Skip to main content
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

ArtInterestingMultisensoryTouch/Feel/TextureVisual
16/04/2021

Chemist shop stocked with 15,000 items made entirely from felt | Evening Standard

Gallery assistant Scarlett Taulbut behind the counter of artist Lucy Sparrow’s NHS themed felt chemist art installation / PA Wire Artist Lucy Sparrow has created the Bourdon Street Chemist in Mayfair, where…
ArtMultisensorySmellVisual
12/04/2021

Scents in Colour: virtual see-and-smell tour | Apollo Magazine

A Grocer’s Shop (detail; 1717), Willem van Mieris. Mauritshuis, the Hague While some museums are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Apollo’s usual weekly pick of exhibitions will include shows at institutions…
ArtInterestingMultisensoryTouch/Feel/TextureVisual
08/04/2021

Japan’s teamLab melds museum and sauna in fresh digital art experience | Reuters | Business | The Chronicle Herald

By Antoni Slodkowski TOKYO (Reuters) - A wall of flower petals bursts into a thousand fragments. A huge ball levitates in the air, turning from red to blue to purple.…
ArtMultisensorySmellSoundVisual
05/04/2021

Our Seaside Town – new exhibition to open at Scarborough Art Gallery | Bridlington Free Press

The early 20th century ice cream cart which used to operate on Scarborough’s South Bay beach can be seen as part of the display at the town's art gallery in…
ArtSoundVisual
24/03/2021

EDM-graffiti collab at Shanghai show offers new audiovisual experience – CGTN

Chen Yingjie's new work "Gravity XL." /Pearl Art Museum At a new Shanghai art exhibition, beats and brushstrokes melt together into one sensory feast that pushes young artists – and…
ArtExperientialVisual
23/03/2021

This Psychedelic Grocery Store Is an Immersive Art Experience in Las Vegas | Travel & Leisure

CREDIT: KATE RUSSELL There are lots of reasons to plan a trip to Las Vegas: casinos, resorts, shows, and now... a grocery store. But this isn't your regular grocery store, it's…
ArtMultisensorySmellVisual
23/03/2021

The Hague’s Mauritshuis brings smells to the museum (VIDEO) | Malay Mail

'Smell the Art: Fleeting ― Scents in Colour' will allow visitors to the Mauritshuis to take in the smells of the Netherlands in the 17th century. ― Picture courtesy of…
ArtInteresting
19/03/2021

Use Art to Reignite Your Team’s Motivation | HBR

Illustration by David Biskup As remote working drags on for many, it may be time to re-energize employees who are feeling bored or uninspired. Techniques from five artistic disciplines can…
ArtSoundVisual
08/03/2021

Now you can not only see but also hear art, thanks to new Google tool | The Print

Google Inc. logo (Representational image) | Photo: Krisztian Bocs | Bloomberg As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colours of…
ArtMultisensoryTasteVisual
06/03/2021

An evening of chocolate and art at the first Chocolate Fantasia | KD News

Garret Colvin, Teresa Colvin, and Sarah Kinney admire artwork that was created by CCISD student Julius Robinson, which was during the first Chocolate Fantasia. The event was held Friday February…
ArtMultisensorySmellVisual
02/03/2021

Watch and sniff: how to smell a Dutch still life… | The Guardian

‘Is Dutch art actually able to evoke smell?’: Jan Miense Molenaer’s The Five Senses: Smell, 1637, leaves little to the imagination. Photograph: Mauritshuis, The Hague Fetid canals, flowers and fresh…
ArtMultisensorySmellVisual
09/02/2021

Nigerian artist creates rotting exhibit as coronavirus warning | NY Post

LAGOS – Nigerian artist Olufela Omokeko carefully arranges fresh peppers on wooden boards hanging in a bare room. Instead of providing spice in a meal, he wants them to encourage…
ArtInterestingMultisensoryTouch/Feel/TextureVisual
04/02/2021

New Partnership Lets the Blind Experience Pictures Through Touch | Associations now

A collaborative effort will provide access and inclusion to blind and disabled populations by delivering more than 45 million tactile images to museums, science centers, libraries, schools, and government agencies.…
ArtEntertainmentMultisensoryTouch/Feel/TextureVisual
18/01/2021

Immerse yourself in a digital art sauna at teamLab Reconnect in Roppongi | Timeout Tokyo

Photo: teamLab‘Levitation’ This limited-time teamLab installation in a Tokyo bathhouse and sauna will open in March this year It’s easy to say teamLab is huge in Japan – not only are the teamLab…
ArtHealthMultisensory
18/12/2020

The art of masking: autistic women and their experiences of diagnosis | SW Londoner

The art of masking: autistic women and their experiences of diagnosis “A lot of women are told they don’t look autistic, or don’t seem autistic.  “I don’t know what we’re…
ArtMultisensorySoundSynaesthesiaVisual
17/12/2020

Braun: Sound, Designed by The Wild | Creative Works | The Drum

‘Sound, designed.’ is the first major piece of creative work by The Wild for Braun Audio and its new LE speakers range. The campaign's conceptual film features synaesthetic artist Jake-Andrew…
ArtMultisensorySoundVisual
17/12/2020

‘Museum Fiasco’ is the first museum of its kind in Las Vegas | KSNV

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — The first Kunsthalle-style museum is being brought to Las Vegas with Museum Fiasco at AREA15. Kunsthalle-style museums are a non-collection-based museum hosting rotating exhibits. There are currently…
ArtNeuroscienceSynaesthesia
02/12/2020

Paint, Sculpture and Datasets: The Stimulating World of Neuro–Art | Technology Networks

Virgilio Vogels, Desert Room. Digital painting, print. Vogels depicts the situation of a patient diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in a psychiatric clinic. Image credit: Virgilio Vogels EDGE’s recent neuroscience–art exhibition…
ArtEmotionsMemorySmell
19/11/2020

Welcome to Our Museum of Smells | The New York Times

Produced by Jaspal Riyait and Melissa Kirsch With Tejal Rao Photo illustrations by Will Anderson The restaurant critic Tejal Rao recently created a “personal smell museum” of her life in Los Angeles, cataloging the aromas she…
ArtScientific
05/11/2020

At the convergence of art and science, ecology becomes an experience | The McGill Tribune

(Mycocene / Somme Collective) On Oct. 29, The Convergence Initiative hosted their popular Sci-Art/Art-Sci event, a webinar about the work of scientists, artists, and researchers at the intersection of science, art, and communication. Matthew Halpenny,…
ArtMultisensory
26/10/2020

Food in the arts? Why we need to consider the trend an artform | Kulturehub

PHOTO CRED: FORGETTING HOW TO EAT BY ALLIE WIST When we talk about Art, with capital A, we tend to prioritize senses of sight and sound. Things we can see…
ArtMultisensoryTasteVisual
16/10/2020

Kaiser Gallery bringing multimedia art and curated cocktails to Tremont | cleveland.com

Kaiser Gallery is set to open in October or November in Tremont. (Images courtesy Morgan Bukovec, Gary Sczerbaniewicz, Allison M. Walters) CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Craft cocktails will be paired with…
ArtInterestingMultisensoryTasteVisual
30/09/2020

Food artists using slices of bread as their canvas! | Hindustan Times

Your everyday slice of bread has got a delightful makeover, with food artists using it as their canvas! Raising a toast has got a new meaning in the new normal,…
ArtMultisensorySoundVisual
16/09/2020

The Arts Council of Princeton Presents “Art and Music: Touching Sound” | NewJerseyStage.com

(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Arts Council of Princeton presents Art and Music: Touching Sound, a collaboration between the Princeton Artists Alliance and Mobius Percussion. The exhibition, featuring paintings, drawings, and sculpture,…
ArtEntertainmentMultisensory
14/09/2020

Immersive art experience hops into permanent San Antonio space | CultureMap San Antonio

Ramble through the Rainbow Cave this fall. Courtesy photo The merging of technology and social media has birthed an interesting trend in modern art: the interactive art installation. As artists create work…
ArtEducationMultisensorySmellVisual
11/09/2020

WAR Flowers: A Touring Art Exhibition Brings Century-Old Wartime Experience to Life Through Floriography, Sculpture and Scent | City of Mississauga

City building | September 10, 2020 WAR Flowers: A Touring Art Exhibition opens at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga on September 17. The unique and historically-based exhibit, offers visitors a unique…
ArtInterestingSmell
03/09/2020

This Smell Synthesizer Lets You Sniff And Play Flavors Like Music | Popular Science

Smell Synth Nadia Berenstein  What do you get when you mix "cheesy vomit" with "popcorn"? What about when you add "hazelnut," "coriander seed," and a whiff of "smoke"? Starting October…
ArtEntertainmentMultisensorySoundVisual
31/08/2020

Multisensory,feverish percussive efficiency and mind-altering digital composition | Herald Planet

This week we’ve explored the topics and theory of two major works from Berlin-basically based entirely efficiency duo LABOUR. For Farahnaz Hatam and Colin Hacklander, inventive expression and philosophical investigation…
ArtPheromonesSmell
31/08/2020

The Pheromonophone Lets You Reach Out and Smell Someone | WIRED

PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES FOR TWO DECADES, the artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats has been producing works that explore how we humans perceive ourselves and our place on this planet. He does this…
ArtMultisensorySmell
24/08/2020

Identity, memory find expression in new media designer Kadambari Sahu’s multi-sensorial installations | Lifestyle News,The Indian Express

Kadambari Sahu has presented these installations in multiple forums and venues, including at Hyderabad’s State Art Gallery (2018) and Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (2019), Interaction ’18 (Lyon) and Interaction ’20 (Milan).…
Close Menu

Random sensory quotes

“It’s really beautiful music with great emotion to it.”

— Gary Shaw