To celebrate the success of our first presentation of the Sonic Womb Orrb at the Brain Forum two weeks ago, Julian, Eric and I booked at Dans Le Noir, a restaurant in Clerkenwell where you are served dinner in a pitch black dining room. We wanted to experience what it was like to switch off the sense of sight. Would our hearing become somehow acutely heightened?
We were welcomed in an ante room and bar, and asked to select our menu (vegetarian, non vegetarian or “surprise”) and drinks. Then we were led to a corridor to wait for our blind guide to take us into the dining room. Our guide was the dynamic Fabio, from Palermo. He asked one of us to place our hand on his back, and the others to follow in the same way in a mini conga line as he took us into the darkest environment I have ever encountered. Not a single flicker of light for your eyes to latch onto. The noise of the other diners and their conversations was strangely unhelpful as a means of orientation to the size and shape of the room.
As we sat down, it took me some time for an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia to subside. The aggressive cacophony of diners around us gave rise to an irrational fear of being trapped in the dark forever. As I strained my voice to be heard above the noise level, it sounded to me as if it were disembodied. The three of us found ourselves seeking the reassurance of touch by linking our hands together across the table. After a while, and the distraction of the first dish being brought to the table, the habituation to the new environment set in.
If one had to decide which sense takes over from sight in this environment it would definitely be touch, not hearing. Trying to put food inside your mouth you find that using your fingers enhances the taste, as it helps define what the ingredient is. Simple ingredients are easily identified: orange zest, chocolate, strawberries. But any mixed ingredients become impossible to figure out, and indeed we know that food and drink are predominantly identified by smell and sight, not taste.
The most enjoyable part of the evening was at the end of the meal, when we remained the last table of diners, the noise of others having disappeared, and the waiters and waitresses started clearing up. Surrounded only now by the light sound of clatter and our own conversation it starting feeling more like the sound of one’s own home.