The Jesuit priest Louis-Bertrand Castel had his hour of fame in the 18th century thanks to his ocular harpsichord.
Starting from the idea of a physical analogy between sound and color, Castel conceived of a harpsichord that would diffuse a music of colors organized into a scale on the basis of their natural correspondence with sounds. In this way he sought to reveal the rational principles that determine the order of nature, grounding art in reason. Art would thus bear witness to a divine intelligence compatible with reason, and the music of colors would be a form of revelation.
In addition, this development would rescue people from boredom, the languor that takes away their feeling of existing, by ensuring continuous movement and surprise, renewing the pleasure of variety, and satisfying the natural inconstancy that goads them relentlessly to seek other objects of pleasure. From this to the preaching of a libertine art was a matter of a single step, which Castel took without realizing it. For him, amusement had achieved a respected place in the world.
This according to Le Père Castel et le clavecin oculaire by Corinna Gepner (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014).
Today is Castel’s 330th birthday! Above, a caricature of Père Castel and his instrument by Charles Germain de Saint Aubin; below, a brief discussion.
Two experiments investigated the influence of the harmonic content of background music on taste perception.
The participants evaluated samples of mixed fruit juice while listening to soundtracks that had either been harmonized with consonant or dissonant musical intervals. Each sample of juice was rated on three computer-based scales: One scale was anchored with the words sour and sweet, while the other two scales involved hedonic ratings of the music and of the juice.
Participants reliably associated the consonant soundtracks with sweetness and the dissonant soundtracks with sourness, rating the juices as tasting significantly sweeter in the consonant than in the dissonant music condition, irrespective of the melody or instrumentation involved. These results provide empirical support for the claim that the crossmodal correspondence between basic taste and a higher-level musical attribute (harmony in this case) can be used to modify the evaluation of the taste of a drink.
This according to “Striking a sour note: Assessing the influence of consonant and dissonant music on taste perception” by Charles Spence (above) and Qian Janice Wang (Multisensory research XXIX/1–3  pp. 195–208).
Another post about Professor Spence’s research is here. Below, some consonance and dissonance imaging.
People can systematically match information from different senses; these matches are known as crossmodal correspondences.
A 2013 study demonstrated that at least some color-music correspondences can be explained by emotional mediation.
A later study investigated the emotion mediation hypothesis for correspondences between odor and music, testing whether the strength of odor-music matches for particular odors and musical selections can be predicted by the similarity of the emotional associations with the odors and music. These researchers found that perceived matches were higher when the emotional responses were similar and that a model including emotional dimensions captured a significant amount of the variance of match scores, providing new evidence that crossmodal correspondences are mediated by emotions.
This according to “The smell of jazz: Crossmodal correspondences between music, odor, and emotion” by Carmel A. Levitan, Sara A. Charney, Karen B. Schloss, and Stephen E. Palmer, a paper included in Proceedings of the 37th annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (Austin: The Cognitive Science Society, 2015, pp. 1326–1331).
Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention, and for noting that “fishy was comprehensively unpopular, except with the category heavy metal, where it was first on the list.”
In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.
A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:
- “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
- “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])
- “zingy and refreshing” (Nouvelle Vague’s Just can’t get enough)
- “mellow and soft” (Michael Brook’s Breakdown)
After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.
This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.
For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Mario del Monaco shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.
Filed under Food, Science
Data from an experiment in which subjects listened to a series of pitches played on various instruments while tasting flavors such as lemon, peppermint, and salt showed significant connections between the sounds of the instruments and flavor perceptions.
For example, the taste of sugar was considered inappropriate for brass instruments, while it matched well with the piano. Orange-flower went with brass but not with strings, while coffee failed to correspond with brass but suited woodwinds nicely. “Our results”, the researchers noted with commendable practicality, “raise important questions about our representation of tastes and flavors and could also lead to applications in the marketing of food products.”
This according to “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic correspondences in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes” by Anne-Sylvie Crisinel and Charles Spence (Attention, perception, and psychophysics LXXII/7 [October 2010], pp. 1994-2002). Thanks to the Improbable research blog for bringing this to our attention!
Below, the picante trombones of Willie Colón’s band, ca. 1967.