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9 May 2022

Music brought to life in color

We all want to see colors, but some people want it bad. Neil Harbisson is the world' first 'legally-recognized cyborg'

A cyborg is essentially a man-machine system in which the control mechanisms of the human portion are modified externally by drugs or regulatory devices so that the being can live in an environment different from the normal one.

Born in Northern Ireland with achromatopsia, a rare condition meaning he can only see in greyscale, Harbisson moved to Barcelona as a child and grew up obsessed with color and things he couldn't sense. It was an obsession that saw the now 39-year-old eventually go under the surgeon's knife to transform his identity and his life.

While at music college in England, he developed the slim metal rod that arches over his head and vibrates according to the colors it detects. In 2004, he managed to persuade a surgeon – who remains anonymous – to drill it into his skull, the technology becoming part of his body as the bone grew around it.

The sensor picks up the frequency of colors and translates them into sounds that he perceives through bone conduction. Humans normally hear using air conduction with sound waves passing through the outer and middle ears and causing the inner eardrum to vibrate. But with bone conduction, the vibrations are transmitted through the skull or jawbone directly to the inner ear.

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