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A feast for the senses 

A strange phenomenon is going on this weekend: Synaesthesia 2. Synaesthesia is an involuntary condition experienced by some, such as 20th-century classical composers Scriabin and Messiaen. When they heard a sound or musical pitch, they would automatically see, in their mind's eye, some particular color. This variety of synaesthesia is sometimes called "chromesthesia" or "color hearing."

            In 1934, psychologist E.K. Kelly carried out experiments "attempt[ing] to produce artificial chromesthesia by the technique of conditioned response," that is, by playing musical tones and showing the same coordinated colored lights over and over again. "Subjects met four times a week for conditioning at 5 p.m. for seven consecutive weeks." Results were negative: Subjects did not develop chromesthesia, or any other type of synaesthesia.

            Don't worry. You won't be subjected to psychological experiments; this weekend's phenomenon is purely voluntary. On Friday and Saturday, June 11 and 12, the Synaesthesia Collective is putting on a show, their second. It promises to be bigger and better than their first, which took place at the Visual Studies Workshop in April.

            What is the Synaesthesia Collective and what is their show? Jason Olshefsky, who will present photographs, views it as "an open-ended group of visual and aural artists who wish to create common performances."

            Eastman-trained singer, violinist, performance artist, and co-curator of the All-Purpose Room, Heather Gardner, who is performing as a member of the duo Electrik Vesuvius, describes it as "not so much about specific collaborations between two artists (i.e. a composer and a filmmaker) but allowing our art to happen simultaneously [as] John Cage and Merce Cunningham talked about in reference to their collaborations."

            Technically synaesthesis is joint perception, simultaneous sensation, perceiving simultaneously, different or opposing impulses of a work of art harmonized together. Unfortunately, synaesthesis might sound like the name for medical procedures involving artificial limbs. So let's forgive the Collective for naming itself Synaesthesia, instead of Synaesthesis.

            After all, the Synaesthesia Collective marches to its own drums. Gardner contrasts it with the Eastman-RIT-SUNY Brockport Image, Movement, Sound events: "Instead of filling the structure that an institution establishes for us, we are trying to let the group be a sum of individual parts. We all come from diverse backgrounds, some with no formal training, others with graduate degrees from the Eastman School of Music, and we are finding new ways to work together both within our own disciplines and between different disciplines."

            There's no shortage of spontaneity or passion in their creative process: "I get a feeling (or idea), and I run to the instrument or sound source that is anxiously awaiting my love," says sound-artist, DJ, and Synaesthesia organizer Paul Burke, "and just keep making love to that feeling until we are both satisfied. I use microphones, my voice, tape recorders --- mini tape recorders as well --- DVD players, 4 tracks, effects, and any instruments available." A mysteriously grungy electronic minimalist sound results.

            While the musicians and sound artists present their work sequentially, so do the video artists. But the music and videos are not synchronized. So you choose how to mix them together in your mind. That's synaesthesis.

            I'm particularly intrigued by the video Invisible Invasion by Syracuse University video instructor Carl Diehl, of Robot and Her Wild Ass. As Diehl describes it: "The familiar audio-visual terrain of 1950s sci-fi is subjected to a cine-molecular invasion from the future! The alien intruder embeds itself in the fabric of reality, weaponizing space/time in a kinesthetic battle for visual supremacy!"

            "It's a sort of experiment in opening up a 'possibility space' between sci-fi and video experimentation," Diehl says, "using the narrative structure of 1950s sci-fi to frame the image-sound manipulation."

            Leaving no sense unturned, Nigh-A-List Food Works will serve vegetarian and vegan culinary art. So Synaesthesia 2 promises to be a feast for the eyes, ears, and mouth. Visit their website for a listing of the more than 20 artists participating.

Synaesthesia 2takes place onFriday, June 11, and Saturday, June 12, starting at 8 p.m. at the All-Purpose Room, 8 Public Market. Donations encouraged. www.allpurposeroom.org, 423-0320, www.eclipsedigital.net/synaesthesia, 224-0098.

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