Bone Conducting Lollipop

To what extent can cultural synaesthesia, through the union of sound and taste, allow people to experience their lives differently?

What did the project involve? 

The Bone Conducting Lollipop was an innovative confectionary that allows a person who has impaired to normal hearing, to hear music in their head through bone conduction. The project was born out of a project called OPUS:

OPUS explored the public’s flavour associations to musical sounds that formed a consensus, which was used to create a performance. For example, when a cymbal was played, the majority of people’s responses (from public workshops) associated that sound with fizzy lemon. The combination of experiencing these senses that were synaesthetically linked enmass, formed powerful reactions from audience members. The bone conducting lollipop was formed to unite the experience of hearing sound with tasting the corresponding flavour very closely. The experience is positively surreal to hear music in your mouth.

Prior to this stage of the project, the team were able to make the BCLP as small as possible, with wireless and bluetooth technology.  This next stage of the project sought to:

  • Complete the six prototypes to form FDA silicon approved casing and mould that allows the lollipop to be coated with a flavour, using healthy ingredients to form a flavour coating rather than sugar.
  • To explore who might benefit from using the BCLP within health and performance contexts.
  • To develop workshops that marry sound and flavour in exploratory ways for people interested in sensory interaction.

Through this the project aimed to finalising the design of a Bone Conducting Lollipop, which was to be used with children and young people, including, but not limited to, those experiencing hearing loss. By collaborating with an audiologist, children with hearing loss had an opportunity to find out more about their hearing in a fun way, outside the clinical environment. The project explored whether children with hearing loss perceive sounds and their interaction with other senses differently to children with unimpaired hearing. There was also potential for this to be explored with children with hearing loss & learning disabilities; this could be a great way of engaging with children in a way that doesn’t require words.

The project comprised of:

  • 4-6 workshops with the Bristol City Council to work with families and children with hearing/vision support teachers who work with children with sensory impairment. The aim was to enable families and children to live well with hearing loss, and to engage children themselves in discussing and exploring their own hearing loss (which they may not have had much opportunity to do before).
  • These workshops comprised of user testing of the BCLP where appropriate, alongside exploratory workshops to investigate how sound can be reinterpreted to explore a child and or young person’s hearing. These workshops allow for the synaesthetic approaches to be iteratively developed, something which Sabrina had carried out with BBC See Hear.
  • A scratch performance with University of Bristol musicians to explore how instruments can be contained in a performance, for their sound to be experienced with flavour and bone conduction via the lollipop.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Simon Shaw-Miller (History of Art, University of Bristol) is an art historian interested in non-clinical synaesthesia and cross modal sensory perception from a cultural point of view, especially as it is manifested in the relationships between the visual and audio​.
  • Amanda Hall (Audiologist, St Michael’s Hospital) is a clinical scientist at the Children’s Hearing Centre specialising in paediatric audiology. Her research is on the impact of hearing loss on children and families; she is interested in how best to support families and children who may be more “at risk”, such as children with learning disabilities. She is also interested in how audiologists can communicate more effectively with families and children around treatment and support for hearing loss, and has been involved in developing tools to support this.
  • Neal Farwell (Music, University of Bristol) is a a composer and conductor, with vast subject knowledge to aid in the selection and  categorisation of the musical examples.
  • Anne Roudaut (Computer Science, University of Bristol) is co leader of the BIG group and a researcher in Human Computer Interaction. She promotes a highly multi-disciplinary research agenda to radically rethink the way we build digital technologies for end-users.
  • Sabrina Shirazi (Pervasive Media Studio) is an artist and resident of the Pervasive Media Studio. Her work is highly collaborative with residencies at Watershed and At-Bristol to develop OPUS. Her work is linked to the Deaf community in Bristol and she has conducted workshops for BBC See Hear’s Deaf channel and the charity Unlimited. Sabrina also worked with members of the original OPUS team: Creative and audio experts Luke Saxton,  and Joseph Horton, creative technologist Ashley James Brown and neurologist Tim Senior.

What were the results?

After user testing and development the team created prototypes of a sound conducting ‘lollipop’ which was inedible but was held against the sternum to conduct sound vibrations in a novel and interesting way.

The team also held interactive performances in which they explored how sound and music affects the taste of food.