Experiment #3 - Tasting Notes

...and before I knew it was time for the third and final new media experiment, and for this one I would be moving far beyond any familiar modality formats within my creative practice. Tasting Notes was a 2-day experiment that explored how individuals paired different sounds with different flavours. This experiment was conducted as an effort to explore more liminal sensory modalities within the context of new media. Due to the unregulated and frontier nature of this sensory modality within traditional creative sound and media projects, the experiment was stripped back to fundamental components, and a low 'resolution of modality' was established for both the sonic and the gustatory modalities; simple flavours, and simple sounds.

The process of this experiment saw test subjects listen to 4 different sounds, experience 4 different flavours, and then pair them together based on the comparative experience of each sense. Here's how that process went down... First, each test subject was blindfolded, and then for the very first time, they were briefed on the nature of this experiment and asked if they would still like to proceed with the test. Following this initial briefing, they were then introduced to all 4 sounds, separately, a total of 3 times via a pair of headphones. Then, after this introduction to the sounds, they were introduced to all 4 flavours, which they sampled in liquid form one after the other and cleansed their pallets with water after sampling each flavour. 

It was then time to start making taste pairings. First, they were asked if they would like to make any immediate pairings based on what they could recall of the sounds and flavours they had experienced separately so far. Then, they were then shown the first sound again. As they listened, they tasted all 4 flavours in front of them at the same time that the sound in question was playing. They were then asked to make their choice. This process was repeated for all 4 sounds until all of the flavours had been paired with a different sound. Lastly, the test subjects were shown all 4 sounds again and asked if they would like to make any final changes to their taste pairings. These were the sounds that were used:

...and these were the flavours that were featured in this experiment: Raspberry Lemonade. Tonic water. Beef stock. Peppermint. But let it be noted - the test subjects were not informed of this, they had only their sense of taste to go by when experiencing these flavours. The sounds and flavours were consistently used in each and every instance of the experiment and were introduced in the exact same order to every test subject that was involved in the experiment. A total of 8 test subjects engaged in this experiment, both female and male, spanning ages 21 through to 55. Here's the results of each test subjet's final sound-flavour pairing:

Flavour #1 = Raspberry Lemonade. Flavour #2 = Tonic Water. Flavour #3 = beef stock. Flavour #4 = Peppermint. There were plenty of interesting correlations. Firstly, on the whole, the pairings were generally very similar across the full set. One such interesting pattern shows that test subjects #1, #6, #7 and #8 all made the exact same pairings. The interesting detail here is that test subjects #1, #6, and #7 were all blood relations! Now, this is a small set of data, so this is quite possibly a coincidence, but it's interesting enough to warrant a deeper dive here (i.e. is there a hint at the possible influence of environmental conditioning, family upbringing, etc?)

Beyond this raw data, a series of comments and remarks made by each test subject were also logged as part of the findings. At the end of each round of testing with their blindfold still on, the test subjects were asked a series of questions in order to generate a more conversational log of findings that would sit alongside the empirical results of the experiment shown above. These were: Q1). What made you pair X flavour with X sound? Q2). What thought processes were going through your mind throughout the duration of this experiment? Q3). Do you have any other remarks about the experience of pairing taste with sound? ...and this resulted in some interesting remarks. So let's unpack these now: One consistent set of comments that were made by every single test subject were in relation to the fact that flavour #3 was almost always immediately paired with a sound soon after it was sampled, without any need for the test subjects to review the sounds or tastes again in order to make that decision. Comments made here showed that this was based on how strong that flavour was (phrased by the people who didn't mind flavour #3), or how unpleasant they found it (phrased by the people who didn't like flavour #3). Regardless of preference to this flavour, the 'strength' of it relative to the other flavours had a dramatic impact on their decision making here. On top of this, not only was it the first flavour to be assigned in every instance of the experiment, but nearly everyone assigned that flavour to the same sound each time - sound #2.

"Sound #2 was my least favorite sound. Taste #3 was without a doubt my least favorite taste. This was by far the easiest pairing to make." - Test subject #5

Another set of consistent comments, again made by every single test subject, can be summarised as evidence of everyone's awareness of the role that time played in experiencing both the sounds and the flavours. The language used by all 8 of the test subjects here included 'size', 'position', 'movement', 'shape', 'evolution' and 'texture', as they referred to the way the flavour behaved in their mouths.

"...although this experience isn't something I've ever done before, it seems to make a lot of sense! The way I can feel the flavour behaving on my tongue... it feels like its moving and changing over time, just like the sounds I was trying to match them with." - Test subject #3.

Lastly, some incredible comments were made by most of the test subjects on how the experiment was highly pleasurable, made them feel relaxed and more mindful, and made them aware of their perception of taste in a way they had never experienced before. Conversations around this even extended into how the use of sound could potentially be used to help people expand and even develop their love of flavours they didn't like, or we impartial too.

If I were to run this again, I would love to dig into a more fundamental component for the gustatory modality of the experiment. The flavours used are heavily grounded in cultural bias and commercialisation (recognisable flavours, associative colours, etc) so a lower resolution of modality (molecules that create flavour/smell akin to the Feelreal VR headset?) may enable an environment for a more empirical procedure. Also the ability to test this out with a much younger set of test subject would also be valuable/interesting as this would allow me to observe the kind of results and responses I would gain from individuals who haven't yet formed their taste preferences, or who are yet to be conditioned by past experiences - of which is known to influence our association and perception of different flavours. Although I must say, that absolutely wasn't necessary here! Valuable learning for my core developmental focus was made nonetheless... One big takeaway from this experiment, which has popped up in several of the previous experiments over the last few weeks, was the element of temporality. The most consistent and valuable comments were around how the test subjects were aware that experience of taste consisted of characteristics of movement, such as speed, acceleration, change over time, etc. This is a consistent ingredient with some of the other elements explored in past experiments, like the AV Drumkit, and Sono-Subjective. It also dawned on me, that this consistent awareness of the passage of time within this experiment, demonstrates that there is a huge untapped potential for audio-gustatory experiences here! Because of this 1-1 relationship of experience over time between both modalities, sonic-gustatory experiences could be curated against some form of temporal multimodal choreography; a multisensory score to aid the design of experiences that feature flavour and sound. Because of this, these chemical senses (olfactory, gustatory) hold great potential when used in combination with mechanical senses (sonic, haptic); they both rely on a similar perception of the passage of time, and therefore can occupy a temporal-communal canvas. However, I need to hold my horses here because this is a whooooooole new world and a whole other project. Most importantly for me in the here and now - the language used by the test subjects who were directly involved this in this experiment is perfect for the wider modalities that we can concern ourselves within the creation of new media experiences - they traverse the senses and disciplines in a very useful way, which is absolutely perfect for the scaffolding of my emerging toolkit for multimodal creativity, and this is something that I will undoubtedly be carrying forward as I move towards establishing this new resource-in-waiting. It's getting close now...

Copyright © Leigh Davies 2020