Legendary drummer Manu Katché has colored music.
Courtesy Manu Katche
International drumming sensation Manu Katché remembers the colors being particularly pronounced one night on tour with Peter Gabriel.
"It was '88 or '89 and I had to be very loud, it was a big venue. There was a ringing that came to my brain and I shut my eyes," he says of the sensory overload, which he first described in my book, Tasting the Universe.
"There was a lot of light green, a lot of light red and I thought, 'What is this? It's something else, it's very unique!' "
Katche' says his colors are always pastel in hue, watercolors if vivid, no matter the music. Like other synesthetes, he refers to the phenomenon as transcendent.
"People have told me they can't even see my arms sometimes, I'm moving so fast. I go to a place.It's like the Whirling Dervish's sufi ritual - an altered state."
Dr. Richard Cytowic, who revived interest in the trait of synesthesia with his book, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, asserts that such emotional experiences" accompanied by a sense of certitude, the 'this is it' feeling," or noesis, may connect synesthesia to the limbic brain.
"That's the sensation," Katché says. "Then I reach somewhere else and it's very quiet," despite the cacophany around him on stage, he says. The colors begin and he's in a zone.
"There's a cinema to it, in my mind," says the French citizen of Cote D'Ivoire descent.
While Katché had experienced colored hearing before in his life, the experience that night was so overwhelming that he began mentioning it to friends. A saxophonist told him, "There's a name for that. It's synesthesia."
He is careful to mention there were no drugs involved but that the phenomenon occurs naturally and without willing it.
The drummer, whose rich and sophisticated style has been perhaps best described as "melodic,"shot to stardom in 1986 on Peter Gabriel's multi-platinum recording, "So," and subsequently backed everyone from Sting to Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos before striking out with his own jazz band. He's touched audiences around the world on the Amnesty International Human Rights Now! tour. There are drums and drumsticks named after him, so respected is he in the business.
"It's not just a groove or a beat, it's the spaces in between and how you use those spaces," he explains from his home in Paris.
"So it can be cymbals, or more slow, more long, more deep, more tight, more high," he says, trying to teach the language of his complex percussive style.
For music literally has language to Katché .
"Just as sentences have syntax, so does music," says Katché , who studied percussion at the Conservatorie National de Paris beginning at age 15.
Not only is Katché s personal experience unique, his music is perceived as distinctive, say music experts.
"How many drummers can you tell from the first bar? Can there be a more easily identifiable drummer in popular music than Manu Katche?," asks a publicist at Zildjian. "The signature double crash accents, the colorful flourishes of Splash cymbals, the unmistakable swing of his groove..."
Katché has few musical peers with whom he can discuss his unique gift, but he has found other tribe members.
"Painters. I have some friends who are painters and they understand."
When Katché composes on the piano for the jazz group he has, it is as painting, he says. "It is like a canvas is there in front of me. And I see the colors on it - but I can't finish it because they disappear.
"I hate when people talk about the message of music. The message is pleasure, for the audience. But for me, the musician, it talks to me!"
Here is Manu playing with Peter Gabriel during the "Secret World" tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9kql_j-F3s.