Playing with your food is generally frowned upon, but very little is said about playing music with your food. Artists Emilie Baltz and Carla Diana are exploring exactly that concept. Their work Lickestra is a musical performance in which ice cream is used as the instrument.

Gizmag spoke to Baltz who explained that Lickestra uses cones with embedded capacitive sensors. The ice cream sits within the cones and, when licked, causes the sensors to send an electronic signal to an attached Arduino board. The Arduino, in turn, feeds a computer on which a library of melody loops and beats is stored, and that controls the subsequent audio output.

"We worked closely with Arone Dyer, who crafted a four-part composition that included sounds reminiscent of winter icicles and slippery surfaces," says Baltz. "Each Lickestra performer was assigned to one sound and could play them as short blips of sound or longer phrases merely by licking the ice cream in different ways."

Lickestra was conceived when Baltz and Diana began looking at the intersection of design around food and the senses and objects with electronic behaviors. The pair began experimenting with sensors in different foods to see what kinds of interactive edibles they could create. Research was carried out into what sensors would be the least invasive and preliminary ideas were sketched.

The duo studied what types of foods were the most conductive by hooking up alligator clips and checking conductivity. Early experiments included "sonic marzipan" and "audible cocktails" that could be played by sipping them through conductive straws. Ultimately, foods that required licking proved the most promising and so ice cream was chosen as the medium with which to work.

Two performances of Lickestra have been given, at New York's School of Visual Arts and at Specials on C, a bodega-turned-art-space in the East Village. "We used volunteer lickers who were happy to eat ice cream and lick in public," says Baltz. "People became very creative when challenged to showcase licking in public. Some lickers were naughty, sculptural, rhythmic and ballet-like."

Baltz and Diana are developing Lickestra further, using more sounds and compositions to see what the medium can offer. Future iterations will apparently include mapping of conductivity levels to sound qualities, such as tone and tempo.

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