The composers Gaby Cardoso and Timothy B. Layden are interviewed by Patricia Lynne Duffy
Synesthetes Timothy B. Layden and Gaby Cardoso composed “Shared Colors”, music that fueled a spaceship in Layden’s sci-fi novel, Dreams of Laika
“Gaby and I had never met in person, have different mother tongues and were doing this at the beginning of a global pandemic. Nonetheless, we were able to communicate musically and synesthetically. At the same time, I was in my final edits of “Dreams of Laika” and was thinking about musically powered space travel…” — Tim Layden
PLD: Tim and Gaby, you are both multi-talented sound-color synesthetes. Tim, you are a painter, a musician, and more recently, a sci-fi novelist. Gaby, you are a musician and a poet. Your perceptions and talents cross the usual borders between art forms. How did you both meet and start working together on the musical piece, “Shared Colors”?
TBL:Gaby and I started with a blank canvas and developed our understanding through the process of creating. We had never met in person, have different mother tongues and were doing this at the beginning of a global pandemic. Nonetheless, we were able to communicate musically. I came across Gaby through synaesthesia networks. Although we had never met in person, we shared friends and acquaintances. Our friendship began through a mutual appreciation for each other’s creative practices. So, we began sharing and then Gaby suggested we do something together.
GC: – I always admired Timothy’s art but I did not know that he was also a musician. When I found out that he experienced colorful sounds like me, I simply thought of recording music together. I sent him a message asking him if he wanted to record something, and he said yes. We were that spontaneous.
PLD: The music of “Shared Colors” has an “otherworldly”, almost “outer space” quality to it. Tell me how the inspiration for “Shared Colors” came about.
TBL: I was in the final edits of my sci-fi novel, Dreams of Laika, thinking about musically powered space travel – which influenced my approach to our musical piece, “Shared Colors”.
Gaby proposed that we interpret a piece of visual art by fellow synesthete, Melissa S. McCracken. I had come across her paintings and appreciated their “musical” quality. Once we’d gotten her permission, we began. This happened at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic: both of us in lockdown in our respective parts of the world, Gaby in Argentina and I in the UK, 7000 miles away from one another and working together; it was beautiful. There was something about that “lockdown era” that allowed me a level of unprecedented creative freedom. My experimental music project with Gary Blake, Algae Magnet, had just released its first album. I was getting involved with an international group of surrealist artists through the zoom craze of the time. I was in my studio all day long, aside from my daily allocated outdoor exercise of 60 minutes. When Gaby came to me with this idea, I embraced it. Perhaps if it had happened in another time, I would not have been able to give it the attention that I did.
At the same time, I was in my final edits of “Dreams of Laika” and was thinking about musically powered space travel, which, I am sure, would have had an influence on my approach.
GC: The heart of the music was created by Timothy, with a very particular atmosphere and feeling… I just tried to capture that feeling and add a particular piano, at times new age, or jazzy, adding some dissonance or even some notes out of tune. I added a few notes with electric guitar too, just to have the color, red included.
PLD: Tell me about the choice of title, “Shared Colors”. Were there particular “sound-colors” you both shared in making the musical piece? Or does the title refer to the “musical colors” that you are sharing with your listeners?
GC: Yes, we call it “Shared Colors” because we chose a painting by the well-known synesthete-artist, Melissa McCracken. Our sounds corresponded (according to our synesthesia) to the colors of that painting, which we used as an album cover.
TLB: What we did was to share our experiences of colors through the process of making music. I think the closest we can get to answering this question is to look back at some of our correspondence:
“Tim: What if I do a bass track and send it to you and you can do guitar. I will put a click track for bpm. Though may not be able to start till next week.
Gaby: Ok, bass for me is grey, so Is good for the painting. We should need 2 tracks
Gaby: Electric guitar is red/orange for me…
Tim: smiley face + thumbs up (emoticons)
Gaby: If you want instead of 2 tracks we record together 1 Track, with some of your sounds colors and mine
Tim: However you want
Gaby: Great, so we can start with your bass line and I add a guitar… Then we check the other colors.”
TLB: There was more to it than that, but I can look at the artwork of Melissa S. McCracken and see the correspondences with what we created. But, if I listen to it without that image in mind or eye, I see a moving landscape that changes over the course of the sound piece, t the colors are there; somehow we got the colors right
PLD: Tim, in your sci-fi novel, Dreams of Laika, the fusion of sound and color filtered through human consciousness is powerful enough to fuel a “spaceship” (in the novel, the “mothership”). Does the fusion of sound and color—create a musical essence that is particularly potent?
TBL:Sounds and shapes that share colors have the potency of ideas. When these ideas are ladled into the soup of imagination, they can create inspiration. I experience sound in shapes. Shapes take visual forms from light. Light is color. When acted upon they catalyse experiences. Collaborating in this process as artists, who hone certain practices toplay with sound and shape in creative processes, if the conditions are ripe and the artists are opened to each other, innovations can come forth. Within that there is great potency. This was part of the essence of what I wanted to communicate in Dreams of Laika’s “Improv Hall”, where the characters worked together to propel Mothership through the unknown. I think Gaby and I were also able to tap into some of that potential.
GC: Well, my music and poetry are connected by lyrics, but poetry is like an extension of my music, a higher step, where I feel more freedom. Music follows certain parameters. Poetry is more unpredictable than music, and I love that. I like to include synesthetic allusions in both song lyrics and poetry.
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Some lines of poetry from Gaby Cardoso (in Spanish):
… por si el blanco viento sopla màs fuerte”
“Deberías cantar con harina
las canciones verduzcas de la esquina”
PLD: Is there anything else either of you would like to say about your musical piece, “Shared Colors”?
TBL: Primarily, I would like to say that I am really grateful to Gaby for inviting me from across the globe to have to play and explore possibilities together. I love collaboration and feel that we were able to create something lovely. I also would like to thank you, Pat, for appreciating what we created together.
GC: I just humbly think that it is something unique, created by “pooling together” our different experiences of synesthesia.
Click to listen to the musical piece, “Shared Colors” :
-For more information on the book, Palabras Cristal, contact the author : firstname.lastname@example.org
Patricia Lynne Duffy is the author of the now classic, Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: how synesthetes color their worlds, the first book by a synesthete about synesthesia. An audio version of the book with research updates, music by synesthete-composers, and an “Afterword” is recently out. Available from Audible She also contributed a chapter, “Synesthesia and Literature” to the Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia.