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Lauttasaari Manor residence

15.11.2021

When mathematician-musician Bruno Mesz says that something sounds ‘sweet’, it may not mean what you think

Bruno Mesz, this autumn’s residency guest at Lauttasaari Manor, is not only a mathematician but also a pianist who studies the effect of sound on taste perception.

“You could describe my work here as a balancing act between human and non-human vibrations”, Lauttasaari Manor’s latest residency guest Bruno Mesz says smilingly.

Mesz’s research back in his home country of Argentina focuses on multisensory perception and crossmodal correspondences between sound, taste and smell. In addition to his research work, Mesz is also an internationally performing pianist.

“Combining science and art is really what my work is all about.”

Mesz’s fascination with multisensory perception began years ago when he met a group of neurophysicists who were studying synaesthesia, i.e. the blending of the senses. Synaesthetes are able to, for example, see sounds or hear colours.

Mesz joined forces with the neurophysicists to explore ways in which even non-synesthetes experience surprising connections between the senses.

The team chose the sense of taste as their starting point, as it can – unlike, for example, smell – be relatively simply categorised into four ‘basic tastes’. Hearing was the team’s second choice, partly due to Mesz’s background.

“As a musician, I have always been intrigued by the ability of music to convey concepts that lie outside of the sphere of music itself”, Mesz explains.

Over the years, the team has made regular discoveries about the relationship between sound characteristics such as pitch, intensity, consonance and dissonance and different tastes. They have discovered, for example, that bitter flavours correlate with low-pitched, dissonant sounds, while sweet is associated with soft sounds and consonant harmonies.

According to Mesz, music can actually affect the way we perceive flavours.

“Wine can taste more bitter when you are listening to dissonant music than if there is no music in the background at all. Or if a café plays pleasant, consonant music, you may not need as much sugar in your coffee as you would if the room was quiet”, Mesz explains.

DINING IN AN ARTIFICIAL REALITY

Over the years, Mesz has become acquainted with a number of researchers with similar interests from around the world. One of them is Anu Hopia, Research Director of the University of Turku’s Functional Foods Forum, on whose invitation Mesz is now in Finland for the fourth time.

During his residency at Kone Foundation’s Lauttasaari Manor, Mesz is involved in a project led by Hopia called ‘Man, Microbes, Music and Food’ as part of an international community of researchers and artists.

The project team has hosted a number of workshops and events in Helsinki and Seinäjoki to showcase their research and art during the autumn. The events have given guests an opportunity to, for example, try different foods while wearing a VR headset, witness the effect of an iPad on a soup bowl and explore innovative new ways to season food with sounds.

Mesz points out that although the team has made a great start, the development of the works and inventions will continue far into the future. Mesz’s wife, dance artist Maria Zegna, will also join Mesz for a dance performance towards the end of his residency.

“The dance will be performed to the earth. We will transmit the sounds produced by the dance to the soil, record the vibrations and receive them back. You will not want to miss this!”

In addition to Bruno Mesz and Maria Zegna, the team of researchers at the University of Turku’s Functional Foods Forum includes Argentinian researcher Gabriel Vinderola, French VR expert Jean-Christophe Sakdavong and Finnish musician and doctoral student Sami Silén. Mesz’s collaborators in Argentina for this project are visual artists Sebastián TedescoLucas Samaruga and Rob Verf, and electronic artist Leonardo Potenza.