Colour-blind artist hears colour thanks to electronic chip

17 March 2014, 11:47

An artist has implanted a chip into his skull allowing him to hear different shades of colour as sound vibrations.

Artist Neil Harbisson was limited to seeing the world in black and white - until he developed an electronic chip which enables him to 'hear' colours. Since 2004, he has been creating a device which reads colour input in the world around him through a small camera, and translates it into vibrations in his inner ear.

It took Harbisson a year to persuade surgeons to carry out the operation, which involved implanting a chip into his skull. He can also use the wifi and bluetooth connectors in the chip to 'hear' images sent from mobile devices.

Speaking at a TED talk in 2012, he said: "I've been hearing colour all the time for eight years, since 2004, so I find it completely normal now to hear colour all the time. At the start, though, I had to memorise the names you give for each colour, so I had to memorise the notes, but after some time, all this information became a perception. I didn't have to think about the notes."

"Life has changed dramatically since I hear colour, because colour is almost everywhere, so the biggest change for example is going to an art gallery, I can listen to a Picasso, for example. So it's like I'm going to a concert hall, because I can listen to the paintings. And supermarkets, I find this is very shocking, it's very, very attractive to walk along a supermarket. It's like going to a nightclub."

Composers through the ages have cited the ability to 'hear' colour due to a condition known as synesthesia. Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Sibelius have all described specific keys as having a certain 'colour' or 'mood'.

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