A Short History of Synaesthesia Conferences

The first synaesthesia conference took place in the context of the first “color organ”. During the 1720s, when the Frenchman Louis-Bertrand Castel started to build a clavecin oculaire (color organ), i.e. a harpsichord, in which every key was connected with a separate color, he stimulated an intensive discussion about the relationship between tones and colors and between hearing and seeing. Lots of arguments were exchanged and even the French great minds, such as Mairan, Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, took part in the discussions. There are no sources supporting that Castel was a synaesthete: He developed a rational constructed analogy between the C-major-scale, enlarged with semitones, and a twelve-parted color system, based on actual color theories of his time (Jewanski, 1999, 267–449).

From Paris, the news of his color organ came to Germany via the composer Georg Philipp Telemann, who, in 1739, visited Castel and, in the same year, published a brochure Beschreibung der Augenorgel (Description of the Color Organ) in Germany. One year later, the German naturalist Johann Gottlob Krüger, in his Naturlehre (Nature studies), 1740, wrote about the possibility that the seven colors of the spectrum could lead to similar pleasures as the seven tones of the musical key. The proof for this should be the construction of a Farbenclavecymbel (color organ). This idea and the still unfinished color organ by Castel led to the first synaesthesia conference in history, which took place in St. Petersburg, 29 April 1742, where the Russian Academy of Sciences, founded in 1724, had its head office. Many scientists from different countries worked there; two of them were the Germans Georg Wolfgang Krafft, a naturalist, and Josias Weitbrecht, an anatomist. The two of them were the only lecturers at this small conference and discussed Castel‘s color organ, physical differences between tones and colors and their frequencies as well as physiological differences between the ear and the eye and their perceptions (Jewanski, 1999, 470–476).

The next conference took place nearly 150 years later. In the meantime, the first documentated case of a synaesthete, Georg Tobias Ludwig Sachs, was published in 1812 (Jewanski, Ward and Day, 2009); the first researcher on synaesthesia, Édouard Cornaz, published a whole article about it in 1851 and developed the first theories regarding causation (Jewanski et al., 2012); lots of articles about synaesthesia were published in France during the 1880s (Jewanski, 2013). Beginning in 1873, some scientists gave single lectures at national conferences about it; e.g.:

date

lecturer

place

1873, Febr. 26

Fidelis Alois Nussbaumer

Vienna, Society of physicians

1880, March 9

Francis Galton

London, Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

1881, May 13

Francis Galton

London, Royal Institution of Great Britain

1882, Aug. 26

Louis-Marie-Alexis Pedrono

La Rochelle, French association for the advancement of science [inside a panel about zoology]

1887, Dec. 24

Charles Féré

Paris, Society of biology

It was only a question of time before synaesthesia was included in a congress. This happened in Paris in 1889. Inside the Congrès International de Psychologie Physiologique, which was the first international congress of psychology worldwide, synaesthesia got a separate symposium: an accolade for our phenomenon. It took place on 9 August 1889 and was a round table between a couple of scientists from different countries and different disciplines; among others was Édouard Gruber, the first Romanian resarcher on synesthesia (Jewanski et al., 2015).

For the next conference, we did not have to wait nearly 150 years, but only nearly 30. During World War I, the German Georg Anschütz had worked in Istanbul as a professor of psychology. In 1919, he came back to Germany, became an adjunct professor at the newly founded University of Hamburg, and resided there the next year. He was looking for a new field of research and decided to devote himself to the relationship between music and the other arts as well as relations between the functions of senses, with a special focus on eye and ear. This included synaesthesia, with a focus on colored hearing. In 1927, Anschütz conducted the first of altogether four Farbe-Ton-Kongresse (Color-Tone-Conferences); each took place in Hamburg: 2-5 March 1927, 1-5 October 1930, 2-7 October 1933, and 4-11 October 1936. The range of topics was enormous and encompassed synaesthesia, cross-modal corespondances, stage lighting, art and music instruction, abstract film, film music, and concerts with color organs. At the first conference, 33 lectures and 7 presentations were given, and 2000 (!) paintings from synaesthetes and art instructions were shown (Jewanski, 2006). In this diversity, Anschütz’s conference are a largely unknown forerunner of modern synaesthesia conferences with their combination of scientific lectures, art exhibitions and concerts.

The concept of Anschütz’s conferences found its way to Russia. Bulat Galeyev, a physicist and mathematician, visited a performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, with colored light, in 1962, at the Institute of Aviation of the University of Kazan, Tatarstan. Afterwards, he got a job at this institute and, in 1966, became its dean. The institute changed its name several times, from SKB Prometheus to NII Prometheus to Prometheus-Center, as it is named today. It was a research institute with approximately 20 employees, including scientists, technicians, programmer, translators, and secretaries. The Prometheus-Center was established under the guidance of the Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan, and its mission was based on Anschütz’s ideas in regard to correlations of the arts in science, aesthetics, and pedagogy. Software was developed, color light instruments were built, light installations created and realized, cross-modal correspondences and metaphors in music and literature analyzed. Since 1967, the institute has conducted altogether 18 conferences with a wide range of topics, the last one, in 2015, directed after Galeyev’s death (in 2009) by the current director Anastasia Maximova. Like Anschütz’s conferences, the Kazan ones were a mixture of lectures, art exhibitions, and concerts:

No.

date

title

1

1967, Jan. 7–10

Light-music synthesis

2

1969, Jan. – Febr. 4

Light and music

3

1975, June 27 – July 4

Light and music

 

4

1979, June 24 – July 4

Light and music

5

1986, Oct. 22–2

Light musical devices as a product for consumers

6

1987, Sept. 20–30

Synthesis of the arts in the period of scientific-technical revolution

7

1988, Oct. 22–24

Application of light music in firms, medicine and pedagogic

8

1989, Oct. 28–30

Light music in motion picture and TV-movie

9

1990, Oct. 27–29

Light and sound in architecture

10

1991, Jan. 21–22

The contemporary Laocoon. Aesthetic problems of synesthesia

11

1992, April 4–6

Light music in theatre and on-stage

12

1995, June 6–7

New technologies in culture and art

13

1996, Dec. 10–14

Electronic – Music – Light. 100 years of Theremin

14

2000, Oct. 2–6

Prometheus-2000. Light music at the border of the centuries

15

2008, Nov. 3–8

Synesthesia: the unity of the senses and the synthesis of the arts

16

2010, Oct. 2–6

Galeev-Readings: 70 years Galeyev – 100 years Scriabin’s Prometheus

17

2012, April 6–8

Galeev-Readings: 140 years Scriabin – 50 years SKB-Prometheus

18

2015, Oct. 2–4

Galeev-Readings: 75 years Galeyev

With 18 conferences and a period of nearly 50 years, it is the longest series of synaesthesia conferences worldwide. And, with the exception of the first conference, a conference proceeding was always published: altogether ca. 1200 articles with ca. 3700 pages, totally unknown to the West (Sakhabiev & Jewanski, 2015; 2018 [in preparation]).

Independent from the Russian tradition, in the West, synesthesia research got a new impulse from Richard E. Cytowic’s books Synesthesia (1989) and The man who tasted shapes (1993). Series of international conferences were conducted in four countries since 2001, often (especially in Spain) accompanied with art exhibitions. Typically, there are one or two people as driving forces to make such conferences possible: in the U.S. it is Sean A. Day, who now is the president of the IASAS; in Germany, Hinderk Emrich and Markus Zedler; in Spain, María José de Córdoba Serrano and the Italian Dina Riccò; in the U.K., James Wannerton, who now is the vice president of the IASAS.

United States (since 2001)
Annual National Meetings of the American Synesthesia Association www.synesthesia.info/previous.html

No.

date

place

1

2001, May 19

Princeton University, Princeton New Jersey

2

2002, May, 17–19

University of California, San Diego

3

2003, month + day?

Rockefeller Institute, New York City

4

2004, Nov. 5–7

University of California, Berkeley

5

2005, month + day?

University of Texas, Houston Medical School

6

2007, Jan. 26–28

University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

 

7

2008, Sept. 26–28

McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

8

2010, month + day?

Vanderbuilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

9

2011, Oct. 14–16

University of California, San Diego

10

2013, May 31– June 2

OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

11

2015, Oct. 2–4

University of Miami, Florida

Germany (2003 and 2006)
International conferences on synaesthesia, Hanover Medical School

Spain (since 2005)
Congresos internacional de sinestesia, ciencia y arte www.artecitta.es; Day & Jewanski, 2015

No.

date

information online

1

2003, March 22–23

https://idw-online.de/de/news60136

2

2006, Dec. 1–3

www.ics2006.de

No.

date

place

1

2005, July 25–28

Cuevas del Almanzora, Alméria, Castillo de los Vélez

2

2007, April 28 – May 1

Granada, Palacio de Exposiciones y Congresos

3

2009, April 26–29

Granada, Parque de las Ciencias

4

2012, Febr. 16–19

Almería, Universidad

5

2015, May 16–19

Alcalá la Real, Jaén

Great Britain (since 2005) UK Synaesthesia Association www.uksynaesthesia.com

No.

date

place

1

2005, April 15–17

London, University?

2

2006, April 22–23

University College London

3

2007, March 24–25

New College, Oxford

4

2008, March 29–30

University of Edinburgh

5

2010, March 27–28

Brighton, University of Sussex

6

2011, March 26–27

University of East London

7

2012, April 14–15

University of Oxford

8

2014, April 12–13

Goldsmiths University London

9

2016, April 21–23

Trinity College, Dublin

Even in China, a conference sponsored by Fundación Internacional Artecittà (FIAC), the Beijing 2016 International Synaesthesia Art Exhibition, took place on 19–13 October (https://sanwen8.cn/p/51aJgX1.html) and will hopefully be the beginning of a new series. This is the tradition in which the IASAS stands: The general concept of international conferences about synaesthesia goes way back, and these conferences were fairly international from their start in 1742 in St. Petersburg to the most recent one, 2016, in Bejing.

References

Jewanski, J. (1999). Ist C = Rot? Eine Kultur und Wissenschaftsgeschichte zum Problem der wechselseitigen Beziehung zwischen Ton und Farbe. Von Aristoteles bis Goethe. Sinzig: studio.

Jewanski, J. (2006). Kunst und Synästhesie während der Farbe-Ton-Kongresse in Hamburg 1927-1936. Jahrbuch der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Musikpsychologie 18, 191–210.

Jewanski, J., Ward, J., & Day, S.A. (2009). A colorful albino: The first documented case of synaesthesia, by Georg Tobias Ludwig Sachs in 1812. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 18 (3), 293–303. doi: 10.1080/09647040802431946

Jewanski, J., Simner, J., Day, S.A., & Ward, J. (2012). Édouard Cornaz (1825–1911) and his importance as founder of synaesthesia research. Musik-, Tanz- und Kunsttherapie 23 (2), 78–86. doi: 10.1026/0933-6885/a000075

Jewanski, J. (2013). Synesthesia in the Nineteenth Century: Scientific origins. In: Simner, J., & Hubbard, E.M. (eds.), The Oxford handbook of synesthesia, 369–398. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199603329.013.0019

Day, S., & Jewanski, J. (2015). ‚Science and art should never be separated‘. Some ‚visualized‘ impressions from 10 years of synesthesia congresses in Spain / ‚Arte y ciencia nunca se deberían separar‘. Algunas impresiones visualizada de 10 años de congresos de sinestesia en España. In: Day, S.A., De Córdoba Serrano, M., Riccó, D., López de la Torre Lucha, J., Jewanski, J., & Galera Andreu, P.A. (eds.), Actas V Congreso international de sinestesia: Ciencia y arte (Alcalá la Real, Jaén, Spain, May 16-19, 2015), 21–26 (English), 27–32 (Spanish). Jaén: Instituto de Estudios Giennenses.

Jewanski, J., Simner, J., Day, S.A., Rothen, N., & Ward, J. (2015). The accolade. The first symposium on synaesthesia during an international congress: Paris 1889. In: Day, S.A., De Córdoba Serrano, M., Riccó, D., López de la Torre Lucha, J., Jewanski, J., & Galera Andreu, P.A. (eds.), Actas V Congreso international de sinestesia: Ciencia y arte (Alcalá la Real, Jaén, Spain, May 16-19, 2015), 197–211. Jaén: Instituto de Estudios Giennenses.

Sakhabiev, R., & Jewanski, J. (2015). Synesthesia in the Space Station. The Prometheus-Institute in Kazan’, Russia (since 1962). Research on Synesthesia in Science, Music and Art. In: Day, S.A., De Córdoba Serrano, M., Riccó, D., López de la Torre Lucha, J., Jewanski, J., & Galera Andreu, P.A. (eds.), Actas V Congreso international de sinestesia: Ciencia y arte (Alcalá la Real, Jaén, Spain, May 16-19, 2015), 213–222. Jaén: Instituto de Estudios Giennenses.

Sakhabiev, R., & Jewanski, J. (2018, in preparation). Synästhesieforschung in Russland. Eine bibliographische Studie zur fächerübergreifenden pädagogischen Arbeit mit Musik und Bildender Kunst in Kazan‘ (seit 1962). [Monograph]

Jörg Jewanski, 2017