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Listening for Green

Listening for Green

(p.168) Chapter Five Listening for Green
The Key of Green
Bruce R. Smith
University of Chicago Press

William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's The Two Noble Kinsmen provides an instance of hearing color. Even Sir Isaac Newton was convinced that colors could be heard—or at least that color perception worked like hearing—when in 1675 he explained that colors, like sounds, result from vibrations. An association of color with sound goes back to the very beginnings of Western culture. It is, in fact, Aristotle who is Newton's primary inspiration for the idea that sound and color both result from mathematically mappable ratios. Thus, to listen for green would mean to listen for the totality of sound, for all there is to hear. This chapter considers some famous instances in which writers say they can hear colors and examines the acoustic equivalents of antic work and grotesquerie in the form of sounds that spin away from logocentric exactitude. Varying musical settings of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd...he maketh me to lie down in green pastures”) figure in a survey of changing ideas about the relationship between words and music.

Keywords:   color, green, sound, Psalm 23, music, words, Isaac Newton

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