Synaesthetic dimensionality

“There are three dimensions to music: melody, harmony, and rhythm. When it comes to music preference, I think everyone has one dimension that moves them more than the other two.”

A friend laid this theory out to me fifteen years ago. I return to it every few months after a new song gives me chills.

Some people might leap to nitpick or refute his claim. “Evidence!”, they demand. “Well actually,” they insist. These are the types of squares you want to avoid at parties.

For the rest of us, it’s a fun starting point to inspect the hidden strings that pull on our aesthetic tastes, to plumb past the cold pipes of reason and swim in our murky, bubbling, emotional broth.

“You, for example, are drawn to rhythm,” my friend told me, “which is why you love hip hop.” And why he, drawn to harmony, loved the Beach Boys.

In the past fifteen years, the only adjustment I’ve made to this theory is to add a fourth dimension: meaning. Songs are more than their sounds; for some, lyrics and cultural context are most moving.

Then last week, I made a synaesthetic discovery: we can extend this theory to visual art. Form, color, pattern, and interpretation are visual art’s siblings to melody, harmony, rhythm, and meaning. For example, I might be hypnotized by Autumn Rhythm’s subtle fractals, my friend might be moved by its melancholic soft browns and cutting blacks, and you might be completely disgusted by its lack of form and focal point.

Something to consider on long walks, or at parties (away from the squares): in music, we are drawn by different brushes. In painting, we are plucked by different strings.