How often do you hear about the neurological condition synesthesia? Especially when it comes to music? The condition, which takes the stimulation of one sense and brings it to another, is rare, but its contribution to music is quite unique. Greg Jarvis, the conductor of the trans-atlantic shoegaze orchestra Flowers of Hell, has one of the most uncommon forms: seeing shapes from sounds. He uses his synesthesia for music, but it wasn’t until about six years ago that the music history professor realized he had it.
“With most synesthettes, it’s not a moment when we realize we have the condition, it’s a moment when we realize others don’t,” he said in a recent interview with AUX in Toronto. “To me, that’s just how the world is. I was marking a student’s paper that was off on a bit of a tangent and he’d written about synesthesia. I started to read and go ‘oh wait!’ I had never heard of it before! I was like, ‘maybe this explains why I’ve never heard anybody else talk about the shapes.’”
Jarvis’ most emotional moment with the condition came earlier this year, when he was watching the 1940 version of Fantasia. There was a sequence set to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by German artist Oskar Fischinger that particularly caught his eye. “I was watching it and I was just like ‘woah, okay, so other people do see the sounds! Because I was looking at the screen, and I was looking away from the screen, and I was seeing the same things!”