Jo Burzynska, sound artist, World Science Festival

I hope that this will lead to a point when those in hospitality pay as much attention to the sound in their spaces as they do their menus and décor ...

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that music great for setting the mood. Whether it’s during a lively dinner party or an intimate meal, music helps us relax and creates the sort of memorable ambience we love. We might need a scientist to explain why music enhances our not only our moods, but also our sense of taste. Think about it – would a glass of wine or a nice meal taste better or worse if you were listening to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust as opposed to one of Nickelback’s albums? Whether we accept it or not, our ears have a say on how our food and drink tastes, which gives us a plethora of opportunities to experiment. On the forefront of this fringe science is Jo Burzynska, a wine connoisseur and sound artist that has dedicated years of work to uncovering the secrets to sound and taste. Jo will be delving deep into the science behind the phenomenon at this year’s World Science Festival, so we reached out to see if she can educate us on why wine tastes so much better when we listen to Frank Ocean.

You’ve worked extensively in the worlds of both wine and music but I’d love to know which of the two did you fall in love with first?
Music first, which has been in my life for as long as I can remember. The wine came a little later! 

At what point did you discover that there was a correlation between our taste buds and sound?
I thought that sound and taste were interacting for me personally for quite a few years before I discovered was a universal phenomenon. I initially put this down to the two senses being so central to me, but it was about ten years ago at the start of the current wave of research in psychology into crossmodal correspondences that I realised that this went beyond my own ears and tastebuds.

As lovers of both wine and music we are doubly excited to check out Multi-Sensory Delight: The Pairing of Wine and Music and the World Science Festival. Without giving too much away, is there any scientific explanation for how sounds influence our taste?
Yes, there is a growing body of research that indicates it’s down to a phenomenon called crossmodal correspondences – the universal tendency of a sensory feature in one modality to be matched with one from another sensory modality, often in quite surprising ways as those attending the tasting will discover.

Will there be wine (so we can practice science in action, of course)?
Of course, the proof of the power of wine and music matching is in the tasting! I have selected some great wines to taste with a variety of different pieces of music from a wide range of genres to show how to make harmonious matches  and avoid sensory discords.

You recently brought your sound and wine project Oenosthesia to Australia for the first time. What can you tell us about the work and how it took shape?
This is a project from my creative practice as a sound artist, which in recent years has increasingly embraced the senses of taste and olfaction to become more multisensory. Oenosthesia is a work that I initially developed from an artist residency in Italy, and is created from my recordings of the process of winemaking from vineyard to bottle. It includes wines that are tasted at specific points in the work, with the taste and sound elements drawing on crossmodal research and designed to work with each other. 

Are there any other applications of your techniques that you are itching to try?
I’m just about to start researching the potential for sound to mask certain aspects of taste or aromas, which is part of the PhD I’m currently undertaking at the University of New South Wales. Crossmodal correspondences is such a new field, there’s so much more to discover!

How do you imagine these sorts of findings can be implemented in the hospitality industry in some way in the future?
Given the proven influence sound has on people’s actual perception of what they’re tasting this research has huge potential for environments where food or drink is being consumed. I hope that this will lead to a point when those in hospitality pay as much attention to the sound in their spaces as they do their menus and décor. 

Do you have a personal favourite pairing of album and wine?
Brian Eno’s Discreet Music and Pinot Noir – sheer audio-gustatory delight!

As an accomplished columnist and writer when it comes to wine, how often do you end up fielding requests for suggestions from clueless friends in the bottle shop?
A lot of my friends are in possession of my book, Wine Class, which answers many wine questions. Now I’m getting more asking me for wine and music pairing suggestions. I feel another book is imminent!

Catch Jo Burzynska and Professor Pankaj Sah as they explore the link between taste and sound for Multi-Sensory Delight: The Pairing of Wine and Music at the World Science Festival on Saturday March 25. 


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