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Singer/Songwriter Linda Perry’s last meal + how sound can affect taste

LISTEN: Singer/Songwriter Linda Perry's last meal + how sound can affect taste
Linda Perry (Photo courtesy of Linda Perry)

4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry is known for the 1992 hit, “What’s Up.” But since then Perry was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, penning huge hits for Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Gwen Stefani, Weezer, Ziggy Marley and more. Perry is the latest guest on my podcast, Your Last Meal, but it was hard to squeeze an answer out of her.

“I’m vegan and I’m very weird about food,” Perry said. “But as far as what I was going to eat for my last meal, if I was going to eat something… Let me look at it this way: I eat to survive, it’s not for comfort. My mom is Brazilian and we didn’t have money so we lived a lot off of my mom trying to turn Spam into some kind of Portuguese delicacy. We drank powdered milk. I’ve had tuna every single way it possibly could been made. So my first experiences of food weren’t that great.”

Linda’s comfort food is music. She’s happiest playing a piano, singing, recording with other artists. So I chatted with Oxford Professor Charles Spence, who has been studying the relationship between sound and taste for 15 years. Through many experiments, he has determined that people think oysters taste more delicious when listening to sounds of the sea, as opposed to other music and sounds. But certain flavors also correspond with certain sounds. He calls it sonic seasoning.

“Most people will associate sweet tasting foods with high pitched sounds,” Spence said. “Bitter tasting foods like black coffee and dark chocolate with low pitched sounds. Sharp sounds for sour tastes. So we’ve built up this kind of musical menu that people will associate with different tastes and flavors. We then pass those results to sound designers and they will create soundscapes or bits of music that embody the scientific results.”

Then he’ll conduct experiments: food will be served, corresponding music will be played, and people will remark that the flavor of the food changes or tastes better or worse depending on what they’re listening to.

“I think it’s really about accentuating something that’s already there,” said Spence. “If I gave you something that had a little less sugar in it than normal, maybe I could dial back up the sweetness, sonically. That’s exactly the sort of thing that’s going on now in places like [at a particular cafe] in Vietnam where they deliberately have reduced the sugar content of their cakes, their pastries, their drinks, but make sure to play sweet music 24/7 so hopefully the customer’s experience is the same sweetness they’ve always known and love. But it’s delivered with a little bit more sugar on the tongue and a little more sweetness on the ear.”

You may remember a story I did a few years ago about why people drink tomato juice on planes, but not on the ground. Spence explains in the latest episode of my podcast, Your Last Meal. Hear more from him and Linda Perry, where ever you get your podcasts: iTunes, stitcher or yourlastmealpodcast.com

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