I have an incredibly slow metabolism and was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I decided four years ago that I would stop eating meat because my stomach could not digest it properly. While researching different eating lifestyles, I discovered the Vegan Society, which then inspired me to become a vegan since I did not like the taste of dairy products as well. But this project is not about veganism or healthy lifestyles for those who suffer from hypothyroidism. This project is about sounds, and more specifically, the sounds of food. When I think of food, I usually think of my other senses: taste, smell, and whether or not the food I am about to eat is attractive enough to put in my mouth. However, I never thought to listen to the sounds that food produced before, unless someone was vicariously chewing with their mouths open, or when I try to eat popcorn without much noise at a movie theater since the other senses influenced my choice of foods.
Once I started taking a sonic media module, I began to listen attentively to everyday sounds and since food is part of everyday life of every living being in this planet (Schafer 2004), (Schaeffer 2004). I decided to focus on capturing the sounds of food through my recording device. I thought of different foods that made distinctive noises that produced a lot of sounds in the production, cooking, and eating of foods. I decided to make a vegan pizza for my non-vegan friends and since we all agreed that a vegan vegetable pizza would produce the most sounds than most other vegan dishes. I found a recipe on Simple Vegan Recipes (2006), which sounded appetizing to the stomach, and ears. I recorded my trip to the grocery store to buy the ingredients, the opening and pouring red wine into wine glasses for some emotional support through the process of cooking, the preparation and cooking of the pizza, the sound of the oven, and the chewing of the pizza and dinnertime talk with friends (Caouette 2011). After the night was over, I uploaded the mp3s from my Zoom H2 to my Macbook Pro. I then created a blog on WordPress.com. I found this to be the easiest to distribute the mp3s in separate blog posts along with descriptions for each mp3 to demonstrate what the person is listening to. I named the blog Sounds of Vegan food, which readers/listeners can visit here:
I created the blog to explain the recordings in a chronological order. The intention of this project is to answer the following questions: Are everyday sounds pollution to our ears? Can I create music with the sounds of food? And finally, can my ears adapt to the sounds of food instead of using my other senses?
Are everyday sounds pollution to our ears?
Our eyes dominate the rest of our senses, and we tend to neglect our ear’s perception of the world. Since our eyes have lids, we can choose what we see. Our ears on the other hand, do not have lids, so humans have adapted to block noises. We “hear from all directions” (Marshall 2004: 68) which neglects people from listening carefully to our surroundings (Marshal 2004: 69) (Kahn 1994: 4). As Schafer states, “Noise pollution results when man does not listen carefully. Noises are sounds we have learned to ignore.
Noise pollution today is being resisted by noise abatement” (Schafer 2004: 30). When I decided to do this project, I wanted to capture every moment since every moment contains sounds of the environment. The first mp3 was at the local grocery shop. This moment of time is especially important due to the fact that most of the noises that we hear are of “buying and selling” (Slouka 2004: 45). Our surroundings of sounds and noises are outnumbered by consumerism from the background music of stores to the sound of the cash machine when buying products.
As Slouka confirms, the sounds of shopping “always tries to feed the hungers it creates, to confect its own antidotes—so long as the price is right” (Slouka 2004: 45). Noise pollution (Shafer 2004: 30) tells us that we are alive (Hegarty 2002: 194) and shows power in the “localization of noise in its endowment with form” (Attali 2004: 7). To analyze the domination of sight, I posted some photos of the pizza’s progress on my Sounds of Vegan Food blog. I then posted my blog on my Facebook’s wall and asked friends to listen to my project.
I observed from friends that examined blog’s reactions. Most of my friends wrote comments saying they enjoyed the visuals. I then asked if they actually listened to the mp3s and unsurprisingly, they replied, “no.” I then decided to delete the visuals and only added the sounds of food in my project so there wouldn’t be any visual distractions from my sound project. Now, they listened to the recordings. Then, sounds dialogue, dominate, ebb and flow. Sounds dominate other sounds.
But are the dominating sounds different for every person? Can you break away from sounds you recognize to sounds that aren’t familiar to you? Luigi Russolo in “The Art of Noises: Futurist Manifesto,” confirms that, “we must break out of this limited circle of sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds” (Russolo 2004: 11). If hearers became listeners and broadened their literacies to everyday sounds, such as construction workers using their machineries, cars zooming by, or even the sound of someone crunching on potato chips, we would appreciate our surroundings rather than the craving silence.
We have the ability of remembering sights, tastes, smells and sounds. In Simon Kilshaw’s critical evaluation in Gastrosonics (2006), he distinctively addresses that “visual interest can be sustained long after our appetite has been satiated- even after the desire to taste and smell has passed. So too can sound. For we are left with the memory of what we saw or what we heard” (Kilshaw 2006: 6). There are sensors that we have yet to learn to use.
Can I create music with the sounds of food?
Experimental music has becoming part of popular culture today. Everyday sounds and noises are increasingly being heard in the background of pop songs as well as the experimental genre. Noise is becoming less disturbing (Hegarty 2002: 196) when it is mixed, spliced (Gould 2004: 117), cuttable and reversable (Eno 2004: 128) into musical forms. It can provide “hidden delights to the listener instead of producing musical oblivion” (Cowell 2004: 23).
Sounds of cooking food could rectify a memory of a meal that a person enjoyed and relate that to the rest of a song. For instance, musician Imogen Heap used the sounds of a frying pan in the background of her song “Hide and Seek,” (2005) which she said in an interview on UCW entertainment, “certain sounds give the music width and space” (UCW Entertainment: 2005). When I listen to the recorded sounds of food, I immediately thought of ways to possibly create music with them.
Every noise I made has a pitch, even chords, “which predominates among the whole of its irregular vibrations” (Russolo 2004: 12). It inspires me to produce a symphony of sonic food, which I will create in the future. The sounds of food can create an “intervention at the level of meaning, one that challenges existing meanings and patters, leading to questioning (and therefore highlighting the attribution of meaning) and, eventually if not always, in recuperation of noise as a new system (Hegarty 2002: 193). Therefore, all sound is music (Cage 1969). In time, noise will be looked upon as music, rather than an unpleasant commotion.
Recording ambient sounds have progressed throughout the decades with technological equipment. It is easier today to detect noises we hear from recordings. As R Murray Schafer confirmed “The Music of the Environment,” “Since the invention of electroacoustical equipment for the transmission and storage of sound, any sound, no matter how tiny, can be blown up and shot around the world, or packaged on tape, or record for the generations of the future” (Schaffer 2004: 34).
Analysis of sounds can detect particular freshness of foods, such as crunching sounds of vegetables. In the article, “Sounds Delicious” by Marc Abraham (2006) scientists in Austria and Switzerland have been creating a machine that can detect any type and amount of food that a person consumes through microphones. Abraham states, “The scientists listed three different approaches a machine might take in trying to sense someone’s food intake: detecting and analysing chewing sounds; using electrodes mounted on the base of the neck (eg, in a collar) to detect and analyse bolus swallowing; using motion sensors on hands to detect food intake-related motions” (Abraham 2006).
Also, they recorded a similar sonic recording that relates to my sonic recording of a dinnertime scene. Abraham realized that, “chewing sound and speech recording in a room with background music” (Abraham 2006). It is characterized by a four segment sonic that “eating letting, user speaking, eating pasta and music playing” (Abraham 2006). If you listen to my dinnertime mp3, you will notice speech recordings and chewing sounds as well. The purpose of this is to record an everyday experience that everyone can relate to and somehow listen attentively to the sounds they make. As Brian Eno confirms in Ambient Music (2004), “The development of the texture of sound itself as a focus for compositional attention, and the ability to create with electronics virtual acoustic spaces”
(Eno 2004: 95). Also, since technology becomes more interactive, the listeners then infringe on creative boundaries (Oswald 2004: 134).
Can my ears adapt to the sounds of food?
Humans can choose what they listen to, from the music they select, to the words that are coming out of their friend’s mouths in a conversation, just like how people can select what they see from their eyes. Paul Carter confirms that, “Listening is engaged hearing” (Carter 2005: 43). Therefore, I can choose to listen to the sound of food that’s sizzling in a frying pan to detect the texture of tofu I want in my pizza, as I did in the preparation and cooking of food mp3. We can adapt to everyday listening that is “based on listening adequate to the given situation” (Stockfelt 2004: 92).
But can a person listen to every sound that surrounds their environment? Since people have short attention spans, only “clear rhythms, song structures, and voices” (Eno 2004: 94). However, the ear hasn’t adapted itself to the “high industrialized order as readily as the eye” (Eisler, Adorno 2004: 74). The finishing product of my pizza looked appealing to the eye and my friends present agreed as well. But would the sounds of chewing the food have an effect on the pizza that we were eating?
I listened carefully as I munched on the vegetables while I ate my pizza. Despite the incredible aroma of smell and taste, I became satisfied with the crunchiness of the peppers. If the peppers were too chewy and moist, the sound would be different, and I wouldn’t have been as captivated by the sound it produced. I listened to the “sonorous forms without any aim other than that of hearing them better,” (Schaeffer 2004: 78) which identified my analysis of the food in a sonic context.
What did I learn from my practice-based research? Sonic food is heard every time I eat, cook, and shop at the grocery store. Before I practiced listening to the sounds of food, I, like most everyone else in modern day culture, used my eyes (Kahn 1994: 4) to look at food that seemed appealing to eat. When I focused on my listening instead of sight for my recordings, I began to uncover sounds I previously ignored through my ears. I also began to appreciate the everyday noises of my surroundings. It drew in a whole new dimension to my life. It made me contemplate on creating music with the sounds I captured on my Zoom H2. Without today’s technology, I wouldn’t have been able to collect the sounds of food. After listening to my recordings, I discovered even more sounds I used to neglect. Since sound is a “constitutive part of diverse forms of communications in contemporary society” (Jensen 2006: 7), it is vital to start listening to food.
The Sounds of Vegan Food (Caouette 2011) contributes to everyday sounds and sonic literature. The blog teaches listeners and readers the difference in separating direct listening and indirect listening (Schaeffer 2004: 78), but focuses on the indirect listening. However, since I recorded what was known as indirect sounds, I have changed the literature to direct listening. As Jacques Attali states in “Noise and Politics,” recording is a source of power, and the “technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of the apparatus” (Attali 2004: 8). If I give power to my ears while listening to food that sounds produce, then my listening skills can evolve to. detecting healthy and fresh foods from the crunching sounds of vegetables in our mouth, or the cracking sounds of frying tofu.
If eaters are aware of the sounds of food they choose at a store, prepare and cook in their kitchen, and eat at the dinner table, would it have an affect in their visual sense? Douglass Kahn in Wireless Imagination (1994) argues that thinking about sounds through theories in a world that the eye over indulges the ear is indeed difficult to indulge (Kahn 1994: 4). However, since I have a choice to what I see and what I hear, I can switch my senses around and become more vigilant in my hearing, than my sight when it comes selecting, cooking and eating food. The popular phrase “that sounds tasty” can literally mean the sound of the actual food, rather than a person saying what ingredients are in the food.