“Comfort came in with the middle classes”
A couple of years ago, while being back in Venezuela, I went out for lunch one day and bought a traditional sweetcorn pancake we called “Cachapa”, only that instead of sitting in the restaurant to eat it as I normally did, I decided to have it to take away. The guy at the counter placed the pancake on a foam plate, wrapped it with paper and put it in a bag. Not long after, I found myself at home eating it on that very same foam plate I was given, with the usual fork and knife. When I was finished, I became aware of something that has fascinated me ever since: I was struck by the traces left by the fork and knife on that soft surface; a random pattern of dots and lines unwittingly generated by the natural act of eating with these familiar utensils that, up to that day, had gone completely unnoticed.
The traces hadn’t been evident to me before probably because I usually consume food served on hard surfaces, such as porcelain or ceramic plates, so discovering this arrangement of dots and lines made me think that every day, millions of people around the world are constantly generating random hidden patterns that could be perceived as “gastronomic footprints”; unconscious personal trails that vary depending on the kind of food we eat; the texture, level of hardness and way the food is placed on our plates, and most important, our own individual way to use forks and knives.
This observation led to further research on food and its possible relationship with dots and lines. As a first step, I realized that points and lines are tightly connected with the arts, particularly to any form of pictorial expression (Wassily Kadinski wrote loads about it on “Point and Line to Plane”, back in 1979), and maybe in a less evident way to music and the notation system that it’s commonly used to represent it on paper. However, while fact-finding on the subject, I discovered there were actually exciting structural similarities between food and music, as suggested by Simon Kilshaw: “eating a meal in 3 movements, one might find a parallel with the classic sonata structure. Indeed there is a certain rhythm to eating, to cooking, to the whole experience”.
All this was very exciting to me so when the time to choose the topic for my MA final project, it became reasonable to me to explore the path of “taste to sound” synesthetic experiences as I was already familiar with the synesthesia phenomenon. According to research, “1 out of 778 synesthesia case reports (0.1%) was related to ‘taste into sound’ synesthesia”, which suggested me this type of synesthetic experiences were fairly rare, a valuable finding as I wanted to move away from the “sound to color” experiments that have been so recurrent in the past.
With this considerations in mind, and reflecting on the predictions of Dr. Hugo Heyrman, who claims that “as a consequence of the new interactive media (the explosion of information and knowledge), our consciousness, senses and body will emerge into new experiences with unlimited synesthetical qualities: Tele-synesthesia —instant, global and multi-sensory”, I decided to work on the creation of an interactive installation within the context of experimental art, that draws inspiration from synesthesia, metaphor and surveillance, to explore the relationship between food and sound using digital media as a medium to translate the traces left by the use of fork and knife on a circular foam plate (as a representation of the act of eating, and therefore, taste) into noises, to finally create an unusual cross-sense experience.
The installation is intended to feature three (3) pieces: “Breakfast”, “Lunch” and “Dinner”, each of them corresponding to a particular real cooking recipe, although for the purposes of this particular project, I will narrow it down to just one piece: “Lunch”, the most important meal of the day :-)
The piece will feature:
1. A photograph of the cooked dish, as served before it was consumed.
2. A “poetic” description of dish.
3. The circular foam plate showing the traces of fork and knife on its surface as a result of an individual act of food consumption (which will be carried out by a unaware volunteer during the development stage of the project, for practical reasons).
4. A control unit (most likely a laptop) running the software that enables the translation of the traces of fork and knife (taking as an input a digital black and white image of the empty plate) into an aural representation of the dish.
5. An HD webcam mounted on a portable turntable
6. A pair of speakers and audio cables.
7. An 4-channel USB mixer.
8. A set of guitar effect pedals that will allow the user to interact with the installation by manipulating the outcoming sound as they please, therefore creating a unique personal experience.
It all sounds pretty exciting, yeah, but here’s the thing: I have no idea how I’m supposed to do this.
Seriously, I have no clue. I’ve been asking here and there and it seems I can develop the software using Processing but guess what: I don’t know how to code. I bought a book a couple of years ago and just last month I started learning the basics, hoping I can get really good at it pretty soon because time is running out and this installation needs to be ready by the end of July, which means I only have 4 months to put everything together and make it work.
Now, you must be wondering: if you didn’t have the right skills to carry out a project like this, why the fuck did you choose to make it your final project then? Well, I know it seems all pretty moronic to leave the most important assignment of my entire Masters in the hands of autodidacticism and luck but that’s how I roll, for better or worse. Of course, it would be very convenient and reasonable to choose to do something I feel confident about, something I know I could do well, that wouldn’t require any struggle or late nights of hard work or stress or uncertainty… but would THAT be any fun at all? Would that be something I’ll end up feeling incredibly excited about when I’m done with it? Would that be something I’d like to share with my grandchildren when I sit with them in front of the fireplace to tell them stories on a sunday night? Eh no, I don’t think so.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I love to dive head first into suicide missions just for the sake of it, it’s just that sometimes I feel we’re so scared to fuck up, that by holding back we end up missing out amazing opportunities. Sure, my installation could end up being a massive disaster, it could be embarrassing and disappointing, but it also has the potential to become something I could feel very proud of; it could be an opportunity to challenge myself and learn something that otherwise I would probably never learn, to celebrate the open-endedness of experiment, to move forward, and most important, to push myself out of my comfort zone and venture into less safe and familiar alleys, which is usually where extraordinary things happen. It all sounds very New Age and shit, but I do feel life would be much more exciting and meaningful if we could leave aside that sense of trepidation that usually accompanies the unknown and just grow some balls to step into it and see what it could bring.
After all, isn’t that why we call it the Great Unknown?