Algae Opera – Nurturing Algae With Soprano’s Voice

Algae Opera

Algae Opera is a work realized by Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta in collaboration with Mezzo-Soprano Louise Ashcroft, composer Gameshow Outpatient and actor Samuel Lewis that uses a novel approach to cross-wire the sense of hearing and taste using algae. During a performance of this work CO2 gas which is extracted from the singers breath is directed to contained colonies of different types of algae. Since CO2 is the principle food and nourishing substance for the algae, the regulation of the gas through different singing techniques creates different growth rates in the colonies. The concentrations of the gas also affects the flavor of the algae if eaten – there is a direct relationship between the pitch of the voice and the sweetness of the algae. The performance is not without visual spectacle as the singer wears an elaborate biotechnology suit reminiscent of the well-know opera singer segment in the film “Fifth Element.” The headset consists of an organic configuration of tubes collectively taking the form of an alien cephalopod which partially covers the face. The fluorescent tubes carry the C02 to a portable lab where the assistant (actor Samuel Lewis) feeds different batches of the algae the gas. Interestingly the welfare of the algae has a direct consequence on the sound of the performance as Ashcroft writes in her blog: “One of the biggest vocal challenges I have faced is considering how the opera voice, traditionally built for the size of the opera house and therefore requiring a sustained line, is re-built to the food needs of the world’s population as defined by the algae mask. Due to this re-design, the musical structure and performance practice of today’s operatic tradition shift and enter a future state.” The performance concludes with a tasting session so the the audience are able to experience a kind of gustatory synaesthesia.

Paul Prudence