As we reported earlier in the year, dining trend 'neurogastronomy' is set to be the talk of 2015. It's all about the way that our sensory surroundings may affect the way food and drink tastes. The trend has made its way to Christchurch in the form of wine critic and sound artist Jo Burzynska's project Mishearings – a collection of sound-based installations and events that explore the relationship between (predominantly) sound and flavour.
We caught up with Jo to find out the art and science behind the experience of drinking a glass of wine...
You’ve spent time researching the interaction of the senses and how this affects taste. What findings surprised you most?
I was surprised by just how universal and powerful many of the correspondences are. I initially thought that it might just be me that was experiencing the changes I noticed happening with different wine and music combinations – especially given that I have an active interest in both. However, when I experimented with friends, they seemed to be have similar responses. This was also the case when I went on to host my first wine and music matching event for wine professionals, who are arguably the people that would be the least likely to have their judgements swayed by external influences!
Observations that I’d made, such as high pitches working with higher acid and sweeter flavours, and bitterness being enhanced by lower frequencies have now also been confirmed by the recent wave of research conducted by the likes of experimental psychologist, Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University.
It’s cold out there – what wine should we be drinking and to what music at the moment?
At this time of the year, rich reds come into their own, such as a rich and ripe Garnacha from Spain or full bodied Hawkes Bay Bordeaux blend. Lower pitched and slower pieces of music work best with these styles as bass emphasises the body of a wine and will match the tempo of these weightier styles that move across the palate more slowly.
Are there any wine and sound combinations that are universally unpleasant?
In my wine and music matching workshops, such as the one I’m hosting at The Auricle this month alongside my Mishearings exhibition, I like to start with a really unpleasant combination to convert any doubters in the audience! This discordant union is a classic pungent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with a piece of heavy rock.
The rock subdues the wine’s vibrant aromatics and on the palate it dulls its fruit and transforms its acidity from feeling attractively fresh to unpleasantly hard.
When you drink in a bar, do you tend to make a conscious note of what you can hear? What are some common mistakes bar owners make about the ‘ambience’ in this sense?
Being particularly sensitive to sound I always notice what music is playing in a bar and have been known to leave if the music doesn’t strike the right note! At The Auricle, I curate a monthly wine list that complements the music playing in the space. This may be too much for most bars to embrace, but as music is able to prime patrons, bars need to consider what they play an integral part of the experience, which should be in keeping with what they’re looking to offer. If they wouldn’t serve neutral drinks they shouldn’t play bland music.
Another issue is bars which play music too loudly or have acoustics that create a noisy environment. As high volumes lessen taste perceptions, this is not the best place to appreciate quality drinks.
Tell us a bit about the multi sensory dining experience with Shop Eight and chef Alex Davies, what can diners expect?
Sensation is very much an artistic collaboration between myself providing the sound design and wine, Alex Davies the food, and visual artist, Toshi Endo the images. We’ll be presenting a degustation around seven themes, rather than conventional courses, which take their cues from all the sensory realms and work with their synergies to heighten the diner’s enjoyment.
For example, one might be 'crunchy', in which a crunchy soundtrack and textural visuals heighten this character a dish of crispy pig skin with apple mousse and dehydrated scallops paired with a crisp riesling. Another could evoke a seascape that is expressed through the food on the plate, the projection on the walls of the dining space and sound of lapping waves.
Food and wine matching is now traditional, will we soon see a time where sound and food/wine dinners are common?
I think as more people realise how powerful the interactions are between sound and taste, interest can only grow. You’re starting to see a multisensory dining movement across the world now, and hopefully we’ll be joined by others here in New Zealand offering these immersive experiences.
What one question do you wish you were asked more?
I’m always keen to debate the role of taste and smell in art. While life is experienced through a complex interplay of the senses, this is not something reflected by the majority of Western art, which sees the visual given preference, with sound considered secondary and the senses of taste and smell often looked down upon, despite their ability to connect with vivid and emotionally charged memories.
I’m convinced that smell and taste have just as much artistic potential and relevance in art as the other senses. This is something I’ve endeavoured to illustrate in Mishearings, where food and wine is an integral part of some of the exhibits, functioning not only for their sensory attributes but also conveying conceptual elements. It’s also intrinsic to Sensation, where all mediums are equally relevant in the overall aesthetic as well as sensorial experience.
Mishearings is on at The Auricle Sonic Arts Gallery in Christchurch from now until the 28th June, and features an audio-visual work that plays on the brain's ability to match sound to screen, a chocolate taste test set to a unique soundscape; and a playful auditory experiment involving a glass of sparkling wine.
Jo is also hosting wine and music matching workshops on the 14th June in Auckland and the 19th June in Christchurch, an artist talk and live sound and wine performance on June 13th, and is collaborating with chef Alex Davies and artist Toshi Endo on a sensory seven course dining experience on 27th June. For further details and to book your place at an event, email [email protected]