The Sound of Color

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Color is one of the most commonly used instruments for communication amongst designers. 

The right colors must be used to illustrate fear, or anger, or joy, and can be used to catch someone’s eye and draw them in. The right colors are necessary when communicating instructions, such as “stop” being red and green being “go.”

For something so inevitable and inescapable in our everyday life, it’s easy to take the colors we see and experience for granted, and just consider them “the way things are.” However, as someone who has red-green color blindness (deuteranopia) I have always seen color as a fascinating, ever-changing, a wholly unique and personal experience.

For those who are not familiar with MF DOOM, he is often heralded as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” A man shrouded in secrecy, DOOM has created countless projects under countless pseudonyms, using each identity as an avenue for experimentation and variety within his catalog. 

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As Jon Caramanica for the New York Times puts it, “His sonic choices were radical — both no-fi and elegant, lush with history and emotion.” 

With a career spanning over 30 years, DOOM created so much space for producers and artists, especially in regards to the freedom of sampling. On his album, Take Me to Your Leader,  he consistently samples from the Godzilla franchise. On more mainstream albums, like MM..FOOD, he samples from 60’s Fantastic 4 and Spiderman cartoons.

After hearing of DOOM’s untimely death this past October, I surrounded myself in his rhymes, wordplay, and genius, as I had many times before. It was difficult coming to terms with the fact that he will never again produce another track or write another verse. 

At the time, I was also working on a few color theory projects for a class and would spend late nights listening to albums from start to finish, while dinking around on photoshop. The combination of color exploration and musical immersion made me consider what MF DOOM’s songs would look like if they were translated into color.

I started my research by looking into synesthesia, which is a neurological condition that crosswires a person’s senses, resulting in one sensory stimulation (ex. hearing) involuntarily stimulating another sense (ex. sight). 

There are many types of synesthesia, and I encourage looking into them, but for today I am focusing on Chromesthesia. When music is played, people with chromesthesia correlate certain sounds with colors. Because of how unique of a condition this is, there are only a handful of artists and composers who are credited with using their chromesthesia in their work. 

One such artist, as NPR highlights in Postlude to a Kiss: Scriabin’s Raging ‘Poem of Ecstasy, was an infamous composer with this condition, Alexander Scriabin. 

Scriabin devoted a large part of his life to trying to identify consistency within his and others’ chromesthesia, however much of his findings only pertained to his condition. One of his greatest feats was composing Prometheus: Poem of Fire, which was accompanied by a light show that gave the audience an understanding of what Scriabin saw. 

Even though his synesthesia was debated, and his guidelines between sound and color weren’t applicable for any other synesthete, I found inspiration in his ideas and the questions he set out to answer.

Looking to articles on Scriabin’s work, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Science of Sound and Color by Steve Keller, I created guidelines of my own, assigning colors to songs, based on the tempo, tone, pitch, distortion, minor/major key, and harsh/soft notes. I then took these colors and created color palettes to use in a series of three album-inspired designs. To make things simple for myself, I used only primary colors within my key. Songs assigned with yellow had a faster tempo, major key, and harsh notes. Those with redder hues were typically high energy, distorted, and had a fluctuating tempo. Lastly, songs that were bluer had a slower tempo, softer notes, and were in the minor key.

Below I have listed three songs, one for each primary color. See which color you assign to each song (just for fun)

Crosshairs – DANGER DOOM

Rapp Snitch Knishes – MF DOOM

The Fine Print – King Geedorah

The final product for me were these designs, one for each album.

As happy as I was with the results, I couldn’t help thinking “what would MF DOOM do?” He was so influential within the music and design world and made so much space for others to follow in his footsteps, as well as push boundaries. 

On a larger scale, this project was about appreciating what came before, and my goal is to use the knowledge that has been handed down and continue to create new and exciting things with it, just as the Illest Villain did.