“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

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12 March 2013

AROMA IS MUSIC THEORY ROCKS

Nose A Vibrational Spectroscope
Making Your Wine On The Vibe
Atom Balls, Springs and Strings
by PHILIP WHITE
 

Terroir, eh?  You don’t believe rock flavours wine?  As far as I have heard, 2013 will be a year in which the wines were once and for all blitzed by indiscriminate rock.  Generic cacophonic commercial beat has moved determinedly into the fermenting cellars, laboratories and barrel halls, and I wonder what it will do to the flavours.

The first year I became aware of this increasing intrusion of rock into the winery was at Ken Kies’s Karrawirra Winery at Hoffnungsthal in about 1980.  Apart from the odd line of dramatic operatic melody rolling like gold from the throat of the rare Italian hose-dragger, as you’d hear at Chateau Reynella, the wineries of those days tended to be dusty, dark, quiet affairs.  But at Karrawirra, the speakers were of PA proportion, Lindsay Stanley was the winemaker, and his chosen stone was Rolling, as in Mick’n’Keef.  Tumbling Dice.  I Can’t Get No. Little Red Rooster. 

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Cyclone Clayton massaging the reds with cool midnight blues at the Wirra Wirra all-night bin ends sale, 1992.  We were Vello Nõu, keyboards, Duncan Archibald, drums, Craig "Crabs" Tidswell, saxaphones, Russell Toolin bass,  Jimmy Barker and Philip White guitars.  Some of us could sing after a fashion. Toolin's Fly Me To The Moon always seemed impressive, but then he was really good at Peggy Lee covers.
Oxford psychology Professor Charles Spence was in Adelaide last year explaining his work with UK celeb chef Heston Blumethal.  Together they’ve conducted many experiments on the way human gastronomic behaviours are modified by music.  They are convinced that different sounds can alter the way different foods and wines are interpreted by the sensories. 

This might seem obvious to many.  Mark Shield, the dreadfully missed Melbourne wine writer, made no bones about how the music of Thelonius Monk  influenced his palate as he reviewed wine.  He said he couldn’t taste properly without it, and often referred to different compositions of his favourite jazz composer and player relative to specific wines.

In the seventies and eighties, when I sometimes waited at table at private dinner parties at my place, I became convinced that Brian Eno’s atmospheric Music For Airports greatly enhanced people’s capacity to enjoy dessert.  It was specific to sweetness.  During the cheftaincy of the brilliant Libby Tinsley, the Bridgewater Mill food seemed unsatisfactory without Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue; I loved Schubert’s Trout Quintet until it became so inextricably entwined with the food of Maggie Beer when she played it eternally at The Pheasant Farm that I’ve never been capable of hearing it again without recalling the eight Richter hangovers usually caught at the Winemakers’ Table on Thursdays, and her husband Colin nervously delivering soup, one plate at a time, both hands, while he hissed bitter curses about chardonnay socialists.


Tony V 
by Charles de Brosses
















Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was another favourite classical thing that was tortured to death by ill-witted restaurateurs and waiters in the seventies.  Not only did the repetition bugger my appreciation of the cuisine, but the cuisine became inextricably linked to certain passages of music, tainting them forever.

Listening to Prof Spence last week talking of his latest discoveries with Mark MacKenzie on Radio National’s First Bite, I shivered with horror at the thought of the new wave of prickly and twisty young sommeliers becoming the pests who will, with their choice of ambient noise, be adjusting the way we are expected to love their wine in restaurants.

I cannot think of what it’ll be like when they choose to hit the diner with the musical equivalent of their beloved natural wine. Back to the cassette-recorded soundtrack? 78 rpm acetates? Scritch scritch music; scritch scritch wines.

All this new music/smell stuff is old hat to those of us who suffer -- enjoy is probably a better word for it – any level of synæsthesia, the lovely psycho ailment which confuses the sensories in the mess of wires in the brain.  It seemed brutally obvious to me that the experiments First Bite described would prove, for example, that people in a wine store were much more likely to buy French wine if French accordion music was being played to the unwitting shoppers.

Phil Harris of the University of Melbourne runs one of the world’s first faculties of neuromarketing.  He explained how tests he conducted ten years ago in a liquor store could drive people to buy French or German wines on alternate days, driven by accordion or oom-pa-pah.  Check-out interviews showed that only one in 44 people nominated the music as an influence in their choice of wine: 85% denied the music played any part at all.

Which of course it did.

Harris explained the way music subliminally influences the behaviour of supermarket shoppers as much as product location, lighting and colours, which presents the even more scary notion of members of the Shoppie’s Union controlling our spending behavior with their choice of sonic interruption. Senator Don Farrell can stay right away from the gap between my brain and the brand of arsewipes I choose on one of my rare entries into the local Coles or Woolies.

Music aside, cross-sensory associations make possible half of the stuff I write about wine.  This to me makes up for the scary lack of English language specific to taste and flavour: over many years struggling to relate the feeling, the sensory experience certain wines impart, I have come to depend much on my strange brain’s capacity to fuse flavour and aroma with history as much as memory, often tending to anthropomorphise a headful of flavour and fragrance in an attempt to impart a feeling of human character at least as much as a precise description of the wine’s components or the details of its manufacture. 
So.  Now we have a dancer.  Who will immediately confuse all the above with constant sound and occasional music.  

We can rest assured, or squirm in horror at the notion of the music blaring in wineries at vintage directly influencing the way the winemakers ascertain certain qualities of flavour and bouquet.  It quite obviously influences the very rhythms and pace of their physical work, and the notion of someone in the cellar nursing a visceral dislike for its ambient sonic terroir must raise the possibility of fading concentration when critical manufactory decisions are due.

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.Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz may be a perfume recipe, non?
















To take this one step further, it now appears that there’s an even more direct link between sonics and fragrance.

Excellent science by the boffins at University College London could be confirming the exciting news that vibrations unique to different molecules give substances their peculiar bouquet.

Using the musk molecule, scientists have adjusted the nano-scale vibration emitted by its arrangement of bonds and atoms.

In the scientific journal PLOS ONE, in their paper "Molecular Vibration-Sensing Component in Human Olfaction", scientists “took the musk molecule, which is commonly used in perfumery, and replaced the hydrogen atoms in the molecule with the heavier isotope deuterium. This exchange doubles the hydrogen atoms’ mass, alters the molecule’s molecular vibrations, but leaves the shape of the molecule unchanged.”

This sonic, rather than shape adjustment, makes the molecule smell different.

To provide a revelation which brings intense relief and fascination to a bloke like me, who regularly relates aroma to music, when not confusing the two outright,  Dr Luca Turin - click for older background - reported “This work shows that altering molecular vibrations of molecules changes their smell. Receptors in our noses are acting like tiny spectrometers to identify molecules by their vibrations.”

It’s not too big a stretch of theorising to therefore suggest that not only is there a proven link between music and human behaviour, meaning sonics can influence the way people actually work in a winery, but also the dramatic suggestion that sonic vibration determines the aroma of things, long before they get up our noses.

So get over your outdated disbelief of my theory that the rocks of the Earth play a vital role in terroir and therefore flavour, and get ready for the much more challenging notion that aroma itself depends on the vibe.

Just personally, I’d rather take my wine from a cellar soothed by the rhythms and tunes of Kind of Blue, Bach or Brian Eno than a rock joint shattered 24/7 by Metallica. 

1 comment:

Scott said...

You would have enjoyed the OZ Wine Cabaret at the fringe. Five wines matched with music to set a mood. Very well done, something worth expanding on.