Technology helps man "hear" colours

A colour blind musician is using technology to “see” colours.

Neil Harbisson is a classically trained pianist who has been colour-blind since birth. He suffers from a condition called Achromatopsia. In simple terms this means he can only see the world in grey.

With the help of a piece of technology, worn around his head, he is able to “hear” variations in colours. According to Red Bulletin magazine, the device, called the ‘eyeborg,’  helps translate colours into sound.

The device is essentially a plastic ring which sits on the musician’s head. On the rear side of the ring is a 10cm2 chip with a 60MHz ARM7 processor.

According to the magazine: “The chip transforms the colour information the camera picks up into sound by translating light frequencies into sound frequencies. The spectrum of 360 micro-notes Harbisson can pick up ranges from 349.23 to 697.11Hz, corresponding to an octave from F to near F on the music sheet. If Harbisson directs the camera at a red rose, for example, he hears an F (= 349.23Hz). If he looks down at his yellow socks, the eyeborg plays a G.”

Sounds to us a little like induced Synaesthesia – where the brain jumbles up inputs and sees sounds as colours, often a side-effect of reasonable doses of psychedelics.

Harbisson has used the gizmo to design what is described as “sound portraits of famous people.”

He’s been doing this since 2005, scanning his subjects’ eyes, hair and skin colour and working notes into a chord. The first person he experimented on was the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, who visited Dartington College in 2005.

“He noticed my electronic eye. I politely asked him if I could listen to his face,” Harbisson said.

Apparently Charles’ lips sounded like a high E. But his hair was almost inaudible – but he’s been thinning for years.

In London in 2007, Nicole Kidman walked in front of Harbisson’s lens as she was making her way through fans and signing autographs in Leicester Square.

She also noticed the “eyeborg” straight away and asked Harbisson if he was filming her. After explaining to the star what he was doing, and ensuring her that it wasn’t a joke, Ms Kidman asked how she sounded. Harbisson’s response was “red” – possibly the colour of her cheeks as she realised he wasn’t a covert creep with a camera.