Edible Sound by Matthew Herbert

Science Gallery London commissioned artist, musician and composer Matthew Herbert as part of FED UP: The Future of Food.

Edible sound 2Herbert’s response to the commission is Edible Sound, a work that amplifies common ingredients in everyday foods.  Through a series of experiments, Herbert has created audio recordings of a number of ingredients used widely in processed food, etching these recordings via laser cutting technology onto various consumable items. The outcome is the creation of an edible record capable of being played on a record player.

This exploration of the acoustic properties of food, together with Herbert’s interest in industrialised food production, have previously informed his works Plat du Jour and One Pig. Composed of field recordings, these works encourage us to listen to our food and accentuate the unseen mechanisms that are prevalent in today’s food industry.

For his Science Gallery London commission, Herbert directs our attention towards ingredients like sugar. Often consumed without consideration of the levels being ingested, sugar in particular, is a primary component in processed foods with direct links to obesity, diabetes and other health issues. Herbert’s project spotlights this ingredient (amongst others), at a time when the negative impact of high dietary sugar levels on our health, medical services and the economy is a hot topic. Herbert’s interest in sugar stems from its ability to entice consumers in spite of the increasing evidence of its damaging effects.

For a long time I’ve been interested in the idea that microphones should be pointed in the darkest, most hidden corners rather than towards musicians.

The biggest hidden corner is our food. It has become the perfect embodiment of all that is wrong about the system we’ve built: excessive consumption, excessive waste, the subsidising of destructive structures, the control of what we put in our bodies handed to private corporations then all the consequences and clean-up costs borne by the state, trickery, fakery. It’s a triumph of obfuscation and wholly illusory. We very rarely have the chance to witness first-hand the many parts of the mainstream food chain, it now exists out of sight, out of earshot.

It feels like in an attempt to make meaningful change, we need to try and find a new way of listening to the world. After many years listening to the make-up of the food chain in this country, there is one part that I haven’t listened to before and that is the actual material. For this project I’m interested in the idea of listening to the textures and matter of the foodstuff itself, from sugar and chocolate to vegetables and fruit. Is there such a thing as unhealthy listening? And when we’ve heard what it actually sounds like will we still be willing to eat it? – Matthew Herbert

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Science Gallery London facilitates creative collisions between disciplines in order to address and explore some of the most pressing issues of our time. Herbert’s research for this commission has been enhanced and informed by the work of scientists and researchers working in the fields of Dietetics and Health at King’s College London. This new work offers an alternative perspective for audiences wanting to engage with issues around health, nutrition and food production.

Edible Sound was presented as a one off performance at The Guy’s Chapel on 16 March 2016. Herbert played an assortment of edible records to audience of approx. 200 people who were invited to reflect on the foods that informed their creation and the soundscapes produced during the performance. Following the performance the audience were invited to consume the records. Through the project a familiar object was repositioned as a novelty, and the seduction of the new highlighted by the willingness of the audience to eat the records. The participation of the audience underlined our role as active contributors to an economically driven industrialised food system.

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This audio performance was followed by a Q&A session between Matthew Herbert and Dr Daniel Glaser who delved into the many themes of the work with curator, writer and broadcaster Morgan Quaintance.
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