No Breakthroughs Without Risks and Failures

At BitterSuite, an audience member samples a physalis with golden syrup and peppercorns for the second movement of Debussy's String Quartet in G Minor. Photo Credit: Marie-Cecile Embleton

At BitterSuite, an audience member samples a physalis with golden syrup and peppercorns for the second movement of Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor. Photo Credit: Marie-Cecile Embleton

London seems to be leading the way in shows that very actively engage all five senses. First, there was the fireworks show, and now there are the BitterSuite symphonies.

It’s a classical concert that makes you smell, touch and taste things as part of the program. Lindsey Winship of The Guardian (UK) describes it like this: “The audience were blindfolded and fed different sensory experiences in parallel with the music: fizzy pop and cola bottles for the effervescent second movement and fingers scampering up your arms in tandem with the first violin, then as the music changed, a scent-soaked silk scarf flickering across your skin, and hands laid on to give a sensation of pressure or relaxation.”

I admire all this effort because it’s very easy to assume that events and productions solely focused on looking and listening are “real,” and everything else is just novelty. I don’t think that’s the case. On the other hand, events where someone is putting things in your mouth by hand probably have a ways to go before they begin to supplant a more passive way of taking in an experience. There’s already a popular format for tasting things in a public place, and it’s called a restaurant.

In the end, I admire the work of people like the producer of this event, Stephanie Singer. Breakthroughs do happen. Forms evolve in ways that are awkward at first, but ultimately become important and powerful. I’d cite the evolution of special effects in movies as a great example of this, especially of the use of special effects to portray things that couldn’t possibly happen in reality. At first, attempts to hang flying saucers from a wire and drag them through a scene were laughable. Then they became merely mawkish. Eventually, with Star Wars and other big steps forward, they weren’t a joke anymore. Now we take it for granted that filmmakers can depict anything they can imagine with enough fidelity that audiences accept the illusion without question.

Does live entertainment need a breakthrough like this? Hell yes, it does. So count me in! I want to taste my next symphony.

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