THE NEW CROSSMODALISTS

What is the effect of texture on flavour, how does sound impact on our experience of taste and what happens when you enhance virtual reality by dropping rain water on participants’ heads? Welcome to the wonderful world of Crossmodalism, a fertile ground for experimentation in which people have titles such as ‘neurogastronomist’ and ‘wine poet’, and others study ‘gastropolitics’ in the hope of solving world food problems. Aspen Glencross, Chris Lloyd, Charles Michel, Daniel Ospina, Nadjib Achaibou, Janice Wang and Carlos Velasco tell us more about this fascinating field of rediscovery.

 Food Painting, Daniel Ospina and Chris Lloyd, photograph by Isadora Lima de Oliveira

Food Painting, Daniel Ospina and Chris Lloyd, photograph by Isadora Lima de Oliveira

It all started when pianist Chris Lloyd was watching Masterchef in Adelaide and came across The Sound of the Sea, served in the Fat Duck  – Heston Blumenthal’s exclusive Berkshire restaurant. It was a dish that used sonic design to enhance the food’s flavour. In creating an immersive experience of taste, sight, sound and smell, the dish captured his imagination. Intrigued, Chris realised that the world of haute cuisine had been using sound to enhance dining experiences for years. He quickly became obsessed with exploring the potential of taste (and other sensory stimulation) to enhance our classical musical experience. While studying at the Royal Academy of Music, Chris began a collaboration with the Oxford University Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Psychology, chef-in-residence Charles Michel. The Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford studies the integration of information across our various different sensory modalities (hearing, taste, touch and smell). Charles had been working on experimental performance concepts for years, and the two entered discussions on the best way to merge the gastronomic and classic music worlds.

Their first collaboration was ‘Taste of Iceland: Art, Science and Exploration’, a multi-sensory experiment in November 2013, which was immortalised in film by Tereza Stehlikova. The event brought together sound artists, perfumers, set and lighting designers, florists, food historians and performers in order to lead diners on an imaginary journey based on William Morris’s trips to Iceland in 1871 and 1873. Together, the team evoked elements and landmarks from the land of ice and fire. Diner Annabel Huxley later described such delights as, “salty John Dory nestled in medicinal sponge mushroom”, “white truffle and black squid ink blended on a brush to reflect Icelandic grey skies”, finished off with “a chocolate pudding made with cocoa from volcanic lands, sooty, and sweetened with rowan berry jelly.” (cinestheticfeasts.wordpress.com)

Perfurmer Nadjib Achaibou and PhD research student and ‘wine poet’ Janice Wang joined the Crossmodalists in 2015, bringing the core team to five. By mid-2015, like-minded performers, scientists and artists started getting in touch from around the world. The team realised that the best way forward was not to compete with these groups but to embrace the universality of their concepts. To support the growing movement, they formed an open volunteer organisation and today Crossmodalism has 400 practitioners across Europe, North and South America. Ernest caught up with the core team to find out more... 

ERNEST: Who was the first Crossmodalist?

CROSSMODALISTS: Where to begin? The term ‘Crossmodalism’ was first coined by Chris, Charles and Daniel to describe our original collaboration, in homage to the work carried out by the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Crossmodalism as an aesthetic principle, however, can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece and the Quadrivium, or the four arts: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, when Plato claimed in The Republic, “The eyes are made for astronomy, the ears for harmony; and these are sister sciences.” 

Since then, GF Telemann composed tafelmusik – ‘table music’ for feasts and banqueting; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe claimed, “Music is liquid architecture, architecture is frozen music”; Wagner’s operas combined dance, set design, music and libretto; Kandinsky evolved the Wagnerian concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (synthesis of the arts); Aleksander Scriabin used synaesthetic process in the conception of Prometheus: the Poem of Fire, and currently there are baristas in Sydney carefully selecting the music they feel creates the best atmosphere for an espresso. 

 Synaesthetic painting by Anna Kolosova, Nadjib Achaibou  and This Is Why (Berlin), photograph by Joe Sarah

Synaesthetic painting by Anna Kolosova, Nadjib Achaibou  and This Is Why (Berlin), photograph by Joe Sarah

ERNEST: What’s your manifesto?

CM: It is a statement that allows artists, scientists and entrepreneurs to understand the founding principles and motivations of Crossmodalism. Inspired by the artistic and revolutionary manifestos of the Futurists, Dadaists, Surrealists and others, the Manifesto aims to unite the international practitioners under one banner. Additionally, members of the community regularly publish their own manifestos, which include musings on a wide variety of topics. You can read them at crossmodalism.com

ERNEST: How do you collaborate internationally?

CM: While Crossmodalism has its origins in London, the movement has spread throughout Europe and the Americas in the past year. We have practitioners based in Sweden, Norway, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Argentina, Colombia, and the USA. Crossmodal scientists collaborate between Buenos Aires and Oxford, while composers in Philadelphia are working with musicians in London on developing a Crossmodalist opera. Somewhere right now a businessman is learning about creativity from a chef. We also host monthly gatherings in London, which evolved as a way to bring all our interesting friends and collaborators together in discussion. They started as informal barbecues and parties, then developed into the current lecture and performance format. Previous presentations have involved guided meditations, world premiere performances of new music, an edible art exhibition, perfume making workshops, lab-grown meat experiments and a call-to-arms for a dance party with narrative and sensory design. We’ve had presenters travel from as far as Toulouse and Amsterdam, and we offer the platform to everything from basic concepts to well-developed projects. The purpose is simply to bring interesting and passionate people together.

 Sacrament of the Gourmand, Maeva Barriere (France), photograph by Joe Sarah

Sacrament of the Gourmand, Maeva Barriere (France), photograph by Joe Sarah

ERNEST: How can Crossmodalism benefit food politics and neuroscience?

CM: Science gives rise to evidence-based design, and aesthetics can accelerate the impact of science. If we can design experiences that affect millions – think food industry, restaurant chains, supermarkets – with, for example, cognitive science and psychology at its heart, we can focus our efforts to create experiences with more impact that shape behaviour and consumption patterns that will benefit the planet in the long run. Also, art can illustrate new discoveries about the brain, allowing those who would otherwise never contemplate something as complicated as charting neural connectivity to visually understand its workings, such as the iridescent brain maps of the Human Connectome Project. 

ERNEST: Food seems to be a major focus. What other fields are Crossmodalists drawn to?

CM: Crossmodalists are sensory scientists, cellular agriculturalists, musicians, dancers, perfumers, tech industrialists, architects, innovation designers, synaesthetic artists, film makers – the list goes on. A Crossmodalist is any person who embraces collaboration, curiosity and creation.

ERNEST: What is the ultimate Crossmodalist aim?

CM: To build a society where curiosity and collaboration are fundamental values, and serve to reinforce meaningful connections. A society where it is as equally possible to deepen one’s knowledge of a narrowly defined subject as it is to explore diversity of thought; where both practices coexist and reinforce each other. Crossmodalism is both a creative and social movement. A Crossmodalist can be a practitioner who focuses their creative outputs using Crossmodalist aesthetics, or it can involve simply approaching everyday moments from a Crossmodalist point of view. The Crossmodalist utopia embraces internationally recognised artistic and scientific exploits, and a larger positive social impact on thought process and appreciation.

Discover more about the Crossmodalists and their upcoming projects online at crossmodalism.com. Read on to delve into just a few of their current explorations in multi-sensory experience…

GATHERINGS (UK) A mixture of monthly lectures and performances with different presenters delivering unique concepts and trials to an intimate and engaged crowd in London. crossmodalism.com/xmgathering

 Future Farm Lab, photograph by Joe Sarah

Future Farm Lab, photograph by Joe Sarah

FEED (UK) A platform of discussion about our relationship with food. There will be curated workshops around themed topics, such as the Poetics of Food, ‘gastropolitics’ and ‘gastrophysics’. feed@crossmodalism.com

FUTURE FARM LAB (UK) A combination of lab research and experimental food workshops, collaborating with agroecological groups in the food chain, and creating exhibitions to regain transparency and trust in our food system. It’s all about stimulating discussion and investigating solutions for building an ethical, sustainable and nutritious future! Futurefarmlab.com

SEX&CHOPIN (UK) This project explores our visual relationship with classical music, and aims to portray the sensuality and sexuality of music. It also highlights issues of gender equality in the classical music industry with an exhibition at the London Design Festival. chrislloydpianist.com

SCIENCE MUSEUM LATES (UK) In September 2015, Chris Lloyd and Nadjib Achaibou hosted experiments with Science Museum Lates, alongside Prof Barry Smith and the Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes). These experiments explored how the senses can manipulate each other. 

ACROSS THE UNSEEN SEA (UK) A short documentary by Royal College of Arts lecturer Tereza Stehlikova. It documents an event curated by Stehlikova and Charles Michel in 2013 – an immersive experience based on the travels of William Morris in Iceland. The event paired artists across fields as diverse as classical music, perfume, food and theatre. vimeo.com/86343476

BITTERSUITE (UK) Imagine being blindfolded and led through a powerful sensory experience in which gourmet tastes, bespoke scents, choreographed touch and movement have been designed to enhance music. BitterSuite are a company exploring how to re-imagine the classical concert through the senses. bittersuite.org.uk

CRISPINESS (UK) The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispiness and Staleness of Potato Chips is a Ignoble Prize winning study that shows how people perceive crisps as fresher and crispier when the sound of mastication is played back to them more loudly as they bite. crossmodalism.com

FOOD OPERA (USA) Composer Ben Houge, a lecturer at the Berklee College of Music, Boston, is the creator of Food Operas, which pair real-time generative soundtracks to accompany multi-course meals. Benhouge.com

ALSO FESTIVAL (UK) Also Festival hosted two Crossmodalist performances in 2016. Audience members swam around Chris Lloyd performing Ravel, Liszt and Debussy on a piano floating in a lake, surrounded by scented origami lilies. The Crossmodalist Triptych Meditation explored sensory stimulation to transport the mental and spiritual self. Also-festival.com

TASTE OF SOUND (Sweden) An immersive experience that helps communicate a message to dinner guests. By composing music with the same characteristics as the dishes, the taste experience of a three-course dinner is enhanced by up to 60 percent. fanky.se/taste-of-sound

THE FEELIES (UK) Inspired by Aldous Huxley’s descriptions of futuristic cinematic experience, The Feelies is a concept devised by scientist and production designer Grace Boyle, originally for the 2015 Shuffle Festival, London. Using virtual reality technology and sensory practitioners, The Feelies uses virtual reality to explore social issues and personal stories via the full multi-sensory range of stimuli. 

HASSFEST (Armenia) The International Art and Music Collaboration Festival – Hearing Art Seeing Sound or HASS Fest – produce events, music and collaborations that transcend borders by exploring the concept of art as a universal entity, which can touch all people.

This is an amended version of our feature 'The New Crossmodalists' in issue five of Ernest Journal, which contained a number of inaccuracies and failed to credit the photographers