Food and music in perfect harmony is behind the science of ‘sonic seasoning’

World Today

Inside One Eight Distilling, a distillery in Washington, D.C. is a whole new world. It’s not a bar, or a restaurant or a concert.  But the best of all three – in perfect harmony.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports.

“There’s not a lot of artistic experiences that you can find that actually creatively involves all five of your senses at once,” said John Devlin, Artistic Director and Conductor of Gourmet Symphony, an organization which presents culinary-inspired concerts.

One recent concert enhances two senses in particular – taste and sound.

“If you think about it, when you go to a restaurant, and there’s no music playing, you notice it and it feels strange,” said Cara Webster, Marketing and Event Coordinator of One Eight Distilling.

“So many of the alternative experiences in the concert hall are so formal that we find ourselves being a little renegade by not being that way,” explains Devlin.

There’s music and food. 

But the difference here is – each musical composition, each dish is designed to complement the other.

“We tend to look at meals as meals, and entertainment as entertainment, and I think that does a disservice to ourselves as human beings because we sense everything, we feel everything,” said Mark Madden, who attended the concert.

The theme for this intimate experience is “American Expressions,” providing a slice of Americana through what’s called ‘sonic seasoning.’

One featured piece – the American composition “Appalachian Spring.”

“Appalachian Spring describes a farm scene and then you go to the spread laid out for you and it looks like a picnic,” describes Devlin.

Then there’s the American classic “Hoedown” paired with a beef dish.

“Then we went down to the beef tenderloin, it’s the land, it’s what says America, we have beef, we’re here,” describes Madden.

This concert isn’t the only place playing off the idea that music can enhance the eating experience. In fact, this concept is also being explored at a research lab thousands of miles away.

“What you hear shouldn’t, but, in fact, does change what you taste,” said Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University.

Spence has been focusing on the science behind our senses.

For more than 15 years, he’s studied the specific interaction between taste and sound. 

He’s discovered they don’t just work separately but also simultaneously.

“Higher-pitched music will bring out sweetness in a dish, whereas low-pitched brassier sounds will accentuate the bitter notes instead,” explains Spence.  “Sound really is the forgotten flavor sense.”

His research has reached beyond the lab into restaurants.

“You find horrendous examples of eating curry in July while listening to Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs, it’s all kind of wrong!” Spence said.  “We will be in a world in a few years’ time of this total experience, when we want all of our senses stimulated.”

It’s yet another mystery of the human body that we’re just getting a taste of.

“It really brings everything full circle,” Webster said. “The options are endless.”