On entering the Oxford laboratory of multi-sensory psychologist Professor Charles Spence, the first thing I spy is one of his colleagues busy working on the prototype for a musical plate and glass. Spence has already demonstrated that sound has a strong effect on the perception of taste and is now working on ways of heightening sensory intersections, in this case having music delivered by the actual vessels from which food and drink is consumed.
Spence shows me round the compact warren of booths at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University, where he and his team have increasingly come to focus their research into the way our senses intersect on the relationship between hearing and taste. It's an area that received scant serious scholarly attention until recently, when it started to create a buzz both in academia and the worlds of food and drink.
"Lots of people are getting interested in combining music with food and wine or perfume and music now all over the world," notes Spence, whose work designing foods that maximally stimulate the senses has seen him collaborate with the likes of chef Heston Blumenthal of Britain's Fat Duck restaurant on dishes such as the "Sound of the Sea", served with the sound of crashing waves.
Spence has also deconstructed the components of cognac to correspond with different instruments and pitches to assist in the creation of a musical piece to accompany the spirit.
Spence and his team's investigations have already made some fascinating auditory-gustatory connections, such as discovering that sweet and sour tastes were associated with higher-pitched tones and piano sounds, while bitter ones were linked to lower pitches and brass instruments.
In : Taste