Composer Olivier Messiaen, who flourished in the 1940’s, on the other hand, was more likely a synesthete; the question is raised quite well in his own writings and in interviews (see Samuel 1994). Many of his compositions, such as Couleurs de la cité céleste, L’ascension, and Des canyons aux étoiles, are directly based upon his, in a sense, trying to “produce pictures» via sound, writing specific notes to produce specific color sequences and blends.
In 1940, Walt Disney studios presented Fantasia. One of the main themes of this animation film was to put pictures to pieces of orchestral music – in a sense, an early version of MTV. The results, however, did not produce much in the way of synesthetically motivated art – with the noticeable exceptions of the opening piece, the abstract colors accompanying J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d-minor. More direct to synesthesia, but constantly overlooked in the movie Fantasia, is the short divertissement section featuring an animated oscilloscope-like «sound track» which presented shapes and colors for various instruments. These colors and shapes bear some similarities to the types of actual perceptions colored-music synesthetes experience.
In 1989, Miles Davis presented his album, Aura, which is a suite of 10 modern jazz pieces each set upon a color. Aura was composed by Palle Mikkelborg, who was not a synesthete. The composer was aware of the concept of synesthesia, but only slightly. The correspondences made between the musical styles and particular colors is basically based upon western-European – and more so, on North American – culture. Furthermore, the associations are fairly «loose»; the colors are arranged in a certain sequence, and the musical pieces of the suite flow in a certain arrangement, but there is not strong attempt to have the two sequences correspond.
In 1990, Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina composed Alleluja, which includes an optional part for color keyboard.
Composer Michael Torke, on the other hand, is definitely a synesthete, reporting that one of his types is colored time units (days of the week, years, and such). Torke composed Color Music in 1991. He is currently on contract with Walt Disney studios to write music for films.
French drummer Manu Katché is a synesthete who synesthetically sees things to music and sound stimulation. He has performed with such musicians as Peter Gabriel, Joe Satriani, Tori Amos. As I currently write, he is on tour with Sting.
Currently world-famous oboist Jennifer Paull wrote to me: “I am a musician and publisher. I have been motivated my entire life by a rainbow of colours which do not belong to the limited, conventional rainbow — but are totally real for me. I cannot put them into words. There are rainbows of textures, rainbows of moods and feelings too. The first moment I heard the timbre of the oboe d’amore, I knew that I had to play it and I have spent my life doing so. . . . I found out that I saw things differently when I was 11. My best friend was totally bored by my saying letters and numbers represented colours. She noted everything I said and tried to trip me up. Of course, she couldn’t. «[Regarding the sound of the oboe d’amore], I cannot put into words. I can feel it, see it, but I can’t put it into words. This sound — this colour — took me over. I had no choice.»
This is only a most basic of overviews of synesthetic themes in the various arts – barely scratching the surface. Suffice to say that, currently, such concepts abound, and there is no dearth of artists employing such ideas in their work, particularly nowadays. Present day true synesthete artists, however, are quite a bit rarer, and are hard to point out, particularly since the diagnosis is still not common, resulting indirectly in most synesthetes not talking about their special perceptions.