Rosenstock shows the crowd how the microbes in a jar of beer make music as part of his artist talk at the Museum of Natural History. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
“Oh my Gourd! It’s the… GOURD LORD.”

In between the skeletal deer exhibits and the taxidermied tiger eyes that watch over the Harvard Museum of Natural History’s halls lie several bubbling jars of fruits and vegetables on a kitchen counter. They’re playing in a band.

Halfway between a mad science experiment and an ethereal concert, this colorful display of dissolving food is known as the Fermentophone — a multi-sensory art installation in which the bubbles emitted by fermenting microbes control the rhythm of a computer-generated musical performance. Once the fermenting’s done, you can even eat it.

The installation resides in the museum’s microbiology gallery, where fungal slimes and bleached tapeworms haunt the walls. Flanked by fluorescent pink lights and a floor-to-ceiling column of green goop from a local swamp, the Fermentophone and its creator, Joshua P. Rosenstock, entertain the curiosity of the surrounding crowd at this installation’s “Meet the Artist” event. Rosenstock explains to the audience that his aim is to create “serendipitous systems” by “cultivating happy accidents that have the potential to evolve themselves.”

Having already experimented with growing fungi on clothing and sprouting plants out of cell phones in previous artistic projects, Rosenstock concluded that microbes were the ideal candidates for his artistic vision. He explains that “they have their own real, tangible sense of being alive. It has this energy to it, which at times can be really almost explosive, literally.” Several jars prove him right during the performance, momentarily overflowing the containers’ lips to an accompanying climax of musical notes.
For each bubble released from a jar’s fermenting stew of locally sourced produce, a microphone picks up the sound of the escaping gas and synthesizes it into a pluck on a virtual stringed instrument, played in real-time. The chords themselves are drawn from a song Rosenstock chooses beforehand. Today’s musical offering is inspired by “Yankee Doodle,” though previous exhibitions of his piece at Harvard showcased “Fight Fiercely Harvard,” and what Rosenstock calls “the old Tom Lehrer ‘making fun of Harvard song.’ Of course, nobody could tell; it was an in-joke for myself.”

The jars themselves are not entirely Rosenstock’s creation; over the piece’s multi-year history, he has led workshops where members of the public add their own fermentation jars to the display. Though microbes quickly turn the food in the jars to mush, the creators’ intentions live on in the names scribbled on the outside, from the “Bubblenaut 3000” to “Oh my Gourd! It’s the… GOURD LORD.” Rosenstock includes these aspects to make the piece participatory and uniquely personal: “That act of titling your work becomes an important part of saying, ‘This is not just a jar of food. I’m making this my work of art.’”


In the exhibition space, onlookers discuss the work’s convergence of art and science; a few local “fermentation enthusiasts” point out how it bridges ancient practices of fermentation with the modern digital technology required to create melody from microorganism gurgling. The mysteries of the invisible creatures enthrall the audience, whether it is members of the Boston art scene contemplating “the sonification of a cyclical life force” or a pair of young siblings arguing over which jars’ contents they’d dare to eat. “So is broccoli tastier fermented?” their parents ask shortly afterwards.

Most of all, people debate who the artist is — the man who creates the machine, or the microbes that create the music. While the Fermentophone’s notes themselves never settle on a steady pattern, they are never without pattern either; if you let them, they will tempt and tease melody. On closer inspection, even one of its food-fermenting jars, titled “Dinner,” appears to portray the remains of a face rendered with Picasso-esque abstraction — then again, it may just be two peaches and a carrot.

Source: Art’s Not Dead — Just Fermenting | Magazine | The Harvard Crimson

Recent multisensory art articles


How Rutgers is creating a sensory-inclusive museum experience | BTN LiveBIG

Rutgers University Eli Kaberon, March 13, 2020 There are more than 60,000 works in the collection at the Zimmerli Art Museum on the campus of Rutgers University, including paintings and sculptures from all over…
ArtAugmented + virtual realityTechnology

A glimpse of things to come | Deccan Herald

Technology has affected the making of Art immensely, to put it mildly. With the advent of digital art, videos, audiovisual and interactive installations, it is slowly but surely influencing how…

5 benefits of art therapy for mental health | Flux Magazine

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being sucked into an art project, you know how calming and enjoyable it can be. So, it’s probably no surprise to learn that…

Psychedelic Robot In Dallas Is The Coolest Interactive Art Museum | Narcity

psychedelicrobot | Instagram bivinsgallery | Instagram This interactive exhibit is a counter-intuitive approach to the typical stuffy and posh art museum experience we’re used to. At first glance, the new Psychedelic Robot…

San Antonio museum sensory tours allow the blind to again ‘see’ art |

1of10Chris Rodgers, left, who is visually impaired, smells a “white bouquet” scent held by docent Cecilia Roger, right, during a sensory tour at the San Antonio Museum of Art on…

Multisensory art installation have bubbles emitted by fermenting microbes control the rhythm of a computer-generated musical performance | The Harvard Crimson

Rosenstock shows the crowd how the microbes in a jar of beer make music as part of his artist talk at the Museum of Natural History. By Kathryn S. Kuhar Art's Not…

You’ll never guess what this installation is made of…until you smell it | CBC Arts

Noni Kaur's installation at Station Gallery. (Mercedes Grundy) When you walk through the doors at Station Gallery in Whitby, Ont., you're immediately hit with a warm, creamy scent emanating from the inner…
ArtMultisensory ProjectsSoundVisual

How do you brand ASMR without sound? | Digital Arts Online

Shh, it's a secret. The therapeutical phenomenon of ASMR is an interesting one, being essentially an audio stimulus that found fame via the very visual format of YouTube. The medium can be…

Experience a scent from an extinct Hawaiian flower at Eden Project | News | The Cornish Times

Resurrecting the Sublime will be one of the unique attractions at Radical Botany - Photo credit: Resurrecting the Sublime at La Fabrique du Vivant, February 2019. Photo © Alexandra Daisy…

Blind Artist Emilie L. Gossiaux’s Tactile Tattoos at SculptureCenter |

From left to right, Emilie L. Gossiaux's Looking Through the Leaves at Two People Making Out, 2018, oil paint on bedsheet, 55 by 85 inches; Blurry Vision (After Making Out), 2018, oil…

Multi-Sensory Touch to See Art Exhibit gives visually impaired community chance to enjoy art | CW39 Houston

The Multi-Sensory Touch to See Art Exhibit features oil paintings and clay reliefs by world-renowned artist and retina specialist Dr. Stephanie A. Skolik. The exhibit's mission is to make art accessible to…

Students to use scent in artwork for Doctor Aroma competition | Miami Herald

In 2017, Miami Arts Charter Wynwood student Thalia Cardenas won first place and $2,500 for her “Cascada 1st” at the Art of Aromas Scholarship competition hosted by Doctor Aromas Foundation.…

New interactive sound installation opening at the Kelowna Art Gallery this weekend | Kelowna Now

Photo credit: Kelowna Art Gallery A new immersive multimedia sound installation at the Kelowna Art Gallery is set to open this weekend. Experiment in F# Minor, by artists Janet Cardiff…

View announces upcoming exibits | Rome Daily Sentinel

Bird’s Nest — Piece by Susan Behrens. “Textures and Layers: A Walk in the Woods.” This national juried show will be shown from Feb. 1 to March 28. OLD FORGE…

‘When I listen to music, I want to paint those sounds’: what it’s like to live with synaesthesia | inews

Billie Eilish is one of the four per cent of the population to have synaesthesia (Photo: Invision) One of Jack Coulter’s earliest memories is of sitting in his living room…

Feeling Artsy? Here’s How Making Art Helps Your Brain | WMFE

Making art is fun. But there's a lot more to it. It might serve an evolutionary purpose — and emerging research shows that it can help us feel happy and…

Perfume that smells of death features in new Leicester art installation | Leicestershire Live

A perfume that evokes the scent of a decomposing body found in woodland is the subject of an unusual art installation premiering in Leicester this week. The free, multi-sensory exhibition…

Exhibition in Moscow creates unique ‘smell ID’ for visitors | News.cgtn

What would your portrait look like based on your smell? An installation in Moscow is inviting visitors to create their scent portraits and sniff their way through a new exhibition…

Interactive Installations Prod Visitors Out of Their Comfort Zones | Hyperallergic

Installation view of speechless: different by design at the Dallas Museum of Art; Steven and William Ladd, Scroll Space (2019) (photo by John Smith) DALLAS — Most art exhibitions follow a fairly…

SFER IK Launches SCENO: A carefully curated multisensorial inspirational journey | Broadway World

Having established itself as the premier destination for art in the Yucatan Peninsula with holistically inspired, ecologically conscious, and alchemically transformative exhibitions featuring artists such as Cecilia Bengolea, Ernesto Neto…

Why Do People Enjoy Meaningless Splatters of Paint? | Psychology Today Canada

Studio floor used by Jackson Pollock at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, New York. Source: "Pollock-Krasner House studio floor 2" by Rhododendrites, from Wikimedia Commons / CC…

Museums making artworks touchable | ArtsHub Australia

Museums are looking to be more inclusive by making more of their works tactile and explorable through touch. Image Shutterstock. A shift is taking place in museums and the way…

Out of sight – exhibition that explains cancer to blind and visually impaired | Mirage News

Monash University A unique program designed to make science accessible to the half a million Australians who are blind or have low vision will open to the public this Friday…

Beyond sight, colour can be felt, smelled and tasted, say experts who use art to explain the language of hues to the visually challenged | The New Indian Express

By Naaz Ghani Express News Service CHENNAI: Acres of light green tea plantations, a field of bright red tulips or your mother’s sari, colours make the world beautiful. While many play…

‘Making Scents of Outer Space’ & ‘Birding the DoSeum’ | The DoSeum | Art | San Antonio Current

When: Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays, 12-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 12, 2020 Price: $14 Inaugurated in 2017 with Richard Armendariz’s tent-like, wildlife-filled multimedia installation “The…

It’s Time to Rethink Your Data—Including Your Smell Data | WIRED

Library of Missing Data Sets 2.0, by Mimi OnuohaPHOTOGRAPH: DINA LITOVSKY We don’t mean to be impolite, but—your personal data is showing. It’s everywhere. Facebook and Google and Amazon and a million other…


TOM DIXON Tom Dixon’s multi-sensory TOUCHYSMELLYFEELYNOISYTASTY activation was a must-see at the London Design Festival this September, transforming the interior designer’s entire Coal Office complex into an installation filled with “the flavors, the…

Black-Mould Brie, Anyone? An Art Project Comes to the City | Dublin Inquirer

Avril Corroon. Photo by Aura McMenamin. Breaking open a styrofoam box, artist Avril Corroon throws her head back as a strong, feet-like smell wafts up from inside.Corroon is kneeling on…

The Art of Noise, unique pieces that express the student’s colour experiences through their favorite songs | Goderich Signal Star

Bert Church High School art students present The Art of Noise exhibit in APL's Makerspace. Photo courtesy of Airdrie Public Library JPG, AI SHAREADJUSTCOMMENTPRINT Patrons of Airdrie Public Library (APL) will…
ArtAugmented + virtual realityMultisensorySoundTechnologyTouch/Feel/TextureVisual

[INTERVIEW] Extended Reality (XR) exhibit merges fine arts, technology | Korea Times

Choreographers and dancers Park Jina, left, and Heo Ji-eun perform at a set located in Microsoft's Mixed Reality Capture Studios in San Francisco in July 2018. / Courtesy of Production…

Random sensory quotes

Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes