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How a cyborg artist 'hears' colours

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How a cyborg artist 'hears' colours

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A colour-blind artist claims to have successfully implanted an electronic chip into his skull that allows him to "hear" colours.

Neil Harbisson was born with a rare condition called achromatopsia, which means he only sees in black and white.

He has become the first person in the world to have a cyborg antenna implanted in his skull.

It detects different parts of the colour spectrum and transmits the message to his brain.

“Basically, it picks up the light frequency in front of me and then it sends it to a chip and the chip transforms the light frequency into sound frequency and then I hear colours through bone conduction. Because bone conducts sound, so instead of using my ears to hear colour, I use my bone and then my inner ear hears colour,” he explained.

“So, when I look at art I can hear the art piece, so, to me, painters have become composers, so, I can actually hear a Picasso or an Andy Warhol or this art piece (he is standing in front of a painting) that for me is just different notes. Up here (he looks at the top of the painting), it sounds higher pitched. Here (he looks down), we have an F sharp, F, A. So there’s different notes and there’s many silences in between because black is silence, so it’s actually a very musical painting.”

The young artist used the technology to put on a special concert in Barcelona, where he conducted a light show to a tune he composed.

“We tried to teach a choir and a quartet to play colours so that instead of reading a score they would play the colours that I would beam on them with lights. They actually learned how to play colours, and in the end we gave this colour concert which went really well,” Harbisson said.

He has also developed an app to allow people to experience colour in the same way as he does, using a smartphone camera to analyse colour and transform it into sound.

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