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The Green Life: Edible Opera: How Artists Turn Music into a Meal

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August 27, 2013

Edible Opera: How Artists Turn Music into a Meal

Algae opera The opera may sound good, but it tastes even better — at least that's what artists Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta (Burton Nitta) think. Together, these masters of design and science have created the Algae Opera, which transforms a singer's voice into an edible experience.

In this installation, they use mezzo-soprano opera singer Louise Ashcroft to highlight humans' unique relationship with algae. The artists designed a special futuristic suit that collects the carbon dioxide exhaled as Ashcroft is singing. This carbon dioxide feeds algae, which  grows during the performances and is later prepared and served. The audience can literally taste her song! The singer has trained herself specially for this project so that she can further enhance her lung capacity to produce the best quality algae possible. The slightest changes in pitch and frequency can determine tone, color, texture, and even whether the algae will be sweet or bitter. 

"The algae mask captures CO2 to grow the algae and requires a non-reflexive breath cycle to maximize CO2 output. This means the singer needs to take the breath cycle to the point of collapse," explains Ashcroft. "In today’s opera tradition, this type of breath cycle is considered inefficient and undesirable due to the issues surrounding sustainability and aesthetic. However, in The Algae Opera, a breath cycle based on a point of collapse is considered efficient and ultimately desirable, for it produces more algae."

With a little fertilizer to help harvest the algae in time, the food is served in a sushi-like style. This allows the audience to consume her song and the environmental motivation of the artists. The Algae Opera sheds light on the potential of biotechnology through art and opera. 

The artists, who studied together at Royal College of Art in the UK, have collaborated on creative research projects to convey how the world can be impacted by technology and science. Their other algae-related projects include Algaculture and AfterAgri

This installation has been shown once at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, United Kingdom.

Watch the video below to see the Algae Opera in action.


-Image courtesy of Burton Nitta

Ailsa smallAilsa Sachdev is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a rising senior at Mount Holyoke College and spent the last semester reporting on witchcraft in Morocco. She is passionate about food and travel, and knows how to say "I'm hungry" in over 10 languages.


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