I Only See a Horrible Rainbow! : Dirty Projectors vs. Synesthesia

So recently there have been a couple things that keep weirdly popping up in my life in various forms. In both cases I started unreasonably skeptical, and in both cases I finally gave in to my inner-cynic and embraced these things the universe keeps bitching at me to pay attention to. Here’s where it gets weird: these two things ended up being eerily related, and having not known about one would have very much hindered my enjoyment of the other. So without further ado, the mystery objects are:



and the Dirty Projectors


Weird, huh? Well, let’s break it down a bit.


Synesthesia first came to my attention in an NPR report about people who see numbers as colors and experience music as color in their vision. “This is bull”, I says to myself. “These drugged out hippies are just weird”. But in the coming months, I found myself crossing paths with synesthesia no less than 4 more times. I really developed an understanding, appreciation, and to be honest, a serious envy for synesthetes when Stuff You Should Know (a brilliant podcast we at Those Who Dig highly recommend) did a podcast on “Are there people who feel others’ pain?”.


Essentially, synesthesia is a combination of brain activity in regions of the brain that don’t normally activate when exposed to the same stimuli. In other words, in various forms of synesthesia, people literally see numbers and letters as various colors, or more importantly to this article, see colors when they hear music. How cool is that? [Teaser for future article:] The color isn’t an association with the music, as in hearing a certain Tom Waits song and remembering a certain sail. It is an experience with no separation between the color and the music.


Alright enough technical mumbo-jumbo.


The Dirty Projectors are one of those bands I kept hearing and reading about but for no good reason at all purposefully ignored and stayed away from. I finally gave in and bought Bitte Orca, and damn I’m glad I did. This is one of the most purely interesting and creative albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s abstract and accessible, complex yet you’ll find yourself jamming out immediately. What really grabbed me however was a quote I saw from frontman Dave Longstreth:


the music felt very [much] about colors, and their interaction


Boom! Synesthesia anyone?


My case is helped by this album art where the two beautiful female members of the band appear to be visualizing colors (or wearing futuristic space helmets).






Here are the colors that pop up in my visual field:


CANNIBAL RESOURCE: The first time I heard his voice a Ted Leo comparison hit me like a ton of bricks. This started as and remains a favorite of mine. The beautiful, unpredictable sound production just gets me. I love the girls’ voices and the way they’re deconstructed and inserted randomly, but sound totally organic amid the handclaps, high hat, stuttering bass line, and punched guitar chords. In my book, Longstreth is seeing colors with each song, but questioning the purpose:


“Can it ask a question?

Can it sing a melody?

Can it be interpreted?

Or is it more than what the eye can see… Maybe not”


TEMECULA SUNRISE: Floating, light acoustic chords and his flying voice complete the beautiful morning sunrise imagery. I love the way the chorus is just on the appealing side of disjointed. Picture yourself on a cliff in California at 6 in the morning watching the sun come up from behind the ocean. Or just hold a light orange sheet of paper in front of your face. Either way.




STILLNESS IS THE MOVE: I have to admit, this is probably my favorite song on the album, despite it being a step away from a Top 40 R&B tune. Not to mention the fact that her voice makes me fall in love with her over and over again (especially the note she hits on “through” and “do”….ooooof).


TWO DOVES (this should be white, but, you know…)


USEFUL CHAMBER: All the ocean/sailing imagery and passion oozing from this song make the color an easy selection. Plus, he says the word “blue”. The “bitte orca” explosion is my favorite moment on the album.


NO INTENTION: I love the funky backbeat on this tune. And the girls’ harmonies are beautiful as always.


REMADE HORIZON: This song feels like suburbia. The green pops up as a well-kept lawn.


FLUORESCENT HALF DOME: The closing track feels perfect for one of those odd, David Lynch scenes where the characters end up at a dark stage and some eerie lounge singer pops out from behind the curtain, and the background singers sing creepy “coos”. Tell me it doesn’t.


I challenge you, dear readers, to attempt to experience music in such a way. It doesn’t have to be seeing colors. In modern times we’ve lost the patience and ability to allow music to absorb and engage us.


Put on some headphones, turn off the lights, lay down on the couch, close your eyes, and clear your mind.


You dig?