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William S. Griscom, Stephen E. Palmer; The Color of Musical Sounds: Color Associates of Harmony and Timbre in
Non-Synesthetes. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):74. doi: 10.1167/12.9.74.
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Previous studies have shown that the tempo and harmonic mode (major vs. minor) of different pieces of classical music produce consistent cross-modal associations with dimensions of individual colors and that these associations are largely mediated by the shared emotional content of the colors and music (Schloss & Palmer, VSS-2008; Xu et al., VSS-2011; Palmer et al., VSS-2011). In the present study we extended this line of research by investigating cross-modal associations between two-color displays and musical sounds that varied in instrumental timbre and the harmonic structure of 2-note intervals and 3-note chords. The color stimuli consisted of color pairs chosen from the 37 colors of the Berkeley Color Project and the sound stimuli consisted of synthesized notes, two-note intervals, and three-note chords, using instrumental timbres derived from Grey’s (1977) timbre space. Participants were asked to perform a 2AFC task to indicate which of two color pairs they felt was more strongly associated with the presented musical sound. They also rated the sound and the color pairs
separately on each of five emotional dimensions (happy/sad, angry/clam, active/passive, strong/weak, and harmonious/disharmonious). The probability of choosing a given color pair was found to be strongly related to the fit between the degree of harmony of the musical sound and the difference in the degree of harmony between the two color pairs presented on that trial (i.e., harmonious color pairs were chosen to go with harmonious sounds and disharmonious color pairs to go with disharmonious sounds). Two dimensions of instrumental timbre – brightness (spectral centroid) and attack (rise time) – also showed systematic effects on participants’ cross-modal choices of visual displays that differed in both color and spatial characteristics.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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