Tag Archives: colors

Ray(s) of genius

Pondering on the special relationship between music and colors I remembered an interview of Ray Charles for Rolling Stone (published in 1973),  where he speaks -among other things- about his loss of sight, his memories of colors, the notion of beauty and, of course, music. Below are some excerpts offering us an insight into the personal universe of this truly unique artist:

“Each day for two years my sight was less and less. (…) I guess I was too small to really care that much. I knew there were things I liked to watch. I used to love to look at the sun. (…) I used to love to look at the moon at night. I would go out in the backyard and stare at it. It just fascinated the hell out of me.”

Ray Charles“And there were colors. I was crazy about red. Always thought it was a beautiful color.”

“And naturally I remember my mother, who was pretty. God, she was pretty. (…) To me [physical] beauty is probably about the same thing that it means to most people. You look at them and the structure of their face, the way their skin is, and say like, a woman, the contour of her body, you know what I mean?”

“I guess you could call me a sentimentalist, man, really. I like Chopin or Sibelius. People who write softness, you know, and although Beethoven to me was quite heavy, he wrote some really touching songs, and I think that Moonlight Sonata -in spite of the fact that it wound up being very popular- it’s somethin’ about that, man, you could just feel the pain that this man was going through.”

“Gospel and the blues are really, if you break it down, almost the same thing. It’s just a question of whether you’re talkin’ about a woman or God.”

In the track that follows, you can listen to excerpts from a conversation between Ray Charles and Dick Cavett that took place in June 1972.  Ray’s astonishing response when asked if he would welcome the prospect of having his sight restored (assuming such an option was available) is both  incredibly sincere and extremely topical…

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Music in colors

I often associate music up to the early sixties with film noir. All these black and white photographs from jazz artists performing in smokey bars, people sweating it off on the dance floor, Elvis with his guitar, The Beatles in Hamburg – they appear before my eyes just like sequences of a great two-color movie starring the biggest names of pop culture, plus countless of less known actors in side roles or as mere extras. Some more important than others, but all of them part of the bigger picture.

A picture that was about to be painted with a seemingly inexhaustible range of colors, over the course of the fateful decade that would culminate in the psychedelic frenzy of the Summer of Love and the social unrest of the Parisian May. Alongside the explosion of colors in the movie theatres, the visual representation of art and artists would also become part of this revolution through posters, photographs and highly imaginative album covers. A new world had arrived, a world seen as through a giant kaleidoscope, full of colorful patterns and magical reflections. Black and white was being pushed irrevocably to the kingdom of nostalgia, becoming its official ambassador.

And what about the music? Were all the black and white notes on the music sheet also painted in fresh, vibrant colors for the first time? Not quite. Music contained its color -or rather colors, countless colors- since its very inception. Every musical sound that can be produced has always had its match in a parallel, imaginary palette of endless color variety. Still, it takes a skillful composer to meaningfully arrange the different sounds, not unlike the master painter who organizes his paint across an empty canvas as he sets out to produce a true work of art.

Colors, thus, do not only exist in order to please our eyes, but can also appeal to our sense of hearing. For this to happen, all their unique, subtle and infinitesimally different shades need to find their aural counterpart from a similarly endless variety of sounds. Being able to appreciate and listen to all these extraordinary, enchanting tone colors blending together in something meaningful is a special, and somewhat miraculous, sort of synaesthesia only made possible thanks to one thing: music.