The Flavour Conductor

Bompas & Parr unveils world’s first working Flavour Organ in conjunction with Johnnie Walker - London, September 2014

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The latest neuro-scientific knowledge combines with the craft of church organ-building in a pioneering multi-sensory installation that reinvents whisky appreciation.

Sam Bompas and Harry Parr curated a team of artists, designers, organ specialists, composers and experts in theatrical production to produce a one-of-a-kind musical instrument: a magnificent church organ built according to centuries of tradition that combines with a contemporary sound and light spectacular.

The organ – dubbed The Flavour Conductor – brings to life for the first time a vision only previously articulated in literature. Originally described in A Rebours, the 19th Century decadent novel by J. K. Huysmans, in which the flavour organ gives taste to the delights of music, through to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, novelists and scientists have dreamed of an instrument where notes and melodies correspond with smells, tastes and flavours.

The project was designed to help whisky drinkers – new and experienced – better appreciate the complex flavour profile of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, simultaneously amplifying the taste profile of the whisky in your glass in a multi-sensory theatrical performance with The Flavour Conductor at its centre, demonstrating the sensorial power of music coupled with visual, aromatic and haptic cues to reinforce the different nuances of the whisky.

The project saw Bompas & Parr exploit the latest flavour science to come out of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory to inform the creation of bespoke musical composition, visual effects and the commission of a church organ from one of the country’s oldest organ specialists, Mander Organs, a London company which built the organ gifted to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by the City of London on her Jubilee.

The Flavour Conductor was unveiled at Symphony in Blue in September 2014 as part of an immersive and theatrical experience by Johnnie Walker Blue Label, using the latest techniques in projection mapping, lending the instrument an ever-changing organic form, the images and sound correspond in a manner scientifically proven to influence the perception of taste.

See more about Symphony in Blue here. 

For the audience, every member with a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue Label in hand, the flavour of the liquid in their mouths will change and evolve through six essential flavour characteristics as the sound and images in front of them change. The sounds of the organ's pipes themselves were ‘voiced’ following extensive sensory research with Professor Charles Spence.

From November 2014, The Flavour Conductor embarked on an epic Grand Tour over the next year, taking its ground-breaking approach to whisky- tasting as far afield as Madrid, Berlin, Toronto, New York, Johannesburg, Lagos and Malaysia.

Photography by Rob Lawson, Getty Images and Ann Charlott Ommedal.