‘Willy Wonka mixed with electronic music - and bees from Leeds’: Unique science project prepares for live shows

Shakespeare once described music as the food of love – now a new project is attempting to prove that food can also fuel the love of music. Chris Burn reports.

It is being described as “Willy Wonka mixed with electronic music and cutting edge cross-disciplinary science” – a series of live shows and an album that aim to bring the relationship between sound and flavour to life in a unique way.

Leeds-based composer Jacob Thompson-Bell has joined forces with music producer Adam Martin and food artist Caroline Hobkinson to create Unusual ingredients, which promises to take audiences through a menu featuring popping candy, honey, coffee, seaweed and tamarind each of which are paired with a specially-composed piece of electronic music “designed to dramatise and amplify its flavours and textures in extraordinary ways”.

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Part of the show will involve audience members sucking honey sweets whilst listening to sounds recorded in the hives of Leeds Beekeepers Association at the House Farm in Temple Newsam.

Bees were recorded at Temple Newsam for the Unusual ingredients project.Bees were recorded at Temple Newsam for the Unusual ingredients project.
Bees were recorded at Temple Newsam for the Unusual ingredients project.

Their live show will debut in London on March 11, with another performance at Leeds College of Music on March 14 followed by shows at the National Centre for Early Music in York on June 11 and the National Museum of Science and Media in Bradford on July 9.

Thompson-Bell, who is a lecturer at Leeds College of Music, says: “Our live events place audiences in the middle of a kind of culinary experiment.

“I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they feel the sound and flavour connection – how a simple piece of milk chocolate can be transformed into the creamiest texture; or the unexpected change from sweet to bitter flavours as the music shifts gear.

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“Making this work has been a huge amount of fun and I’d like to think our album and events capture a bit of that playfulness, too.”

Jacob Thompson-Bell is one of the people behind the project.Jacob Thompson-Bell is one of the people behind the project.
Jacob Thompson-Bell is one of the people behind the project.

Composer Adam Martin adds that their work also has a serious purpose.

“This project highlights and draws out unknown possibilities between such everyday and yet crucially important experiences we have in our lives. Realising there is something where you presumed there was nothing is an exciting part of a creative journey.”

Hobkinson says: “The inter-relationship between food and sound is such exciting unchartered territory. I love how powerful the impact can be.”

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A limited edition multi-sensory album, packaging together selected ingredients with a vinyl press and digital download, will be released on LP and as a download on March 11. Specially designed by the award-winning Leeds company Split Design, each box set is packed with test tubes and petri dishes filled with ingredients for home tasting.

Oli Bentley, from Split Design, says: “We’re really chuffed to be working with such an unusual and exciting project.”

The scheme is supported through public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, as well as from Help Musicians Fusion Fund and Leeds College of Music.

The quirky project has been inspired by scientific research into the sensory links between sound and flavour perception, particularly the pioneering food scientist Professor Charles Spence who participated in early tasting sessions.

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These include sensory phenomena such as the modulation of sweet and bitter flavours through high and low frequencies, and the intensification through sound of the buzzing sensation experienced on the tongue after eating Szechuan pepper.

Spence says: “Unusual ingredients is an intriguing and successful creative extension of my research into the interactions between sound and flavour perception. Having sampled the music and food pairings myself, I will be following this project closely.”

For more information, visit https://unusualingredients.co.

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