Can You Taste This Song?

The Roots, drawing on neuroscientific research from Oxford, release a new track in two forms—one sweet, one bitter.

The Roots Stella Artois song Bittersweet

We all know how smell can impact how we experience flavor, but did you know that specific sounds can also trigger taste sensations? Oxford University Professor Charles Spence has dedicated his career to researching crossmodal correspondences—i.e. how one human sense, like hearing, can organically impact all the others: sight, touch, smell, and taste. Spence has worked extensively with chefs including Huston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, Ferran Adrià at his research kitchen in Spain and Charles Michel in Colombia. This week, The Roots and Stella Artois have teamed up, tapping into Spence's research to release two versions of a new song called "Bittersweet." The band and the brand say it's a song you can both hear and taste.

"This project fuses two of our passions: music and food," The Roots' Questlove said. "As someone who loves to experiment in the studio and in the kitchen, this crazy unique collaboration inspired by Stella Artois was the perfect challenge. You really have to try it to believe it; it will change your perceptions of food, science, and entertainment."

Here's how it works: there's a high-pitched version of "Bittersweet" that is intended to trigger a taste sensation similar to Stella Artois' sweet and fruity flavors:

And there's also a lower-pitched version of "Bittersweet" for the lager's bitter notes:

Can you hear (and taste) the difference?

Turns out, it's not just sweet and bitter sensations than can be triggered by music and sounds in your environment—through research, Spence has found that perceptions of staleness and freshness and impressions of how fizzy (fizziness?) a carbonated beverage is can also be influenced by auditory cues at different volumes.

"The perception of flavor is perhaps the most multisensory of our everyday experiences," Spence writes in a 2015 paper. "The latest research by psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists increasingly reveals the complex multisensory interactions that give rise to the flavor experiences we all know and love, demonstrating how they rely on the integration of cues from all of the human senses."

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