4 Jun 2005

About intersections - music, chemistry and food

In my opinion, some of the most interesting and creative things happen in the intersections between fields of interest. My fate is being both experimental chemist and experimental musician/percussionist, maybe a less-that-obvious combination to look for intersections, but none the more a good reason to construct one. I'm not talking about the more obvious connections between music and chemistry/food/taste/smell (see below), but intersections where chemistry/food/... has a direct impact on the creation or (in my case) performance, of music.

Playing in a improvisation-based jazz trio (just start playing, no songs, arrangements or agreements), I'm constantly looking for things that could trigger new musical ideas. Visual triggers are relatively common (Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Kari Bremnes and Edvard Munch), but what about scent or taste? What kind of improvised music would result from the scent of rotten eggs, roasted meat, cinnamon etc.? And next: what if the scent was created on-the-go carrying out the chemical reactions while playing? This tastes of futurism, doesn't it? Another idea could be to feed digital data from chemical measurements and analyses into a music computer program using some sort of conversion from chemical data to pitch, rhythm, tempo, dynamics and so forth.

Master chef Pierre Gagnaire has some fascinating thoughts about similarities between music, improvisation and gastronomy, among them:
"[...]I imagine a flavour like a melody, then explore new ground with anxiety but determination to shape an ephemeral jewel from the magical treasures of discovery[...]" - beautiful, and such a striking description of my experiences from freely improvised music as well!

Also, a possibly interesting compilation of scientists/musicians/composers is the New Trier High School Mixing Art/Music and/or Science and Math page

A few more obvious (and thus less interesting?) connections between music and food, molecular gastronomy, chemistry:
- music to accompany food (background music in restaurants). This could be interesting if the music actively comments the food (or vice versa), or even better, if they affect each other.
- musicians/composers that are/were chemists; i.e. A. Borodin)
- chemistry in making instruments; materials, lacquer/varnish etc. (less interesting, maybe, because it's too far a reach for me...)

The search goes on, at a slow pace however, as this is a long term project.



  1. Thanks for the blog. I think folks today are so mixed up when it comes to nutrition, food, vitamins, etc.

    The best to you.

    Terry Finley

  2. Anonymous14 July, 2005


    I was struck by your musings on the possible relationships between food/chemistry and music. I am a mathematician and much has been written about math and music. But I am unaware of anything on math and food (other than converting quantities). I would very much like to know whether this "third side of the triangle" has ever been explored.

    David Poole

  3. Anonymous20 July, 2007

    I was amazed to find others who are interested in both fields so much. I am studying a double major in musicaology and chemistry (with the hope to one day do something that involves both things). Right now the only thing I can do is choose one of two paths or just do them both separately. I would be very much interested in hearing about any developments or opportunities in both fields integrated together. I've also always been fascinated with the way that foods (fruits or vegetables) grow - especially the inside of the cabbage with all it's shapes tangles. I've always thought that it has to do with mathematics (although I am not a mathematician so I don't know).

    Thanks for this new enlightement.



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