A lot of people love music, but how many have eaten it? A recent opera performance made that possible, as the breath from mezzo-soprano Louise Ashcroft's singing produced algae that was then fed to the audience. (Gulp.)
It all happened at the Digital Design Weekend at the V&A, a two-day festival of art and technology at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the U.K. After Agri, a collaborative arts group that examines the future of agriculture, affixed Ashcroft with a squid-like mask that looked like something from the nightmares of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and "Alien" movie designer H.R. Giger. As the opera singer performed, the carbon dioxide fed the algae in her mask and nearby tanks, and the algae grew over the course of what was dubbed "The Algae Opera."
The opera envisions a world in the not-so-distant future of 2060 where algae have become the world's dominant food source. According to a recent blog post by Ashcroft, the opera imagines a world where people actually depend on opera singers for their dinners and imagines "how our bodies in the future could be re-designed to eat differently, and how new rituals of eating will create alternative relationships with the 'producer' and enhance the sensory experience of eating."
In another blog post, the singer discussed how she had to adapt her normal performance methods to create optimal conditions for algae growth. "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. 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. "
The actual songs also had an impact on the algae. They were composed and sung so that the algae produced would either be sweet or bitter. According to After Agri, they used the "new science of sonic enhancement" to produce this flavoring effect.
You can get a glimpse of the performance — and the "chef" getting ready to serve the algae to the waiting audience — below.