They collaborated and produced the eyeborg, a sensor that converts colour into sound. The sensor sits in front of one of his eyes so that it sees what he sees. The light frequencies are then converted into sound frequencies which are transmitted to Harbisson through the back of his skull. Harbisson says, “It’s bone conduction, it is sound but I hear it through the bone, not through the ears.”
It’s bone conduction, it is sound but I hear it through the bone, not through the ears
Initially, the eyeborg only had 6 different frequencies but as he got better at discerning the difference between the frequencies he began to add more. Soon he had enough frequencies to reflect the tones and semitones found in the traditional Western music scale.
He is now so good at distinguishing the frequencies he has developed the pure sonochromatic scale with 360 microtones in an octave. So where previously there was one sound for green in all its shades for example, he can now discern green in myriad gradations. He can also ‘see’ colours the human eye can’t actually see such as infrared and ultra violet light.
He now wears the eyeborg permanently and considers himself a cyborg. In fact, when he had to send in his latest photo for his passport, he wore the eyeborg. Initially, the authorities told him to send in a photo without headgear but conceded after he claimed it was an extension of his body. The time when he first really felt the machine was part of his body was when he started dreaming in colour.
Harbisson says, “I feel being a cyborg is to do with the union between my brain and the software. I started to dream in colour, so when I started to hear electronic sounds in my dreams that is when I felt I was a cyborg not just when I started to wear the eyeborg. It’s a feeling that the cybernetics are no longer an external device but a part of your body and it comes little by little.”
They are just sounds. It is not like Synesthesia because I never see colour
Although he has learnt to discern what colours the different sound frequencies refer to, this ability should not be confused with the phenomenon known as Synesthesia. Harbisson says, “They are just sounds. It is not like Synesthesia because I never see colour. Synethesia is the mixing of the senses whereas colour is never a visible thing to me. Hearing colour is a new sense as well as hearing sound through the bone. I call it a sensory extension.”
Harbisson describes himself as a sonochromatic artist, making artworks based on sound as well as music based on colour. He makes chords out of colours, for example yellow, pink and blue make a C major chord.
He made two paintings based on the speeches of Martin Luther King and Hitler, which he displayed side by side at an exhibition without telling people which one was which. Quite a number of people chose the painting based on Hitler’s speech as the more aesthetically pleasing – they were quick to change their minds, however, when the identities were revealed!