some frantic googling, I discovered I had a mild and relatively common form of synaesthesia—”grapheme-color synaesthesia”—and not an incurable brain tumour, as I’d briefly suspected.
What does your favourite song sound like? Noisey has conducted a killer interview with James Wannerton, a man “suffering” from synaesthesia.
What’s less common, however, are other forms of synaesthesia. Lexical-gustatory synesthesia, for instance, is experienced by less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and refers to when people can taste sounds. In other words, that new Stormzy track might taste like ginger biscuits and barbecued meat, or your fave Aaliyah jam might conjure up the sweet deliciousness of blueberry pie.
We wanted to know more about this very strange, almost super hero-style phenomenon, so we contacted the UK Synaesthesia Association. They put us in touch one of their committee members, James Wannerton, who can taste sounds to a pretty extreme level. As such, we sent him a playlist, he listened to the tracks, and then he kindly told us the flavours of each.
Dave and J Hus – Samantha
NOISEY: So, let’s start with this Dave and J Hus track.
JAMES: Ah yes, this one had a very strong piano introduction. For me, pianos always have the taste and texture of pineapple chunks. Usually, they’re the sweet tinned ones, but in this case, they were large, fresh pineapple chunks.
NOISEY:What about the lyrics?
JAMES: I don’t usually like lyric-filled songs because they give me too many flavours, but in this song the vocals were mumbled so it wasn’t too much. What I did get from the vocals were a really strong taste of Garibaldi biscuits. Also, there was some Madeira cake in there.
NOISEY:So it was quite a sweet song? Not unpleasant?
JAMES: It wasn’t unpleasant, but I’ll tell you why it wasn’t one of my favourites: it was relatively bland. I know it had pineapple chunks, but after that, it wasn’t that strong.
The Lemon Twigs – These Words
NOISEY:I’m interested to hear about what this Lemon Twigs song tasted like, as there’s so much going in here.
JAMES: Ah yeah. Funnily enough, and this must have something to do with the semantics, it gave me the taste of lemon sorbet, and a few lemon pips. The whole thing didn’t have much texture or substance, though. Although actually, from the lyrics, I got toffee sensations and a few fruit gums; you know Rowntree’s Fruit Gums? I got them as well.
NOISEY:From what I’ve heard so far, you’ve got quite a sweet palette.
JAMES: So far, yeah. When there are lyrics they’re sometimes less so.