Synaesthesia and Clara Quien

My mother, Clara Quien, wrote the following description of her synaesthesic experiences:

I have often seen music or other sounds: I used to see marvellous, mostly continuously varying shapes and colours. I had to learn a new technique, a special kind of painting to do any justice at all to the wonderful, often luminous or transparent colours.I was very happy when, one early morning in the forests of Kashmir, the awakening birds’ songs showed themselves to me in three-dimensional forms and I realised that I could use my own medium of expression for materialising these fascinating visions.


Many people have told me that they see music in a similar way. But perhaps there are very few who are able to see and sculpt and paint these visions.

Often every sound appears to me visually, continually flowing and changing shapes and colours as the music progresses. Every sound changes its shape and character when played by a different instrument so that when one listens to orchestral music, one sees an enormous, continually moving picture of all the sounds and harmonies produced by every single instrument. These images are usually conceived by me when I am in a condition of non-thinking receptivity, like that which people sometimes have before falling asleep or on awakening.

It is by no means only music I see in shapes and colours but all kinds of sounds such as a jackal’s howl and a cock’s crow or a door creaking. But in this state of receptivity I sometimes also see sculptures.

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