30 Nov 2019

Can music make cocktails taste sweeter? Waikato composer concocts an answer

From Sound Lounge, 9:30 pm on 30 November 2019

Jeremy Mayall explored the way taste and sound work together with his project 'Sonic Cocktails' at Wonder Horse bar in Hamilton. He composed five short pieces of music, then cocktail maestro Alexander Williams set to work designing canapés and cocktails to go with them.

"The flavours were very much designed to go with the music," Jeremy says. "The way things taste can be changed by pairing them with different sounds. Scientific studies have shown that high frequency sounds will make things taste sweeter, and low frequency sound will make things taste more bitter."

Scientists are still in the early stages of this research and are still working out exactly what the connections are.

Composer Jeremy Mayall

Composer Jeremy Mayall Photo: Supplied

Jeremy was so fascinated with the way sound works with other senses he made it the topic of his PhD, and explores it in many of his compositions.

Jeremy's most multi-sensory project so far, Flutter, used live musicians, two dancers, video projection, lighting, and it all took place in a tropical rainforest populated by thousands of butterflies. Where? In the middle of a three-storey building in the center of town in Dunedin - the Tūhura Tropical Forest at Otago Museum.

While listening to Jeremy's music, the audience could walk around, look at the butterflies, dancers and plants, and take in the humid forest smell and fragrance of fresh fruit left out for the butterflies. Jeremy's composition was broken up into three sections and the lighting changed with each: first green, then red, then blue. On top of all this Jeremy also hired a talented baker to make three macarons to go with the three sections of his piece.

"The flavours were lemongrass for the green section, strawberry and chili for red, and blueberry and white chocolate for blue. Everyone got this little handmade box with the three macarons in it, and it had a little printed card that said 'when the lights change color, eat the macaron of that colour.'"

After his performances Jeremy chats with audience members and is always interested to hear just how different their experiences have been. Because senses often have powerful connections with memory, each person experiences sensory input differently. Certain sights, sounds, smells and textures can conjure unique memories, just like hearing certain music can.

"It can totally change the way that people will engage with a work in a way that you as the creator, you may never have considered or intended, but that's what makes it interesting for me. What I'm saying and what you're getting may not necessarily be the same thing. But ultimately, I'm not too concerned about that, as long as there is some kind of conversation."

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