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Edible Opera: Artists Turn Music into an Algae Meal (Op-Ed)

The green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
The green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
CREDIT: Bielefeld University

Ailsa Sachdev is an editorial intern at Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club. She is a rising senior at Mount Holyoke College and spent last semester reporting on witchcraft in Morocco. This article was adapted from an article in Sierra. She contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The opera may sound good, but it can taste 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 their installation, which you can watch in this video, the artists 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 apparently determine the algae's color, texture and even whether it will be sweet or bitter.

"The algae mask captures carbon dioxide to grow the algae and requires a non-reflexive breath cycle to maximize carbon dioxide output. This means the singer needs to take the breath cycle to the point of collapse," Ashcroft explained. "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 the algae grow fast enough to harvest after only a short time, the food is served in a sushi-like style. This allows the audience to consume both her song and the environmental motivation of the artists. The Algae Opera sheds light on the potential to advance biotechnologythrough art and opera.

The artists, who studied together at Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom, 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.

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

This piece was adapted from "Edible Opera: How Artists Turn Music into a Meal" in the magazine Sierra. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

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