A Virtual Reality Experience Gave Me Synesthesia

Genuinely new experiences are rare; even new works of art, intentionally or otherwise, reference past artistic creations. But when I entered the latest version of SoundSelf, Robin Arnott’s multisensory Oculus Rift experience, which fuses sound, vision, and vibration into one sublime biofeedback loop, I had to discard everything I’d seen before to describe what I’d experienced. The closest comparison could be a combination of six hours spent in an isolation chamber, a visit to La Monte Young’s Dream House, and an eye-straining optical illusion— as far as personal experiences go, the term sui generis doesn’t even cut it.

As Arnott lowered the new Oculus Rift onto my head, fixed headphones onto my ears, attached two microphones around my voice box, then positioned my back against a flat, soft subwoofer, I didn’t know what to expect. This wasn’t helped by the facts that SoundSelf began with a black void, and that the ambient sounds of the room I was in that could barely be heard through the headphones.

Arnott told me to hum monotones and hold them until I wanted to try out some other notes. If I modulated my voice too much, he cautioned, the experience wouldn’t work as well. So, I hummed— and suddenly, a brand new, fifteen-minute cavalcade of kaleidoscopic, geometric shapes and colors burst and drifted into my field of vision, merging with my voice, and the vibrations coming out of the subwoofer. Read More

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