Do You Need Room for Some Clarinet in Your Coffee?

November 10, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Clarinet, Composers, Trombone | 1 Comment
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I just happened upon this post at the Improbable Research blog about a recent UK study testing the link between flavor and different musical sounds. The research results, encapsulated in the improbable-sounding (is that where they got the blog name?) “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic responses in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes,” highlights the findings that even for people who are not synesthetic*, the different sounds of different instruments affect the perception of taste. To quote Martin Gardiner at Improbable Research:

For example, the piano was felt to be particularly appropriate for the taste of sugar — and quite unsuitable for brass instruments. Similarly, coffee was more woodwindy than brassy, and orange-flower was brassy rather than stringy. These newfound associations between flavours and individual instruments lead on to a new hypothesis — might similar matching effects occur with more complex sounds — and even perhaps with music in general?

The implications of this research could be felt — er, tasted — in restaurants near you. If experiments reveal that, say, low string sounds make tomato-based dishes taste more succulent, your next trip to the Olive Garden may find your family dinner conversation drowned out by an invasive, unwavering bass solo.

This may explain the existence of haggis, which may be the only food that tastes good while listening to bagpipes.

*Synesthesia is a condition in which a sensation normally felt in one sense is felt instead in another. A synesthete might, for example, hear colors, feel odors, or in this case, taste sounds. It is believed that a number of musicians were or are synesthetes, including Leonard Bernstein, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Billy Joel, Duke Ellingon, Tori Amos, and Eddie Van Halen.

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  1. Does clarinet music enhance the flavor of licorice sticks? Are t-bone steaks so named because they taste best while listening to trombones? Should I order a side of French horns with my hamburger?

    And should any gelatin that has its flavor improved by Yo Yo Ma’s music be called Cello Jello? And if that gelatin flavor happens to be that of a citrus soft drink, should it be called Mello Yello Cello Jello?


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