For Russian painter and pioneer of abstract art Wassily Kandinsky, music and color were inseparable. It’s possible that the artist had synesthesia, a condition in which sensory modalities are cross-wired in the brain. If true, Kandinsky didn’t just see colors; he heard them, too.
While your brain may not be hardwired like Kandinsky’s, it’s still constantly processing sensory stimuli, using them to make sense of your world. With a bit of sensory science, you can take advantage of sound/color associations, using them to craft a stimulating brand experience for your prospects and customers.
The science of crossmodalism
When our senses are simulated, our brains look for congruent connections that help inform our perception of what we taste, hear, touch, smell or see. Crossmodalism is a growing field of experimental psychology that examines the ways that various sensory stimuli can alter our perception of the world and our experiences in it. We can use these crossmodal associations to hack our sensory perception.
For example, people often associate high pitched sounds with sweetness and lower pitched sounds with bitterness. Experiments have demonstrated that the same piece of chocolate might taste sweet or bitter, depending on the type of soundscapes you listen to as you taste the chocolate. Our language is peppered with these crossmodal comparisons: sharing how something might sound sweet or dark, or referring to the notes of flavor and aroma in wine.
The same is true when we examine crossmodally congruent sound and color pairings. Fast-paced music in a major key is typically associated with bright, vivid colors like yellow. Increase the tempo and energy and blend in a little distortion and you’ll be “seeing” red. Slow down the tempo, move into a minor key, lessen the attack of the notes, and you might be feeling blue. The lower the pitch the darker the hue. The higher the pitch, the brighter the hue.
In addition to crossmodal associations, researchers have found that emotion also plays a role in how people attribute color to music. Red is often associated with anger or excitement. Yellow with happiness. Blue with calm or sadness. There are even genres of music that seem to produce strong color associations: jazz with blue, funk and hip-hop with indigo, bluegrass with green, and salsa with red.
Just as Kandinsky drew on a color palate to paint his masterpieces, composers draw on a sonic palate to create their masterpieces as well. Color/music associations can be shaped through the use of tempo, dynamics, volume, modality, pitch, harmony, complexity and distortion.
Infuse experiences with color and sound
Crossmodal science has practical implications when it comes to crafting brand experiences. How do your brand colors play into other sensory expressions of your brand identity and personality? You also can use sound/color research to help guide your music and sound selections, producing more crossmodally congruent brand experiences and better aligning brand intent with consumer perception.
To bring the science to life, Pandora has used it to inform the curation of seven color matched playlists, based on the seven colors of the visible spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. You’ll hear (and see) a difference between the music associated with brighter colors like red and yellow, and darker colors like blue and indigo. Some play with the nuance of sonic colors, such as orange being more relaxed in tempo than red and yellow.
Take some time to listen to these color-inspired playlists as you think about how color and sound impact your complete brand experience. Unleash your inner Kandinsky and color your world with sound.