Synaesthetic Review of Peter McVeigh’s “Song for Winter.” feat. Ciara O’Neill.


This, as you can see, is one of those occasions when I decide to offer up something of a non-fictional nature for your perusal. My friend and consummate musician & songwriter Peter has just realised his new single; he contacted me asking if I would do a review of his song (which is outstanding) from the point of view of a synaesthete.

What follows is thus a moment by moment commentary of how I view the song in terms of the hallucinations it produces when my (neurologically unconventional) brain processes the sounds. The commentary will probably seem bizarre to anyone who doesn’t have the condition or who has never taken a hallucinogen. (For the record I’m a teetotal and I don’t do drugs…after reading the commentary you’ll realise that I clearly don’t need to!) The thoughts I’m about to write down are purely what I’m experiencing. I don’t like to give myself time to think about these things as it might affect the outcome, I want it to be as natural an indication as possible. These are things I see on a daily basis when I hear sounds, words, smell perfume, eat food, feel pain, feel emotions, touch fabrics–I have become used to it, and I often have no idea why certain sensual stimuli provoke particular hallucinations. They sometimes vary, but usually I’ll see/smell the same things when confronted with the same sensory event.

So…to prepare, I’ve dimmed the lights and put on headphones to keep other distractions to a minimum…here we go!

The piano is making me see bubbles and stairs, blues and greens but pale. Pete’s voice is like matches striking, but with cough syrup. I can also see the lyrics as they flash past, again in pale aquamarines. The brushes on the snare drum make monotone scratches across my mind’s eye, Ciara’s voice has come in, it’s like very fine gold leaf or metallic foil, though when she holds notes it becomes a clear white. The strings are faintly visible, in very pale green. When the two voices merge for the harmonies I can see a pattern of colours not unlike a box of fancy macaroons. Jewell colours all sandwiched together and a sweet taste. As the strings become more prominent they appear as a richer more forrest green, and take on the texture of velvet. The smell of leather armchairs comes to mind as the strings take over the track and a deep russet red creeps in amongst them. Sometimes the words will provoke images, (I guess this happens for ‘normal’ people too?) such as stars falling on my head, dragons flying about (when the song mentions stars and legends). All the sounds happen in my mind’s eye, spatially, where they appear in the track. So instruments that are panned left or right, appear left or right to me in symbol form. There’s a lilac which drifts in for “winter boats, I make my way home” during the repeating piano motif. The final string notes are a mixture of gold and that rich red.

There you have it! I wrote this down as I was listening. Sometime pausing, but only so as I could finish the sentence. Like I said this may sound strange and perhaps a little farcical, but it’s what I experience.Sometimes I’ll be overwhelmed by all the images and they will start to blend and become confused, like colours running on a wet water colour painting.

It was a pleasure to record my hallucinations for such a great song. It helps immensely that I love how it sounds. I am yet to work out if the vividness and pleasing aesthetic of the hallucinations influences my feelings of certain tracks, or whether the fact that I like them makes them look more interesting…who knows!

Either way, the beautiful, emotive voices (Ciara’s heartbreakingly sweet and Peter’s rough textured, but melodic) blend perfectly together, combined with gorgeous lyrical imagery. It was a delight to experience!

I recommend you have a listen for yourself and find out how it inspires you too. The video is stunning, and makes a lot more sense than my crazy images…

Big thanks to Pete for suggesting I review this. It’s been fun! (and colourful)


Synaesthesia and the Spectral Locomotive.

Image by Artur84 courtesy of


Last year, I was delighted to take part in a wonderful magic realism blog hop organised by Zoe Brooks, (you can see the short story I wrote for it here.) Check out the links at the bottom of this page for other great blogs by fantastic authors on the hop.

In the previous blog hop, I included a short story, as I didn’t really know what I had to say about the genre. I felt at a loss I suppose. Many others had, and have posted excellent pieces about magic realism, and considering how flexible the genre is inherently, there might feasibly be as many personal interpretations as there are grains of sand.

With this in mind, I thought I’d try this year to talk about what draws me personally to write magic-infused stories, and to enjoy reading them. The answer is perhaps more clinical than you might think. Apparently my brain is hard-wired to see fantastic things.

I have a condition called synaesthesia. Here’s the wiki page. I can’t explain it all that well in terms of the science of it, but essentially it means that my sense are a little more interconnected than they might ordinarily be in most people. I like to use the metaphor of a ghost train, stopping at stations that would have been long since shut down in other  minds. In my brain, strange pathways led to strange places. Smells become sights; colours and emotions and tastes all intertwine.

For example, when I smell a perfume, it also manifests itself as a colour in my mind’s eye. The same perfume will always bring to mind that colour, in the same way that if I asked you to tell me what colour the grass was, you would instinctively think green wouldn’t you?

Chanel make a perfume called Chance. I used to wear it all the time, but my mother (who is also a synaesthete) wasn’t a fan. One day we both realised that the reason we disagreed over the smell was because it was a very light shade of blue. As a child I had loved the colour, but my mother couldn’t stand it. As far as I know, synaesthetes won’t usually see the same colours or patterns for the same things, but sometimes these overlap. So, a lot of synaesthetes might see the letter O as white in colour for example.

Some synaesthetes have only one type of sensory overlap, such as that of colour-numbers/letters. I happen to be blessed (or cursed) with a wide range of sensory entanglements. Numbers and letters have colours, genders and their own personalities. (I thought I was just a little crazy until I realised that some other synaesthetes personify numbers too-phew), whenever I hear music I see patterns, shapes and colours. Emotions have colours (grief and all bitter-sweet feelings are purple). When I touch something hot or cold, that also manifests itself as a colour, and when that something is too hot or too cold both sensations look exactly the same to me, they are both yellow.

Certain words have an amazing power to bring tastes into my mouth, “emerald” being the strongest of these. Whenever I hear or say the word, I experience a rush of sweetness, a bit like syrup, on the back of my tongue. I once heard that these taste sensations are frequently linked to childhood experiences. I think perhaps I was watching The Wizard of Oz, eating a lollipop when the Emerald City scene came on, and now the association is with me for life. Lucky for me it’s a pleasant one!

I could go on and on but I won’t. This is supposed to be a post about creativity, not neurological conditions. I wanted to share this because I wanted to show how magic for me is not so unlikely or remote a thing. I live in a kaleidoscope. When I hear music or conversations the patterns and colours soar around me in great arcs. I sit in lecture theatres and coffeeshops and have to try and not be engulfed in rainbows. It can be terribly beautiful. Terrible because the sensory overload I occasionally experience can tip me into anxiety attacks. Beautiful, because I live in a world where monotony is just impossible.

I recently discovered that, when given the choice, I will rely on my synaesthetic responses over my normal ones. If a friend asks me “can you hear that?” I won’t listen, I will look to see if I can spot the shapes the sound makes. Perhaps vibrations trigger these patterns then, as I often see the shapes before I am aware of any sound. Because of this, I can’t imagine what I would do if I woke up without these strange hallucinations. How would I feel my way around the world? I suppose I would adjust, but it would be like loosing a limb.

When I write about magic in everyday life, it’s because the concept lies close to my heart. I see magical things all the time. Every time someone speaks, or a band plays, or someone hurts me, or makes me happy, I see things that are unique to me. Ghosts are everywhere. Ghosts of sentences, or dogs barking. Ghosts of emotions. When someone talks about “a smile lighting up a room” for me it’s really true. When someone smiles naturally and unselfconsciously it makes me see a giant sunflower, with huge petals opening up, it brightens me too. That may sound horrifically corny, but it’s what I see.

I suppose the one thing my condition and my writing have led me to wonder, is what is magic now? The term and its implications for society have meant so many different things throughout history. Magic can have both positive and negative and (perhaps more rarely) neutral connotations. It represents the wondrous, the heinous, the mysterious, the things we don’t understand. Nowadays it is taken more metaphorically. We say “oh when we got engaged it was just so magical.” I understand that my synaesthetic experiences can be explained by science, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling any less magical to me.

For me, magic is an every day thing. Sudden visions appear and disappear all around me and I walk through them, because I’m too busy and I can’t afford to get distracted. I don’t want to be run over, or I don’t want to miss my bus. Sometimes I allow myself time to enjoy them. I’ll put on my favourite songs and watch the patterns they make as they form and swirl around. Then, I collect the things I see and incorporate them into stories. Being a synaesthete has many draw backs, but I know I’m lucky. I rarely run out of inspiration, because my dreams are all around me.

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.