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Ultimate Synaesthesia - Cyborg No. 1

posted Mar 22, 2014, 9:17 PM by Ellen Pearlman


Habisson addressing a TEDx Global Edinburgh crowd dressed in his choice of sound frequencies. This ensemble sounds to him like a “C-Major.”

Neil Habisson has an antenna implanted in his head with three screws that helps him deal with achromatopsia, a visual condition where he can only see the world in grey tones.  Achromatopsia is a problem with the retinal pathway. It can be acquired, or you can be born with it. The antenna in his head uses the first two screws to secure it and the accompanying processor chip. The processor chip converts 360 colors into sound vibrations. The third screw passes the vibrations of the sound of any particular color directly into his skull.  A USB port in the back of his head lets the device receive daily power recharges .

Habisson, after initially doubting that color existed when he was young, became an art student at 16. He was granted special permission to make works just in black, white and grey, as he had never seen color. Now, he says, he hears colors in his dreams. image

How Neil Habisson perceives sheep in a meadow - from his TedX talk

Collaborating with Adam Montandon he developed the first "Eyeborg" project, a head mounted sensor that translated the frequency of color into sound. He then worked with software developer Peter Kese on enhancing color saturation, thereby expanding his initial repertoire to 360 different hues, In 2009 Matias Lizana turned the Eyeborg into a chip. After much back and forth with the medical communities in Barcelona that chip was implanted into Habisson’s head. It was further expanded for him to hear the non-detectable range to the human eye of ultra-violet and infra-red frequencies. It’s an ability he admits is great for sussing out hidden motion detectors in a room.


2004 Passport photo allowing Harbisson “official cyborg status”

Having a chip implanted in his brain with a sensor sticking up was a huge problem for him when he traveled, so he petitioned for the UK Government to allow him to include the Eyeborg as a legitimate extension of his brain. After many letters of support from his doctors, and typical bureaucratic wrangling he was allowed to have the device included as part of his body in his passport photo. 

Habisson waxes poetic about going to art galleries and “listening” to paintings as if he were in a concert hall. A big surprise is his love of supermarkets, which he likens to going to a nightclub, they are so full of melodies, especially “the cleaning products.” Unfortunately, nature doesn’t sound “so good.” Before, he said, he dressed to “look good” but now he dresses to “sound good.” He sometimes chooses food to eat just because it sounds like his “favorite song.” Even his notion of beauty has changed. He says someone may “look good” but “sound terrible.”  Prince Charles, he wryly noted, has eyes that sound like Nicole Kidman, a combination you would not ordinarily put together.


Creating a sound portrait of Al Gore “It’s not the union between my head and the electronic eye what makes me feel ‘cyborg’, it’s the union between the software and my brain.”

Normal everyday sounds started turning into colors, such as a telephone ring. For him it translates to the color green. The compositions of Mozart are yellow. Harbisson developed new terms for his situation, calling it  sonochromatism” or “sonochromatopsia” (Latin: sono-, (sound) + Greekchromat- (colour) + Greek: -opsia (seeing)) since he no longer suffered from achromatopsia as he could now hear sound. 


Habisson’s color scale defined in Hertz and in musical notes

Below are the ways the colors were converted in the software. First their color HexDex numbers were listed and then translated into a specific electronic Hertz frequency.

Pure sound-color scale from

RED # FF0000 0 ° 363.7978807091713 Hz# FF7F00 

ORANGE 30 º 440.19543565809727 Hz# FFFF00 

YELLOW 60th 462.02330850064754 Hz# 00FF00 

GREEN 120 ° 478.39421313256025 Hz# 00FFFF 

CYAN 180 ° 551.1537892743945 Hz# 0000FF 

BLUE 240 ° 573.8911568187177 HzV

IOLET # 7F00FF 270 ° 607.5424607843161 Hz



A color sound painting of Mozart’s “Queen Of the Night” by Neil Habisson


Speech to Color - Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech on the right and a speech by Adolph Hitler on the left

Habisson says what truly makes him into a Cyborg is the interaction between the “software and my brain,” and that the two have actually united. This makes him unique in the way he interacts with color and sound. 


Chip implant directly into brain


He has set up the Cyborg Foundation to help people “extend their senses by using technology as part of the body.” This came about because of the social problems he encountered in daily life. Movie theaters accused him of using his apparatus to film new releases for pirating, and supermarkets thought his listening to the cleaning bottles illegal, though they never pressed charges. The Foundation’s mandate is to also help individuals make the transition to becoming Cyborgs, defend their rights, and promote the “use of Cybernetics as part of the body.”


Fingerborg, a prosthetic finger with embedded camera

The Foundation’s new projects include a Cybernetic nose allowing people to perceive smell through electromagnetic signals, and the Speedborg that “allows you to perceive the exact speed of any movement in front of you.”  They are also working on the Fingerborg for an art student who lost a finger in an accident. Currently, the prosthetic finger has an embedded camera, but the goal is to allow direct feedback between the camera and the subject’s hand, There is also 360º Sensory Extension, to allow one to perceive external movement from behind.

The Foundation has a very progressive political stance. It states, “We do not intend to repair people’s senses, we make no difference between people with “disabilities” and people with no “disabilities”, we believe we are all in need to extend our senses and perception. We are all disabled when we compare our senses with other animal species.” There are other initiatives being developed outside of the Foundation that have to do with implanting chips into the eyes of people with retinitis pigmentosa, restoring at least partial sight, but the Foundation does not include them in its materials.

imagePhoto of mock up of eye implant, UK Daily Mail