This is the ethos & vision of Synaesthetic / aloom, a next-generation user experience company.
If you haven’t noticed, we live in a dysfunctional world — but I’m not referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s left malls empty to echo with the sound of starving rats, and skies to shine clearer without the collective flatulence of humanity… as our economic security melts away along with the icebergs.
No, the even more pervasive dysfunction that’s bothered me well before this year, is the reason I started Synaesthetic. Despite climate change trending global temperatures up, the world is getting colder. We trade our intimacy for smartphones and lose empathy paying for social media. We are increasingly isolated, bubbled, and echo-chambered while also becoming more lonely, sensitive, and skeptical… Data-drowned, attention-strained, politically-polarized, and emotionally-constipated. At “the fore-front of civilization”, why does “progress” feel so isolating, stressful, and unsustainable?
In my humble opinion, one of the key reasons is our society is lacking empathy. I won’t argue if this is the cause or a side-effect of our “progress”, because ultimately the response is the same — we should develop more empathy. Why? Because empathy is what allowed us to form a society in the first place. Empathy lets us understand each other and cooperate, rather than see everyone as the enemy — and that’s where music comes in.
Music was credited with being the “enabling technology” of societies some ~75,000 years ago, as to how we first communicated with each other, expressing our feelings and relating to our shared challenges in chants and howls — it’s how we became self-aware of the emotional forces that largely drive us… some would say music is the original social platform.
If so, then in our current renaissance of music which aligns with one of the most turbulent and polarized eras in western society — how come we are so passive in our music consumption? Why is it only worthy of being a background activity most of the time? We used to ritualistically spin records and cherish each song… sitting and dreaming off of the music that filled our heads. We used to relax with a glass of our favorite poison and suckle on the delectable music that vibrated our cup… memorizing entire song lyrics, album tracklists, artist’s bios and could spot them in a crowd. But what percent of people can even name our favorite songs or artists anymore, without looking it up on Spotify or online? At least the church of live music hasn’t been destroyed, with music festivals and small casual shows like those of Sofar Sounds growing the communal activity of live music. But in a post-COVID-19 world, all bets are off on that too… who knows if large gatherings will ever be as popular as they used to be and if stadiums can ever be filled with a sea of people again. And even if so, technology has made live music a smaller and smaller piece of the overall music experience… Surely there isn’t some conspiracy that is plotting against the raw art and repelling the attention of the fans — rather the opposite I’d say. Musicians and the industry want to engage fans deeply and completely so they can impart all the emotions and depth of meaning in their finely crafted work. I ask again, so why are we growing less intimate with our music?
Aside from obvious causes like automated song recommendations, growing music and general content competing for our attention, we at Synaesthetic offer another theory; we are growing detached from our music because people value what they see over what they hear — humans are naturally visual beings with 91% of our sensory receptors being for vision. Vision is our primary information medium and as a result, takes the largest bandwidth of all our cognitive sensory input data. Vision is something we are evolutionarily programmed to focus on in our consciousness. Vision contains more dimensions than any other sensory input, it is the main data communication channel we use, and so vision is the center of most people’s reality.
Sound on the other hand is relatively slow as it is communicated in one dimension (time), compared to sight. It is a powerful and useful medium for many things, but it doesn’t have enough bandwidth to sustainably support music in our modern age. Music has become a lot more complex than we can keep up with, we evolved to perceive someone’s voices and maybe some drums, not the modern-day army of instrumentalia. These new, magnificent music creation tools that allow us to make virtually any sound and combine them in staggeringly complex ways might just be overkill, overwhelming our hearing cognition. Music is growing too complex to be only heard. Sure, a trained-ear can pick apart every element in a song and comprehend it fully given enough time, but they wouldn’t do that passively — so forget about the average person comprehending it in their everyday listening, especially with all the visual distractions abound.
We aren’t keeping up audibly because we are mostly working our vision to its limits. We stare at screens with detailed and endless graphics until our eyes hurt. Whether a word processor or a social media feed, we are constantly visually communicating and growing our obsession with appearances in every respect (bandwidth, diversity, quality, judgement, etc.). The world of big data, AI, and analytics itself shows the power of visualization and visual learning, as systems and ideas become so complex, that we usually communicate them through graphics.
So in this visual world where our faces are more often illuminated by digital screens rather than sunlight — doesn’t it make sense to shift our music to the visual too? Why not unleash the beautiful social tool that is music into our most high-speed data communication medium, vision, to rapidly increase its ability to impart meaning and ultimately invoke empathy? Music should be visualized to be better expressed, better comprehended, and better internalized. Our music is bandwidth-constrained in its current sensory form and needs a bigger pipeline in order to continue to grow. What level of story-telling, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and ultimately empathy could we achieve as a society, with more powerful music? How would the consequences of such collective transcendence compare to the cognitive revolution and formation of society from when music was first created?
And that begs the next question — our sense of hearing is used for so much more than music, with growing trends around the therapeutic and practical uses of “functional audio”, wouldn’t visual augmentation have big impacts there as well? Indeed, our senses are interrelated, and unlocking those relations holds massive value.
Synaesthetic’s goal is to expand how we perceive reality, by synergizing our basic inputs (our senses), to enhance virtually any experience. We start by exploring how sound relates to sight and vice-versa, and fundamentally mapping audio to visual, like no one has done before because we believe at the convergence of our senses is the core of cognition and consciousness.
For example, how you interpret being in the room you are in now, is from a series of independent sensory inputs, the view of the room, the sounds in it, the smell, the warmth and the feeling of your chair. Combined, these construct reality in your mind as a simulation in and of its own existence. More interestingly, what one sense experiences affects another — like how sound affects your sense of taste. The literature on the psychology of perception or neurocognitive theory demonstrates this, with things like Pavlovian conditioning (e.g. how you may start craving salty and fatty foods when you drink alcohol because you’re used to your favorite pub’s nachos), or the science of ambiance (e.g. how many restaurants are decorated with warm red colors, as this stimulates your appetite), or how pervasive our senses are in our mental reasoning (e.g. did you know in one large study, parole judges were >50% more likely to approve a parole appeal if they are not hungry?). The interactions of our senses have a profound and wide-spread subconscious effect on our perception of reality… and that is our curiosity at Synaesthetic.
Now, what does Synesthesia even mean, you might wonder? It stems from the even larger “Ideasthesia”, the automatic and subconscious relating of two ideas to one another, the derived meanings of our sensory inputs on which we actually operate. Ideasthesia is everywhere, guiding most of our thinking, it is the lens through which we understand the world. Ideasthesia is a primary learning mechanism, and its offspring is analogy — its what we use from an early age to make sense of the world around us, incrementally through pattern recognition. Therefore, it naturally follows to address society’s lack of empathy by simply building up our fundamental skills of relating information together — so we can get better at relating to one another.
Finally, Synesthesia itself is literally translated from Greek as “the mixing of the senses”, it is a general neurological condition about 4% of people have, where one sense triggers a response in another, such as “seeing sounds”. It has been called “nature’s genius button”, and indeed a large portion of notable artists say they have synesthesia. What’s more, science is starting to uncover the benefits of Synesthesia, from enhancing memory to better focus, and enhanced empathy — best of all, it is not limited to those born with it, and Synesthesia can be learned. It is naturally useful to enhance experiences such as music, but its power expands even further, into areas of wellness and mental health treatment.
All this boils down to our core beliefs as a company:
1. Society needs more empathy, for our collective long-term good.
2. Music is a social tool that has the potential to unify people, by building empathy.
3. Human perception is based on the combination of our senses, which are all interrelated.
4. Vision is our main information input sense, which is growing even more dominant.
5. Music & audio are generally limited in impact due to being overshadowed by our main sense, vision.
6. The interplay of the senses is a powerful & under-utilized way of enhancing any experience and amplifying cognitive ability.
7. Synesthesia is a natural condition that enhances human perception, that can be learned.
At this massive intersection lies our Synaesthetic / aloom. We hope you will join us as we start our mission of expanding perception.