Unwinding "Bolero"

What do the composer Maurice Ravel and Anne Adams, a Canadian scientist-turned-artist who died of a rare disease last year have in common? Both suffered from the same brain disorder and both produced memorable art at the age of 53 - Ravel composed "Bolero" and Dr. Adams painted it. New York Times:

'Bolero' alternates between two main melodic themes, repeating the pair eight times over 340 bars with increasing volume and layers of instruments.  At the same time, the score holds methodically to two simple, alternating staccato base lines.... [building] without a key change until the 326th bar. Then it accelerates into a collapsing finale.

Adams translated the music thusly:

Dr. Adams, who was also drawn to themes of repetition, painted one upright rectangular figure for each bar of 'Bolero.' The figures are arranged in an orderly manner like the music, countered by a zigzag winding scheme.... The transformation of sound to visual form is clear and structured. Height corresponds to volume, shape to note quality and color to pitch. The colors remain unified until the surprise key change in bar 326 that is marked with a run of orange and pink figures that herald the conclusion.

Because of the way one variant of the disease progresses, some individuals develop artistic talents as the brain literally reorganizes. For Adams that meant an area of the brain known to be responsible for the integration of perception such as color, sound, touch and space took on a larger role to compensate for the diminished capacity of the frontal cortex, resulting in an overwhelming creative urge and an ability to cross-scribe sense. Over a ten year period, Adams gave medicine unprecedented insight into that urge by undergoing periodic scans that documented the changes in her brain.

Her art may be found here and here.


Wikipedia: Synesthesia