I have never put much thought into bread – I buy it, I toast it, I make sandwiches out of it, and have even tried to bake it, but not once have I really thought of it as a metaphor for “bodily and spiritual sustenance” or what it could represent about our gendered relationship with food. Not even bread baker extraordinaire Paul Hollywood made me pause long enough to ponder a panini. However, I stopped eating and started reading when I heard about Contemporary Connections’ new project: Sounding Food and Music where our relationship with, and the relationships between food, eating, dieting, gender and sound are explored through historical artwork and contemporary compositions.
Sounding Food and Music has done just this; the work created on the subject of food production and consumption comes together with a commissioned piece by Amy Cunningham to create a concert in which Cunningham’s piece is performed by the Centenary Ensemble. Unique to this performance is the way history is used to thread these ideas together. There is Helen Bowater’s musical interpretation of the poem Frivolous Cake by Mervyn Peake, in which the flute stars as the cake – that is being pursued by a knife across the sea. You see where the frivolity comes from? But the issues dealt within the poem (and indeed the book Titus Groan in which it features) couldn’t be more pertinent when teenage girls and their relationship to food and body image is a much discussed topic everywhere from newsrooms to coffee shops. There are also the more modern aspects of our relationship with food that come through, for instance the revolution of refrigeration manifests itself in Amy Cunningham’s piece through the familiar low hum of a fridge that is woven in with the sounds of the cello.
If we return to bread, we can see the collaborative nature of Sounding Food and Music. Another component of the performance is the composition I am Bread by Nicola LeFanu in which she reimagines the poem Bread by Brendan Kennelley – there is much the music can tell us in the way it has necessarily transformed the poem by creating a composition. There is also much to learn from the original poem in which the poet reflects upon watching his grandmother make bread. It is a way to delve into our understandings of the age old rituals that surround the preparation of food, where in many cultures this is the domain of the woman. The various inputs and interpretations of one artistic creation allow different debates to come to light from the rituals of food preparation, the gendered or class based aspect to the question “what shall we have for dinner?” to the increasing sexualisation of consumption (remember Nicole Scherzinger and that yoghurt? Funny how it probably wouldn’t work with other types of food … gravy, for example.)
The collaborative nature of the project extends further as there will be an online archive based on people’s responses to the following questions:
What music do you listen to while you cook or eat?
Do you sing certain tunes while cooking or eating particular foods?
Do certain sounds elicit certain tastes for you or vice versa?
Do certain pieces of music remind you of particular foods or special meals?
Do you use food in your musical activities (when composing or performing)?
Do you alter your diet when performing or composing?
Do you use music to help you diet?
This allows for a snapshot of how our everyday lives revolve around food and music, and helps us to process the questions raised by the project. Similar to the way we each have our own ways of enjoying food and music, Sounding Food and Music is available for your delectation in the following ways:
Concert on December the 6th @ The Old Market, Brighton
Free exhibition @ Brighton Jubilee Library 19th-31st January 2015
The online archive will be available on this website:
Words: Lucy Michaeloudis
Images: Peter Seddon