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Blood Orange Gives TED Talk About Hearing Colors

Dev Hynes: "Every sound I associate with a color and every color I associate with a sound."

Alyssa Noel // March 22, 2014

It might sound like stoner ramblings, but Dev Hynes can, like, hear colors, man.

The musician and producer better known as Blood Orange gave a TED Talk at the annual Technology, Entertainment, Design conference in Vancouver, Canada, on Thursday evening about how his synesthesia — a neurological phenomenon that causes two or more senses to cross wires, more or less — first drew him to music as a kid.

“I was 13 years old at music school talking to my teacher,” he said, bathed in swirling light while playing a keyboard. “I can’t quite remember what it was I was trying to describe, but I do remember my music teacher saying to me, ‘Do you have synesthesia?’ In hindsight, it seems a little presumptuous of her to think a little boy in Essex would know what synesthesia was.”

He recounted holing up in a library to learn more about the condition.

“The way it works for me is my sight and sound senses are combined. Every sound I associate with a color and every color I associate with a sound… The way I see things is constant streamers across the room, bouncing off from every touch and every sound. Over the years, I’ve learned what color palates I love most,” he said.

While Hynes didn’t touch on how his synesthesia contributed to Cupid Deluxe — his second album under the Blood Orange moniker, and a marvel of sweetly pained outside R&B released last year — he explained to the crowd the way in which it helped him pen the score for the Gia Coppola film Palo Alto.

Based on a collection of short stories by James Franco, and directed by the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the film is slated for a theatrical release this spring.

“When I was asked to compose a score for… Palo Alto, I first thought to myself, ‘What is the house that these characters would want to live in?’ I wanted to paint a picture and color scheme that I could work around. I gently apply different daubs to see what fits to match the color I have in mind with these characters.”

In the end, he said, “I find I have a whole house complete. All the colors I saw in the beginning I pulled together, all fill in perfectly. It’s a fun experience for me — even more than releasing music or having people hear my music. It’s a completely selfish thing. I’m just very excited to look at this picture I had in my mind before.”