Author Archives: Ben Houge

Complicity and the Chemical Senses

Blindfolded patrons sit around a table and eat various food items, smell perfume, and listen to music.

The visual arts and the sonic arts arrive to us from a distance, via electromagnetic radiation or fluctuations in air pressure, but taste and smell require direct contact. Philosophers have long debated whether the fundamentally different nature of these chemical senses precludes the elaboration of an art of ideas based on them, something that goes beyond the ancient and sophisticated traditions of perfumery or cuisine.

Vinfonies, Nessun Dorma, and Gastromorphology

A bottle of wine and a wine glass on a tale alongside an electronic keyboard, music notation paper, headphones, and a computer screen.

It’s easy to recognize several time scales to a meal, from the succession of courses (even simply saving dessert for last) to the entropy that occurs as a hot dish cools or a frozen dish melts to the succession of individual bites. Recognizing these time scales is straightforward, but synchronizing music to them is a much trickier proposition.

Tasting Notes

A group of people sitting around a table wearing headphones and sipping whisky.

Studies show that loud sounds dull our sense of taste, which may explain why airplane food tastes so bland, and why people order more tomato juice on planes, as umami flavors are the most resilient to volume.

Food Opera: Merging Taste and Sound in Real Time

Ben Houge

The potential to link sound to food, scent, and the tactile sensations of the mouth creates an entirely new field of sensory interplay, which may be harnessed to a wide range of expressive ends. Approaches include theatrical narrative structures that might tell a story, spatial or landscape meditations that might resemble a sound installation, and ritual events such as a Passover Seder or a wedding ceremony.