Photograph by Matt Mcquillan

The Algae Opera, 2012

An opera singer is transformed with biotechnology to form a unique relationship with algae.
The algae, which are a photosynthetic plant-like organism, feeds on the carbon dioxide in the singer’s breath. As an important future food source, the singer’s algae can also be eaten. Alongside listening to her music, the audience can also taste her song. To increase the growth of the algae the body of the singer is trained to use her extraordinary large lung capacity to produce the highest quality algae-product. The composition of the song and the singer’s vocal technique are redesigned to specifically produce algae and enrich its taste. To do this, the composer and singer use the new science of sonic enhancement of food where different pitches and frequencies make food taste either bitter or sweet.

So in the age of biotechnology not only can the audience listen to her talent but they can also savor her unique blend of algae that are enriched by her song.

The role of transformation in The Algae Opera is a physical and cultural one. We identified the opera singer as the perfect body morphology for the production of algae. The singer’s large lung capacity was perfect to exhale the maximum CO2 to feed the algae. To facilitate the process further, the singer, Louise Ashcroft, worked with composer, Gameshow Outpatient, to re-design her singing technique.

The opera aspect of the piece was a second crucial component as we wanted to explore some exciting new research like that carried out by Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford called sonic food enhancement. Gameshow Outpatient and Louise re-designed many conventional operatic techniques. Gameshow Outpatient’s Matt Rogers described the process as:

“We wanted to create a vocal ritual overtly focused on breath as much as singing, since breath is a fundamental connection between singer and algae, with breath control a technical fundament of singing itself. With this in mind we revisited traditional singing techniques to make explicit the role of breath and breath control in them, the impact on tone colour and stamina for example, seeking to explore 'fragility' as much as 'strength'. We wanted the piece to represent an imaginary 'folk' music, born of a Human/Algae symbiote culture where breath itself is the revered symbol of existence.”

Performance at V&A, 22nd September 2012


Photograph by Matt Mcquillan


Louise’s role as a singer was also re-examined and she reflects on the process:

“I have to make a significant shift in the use of breath.  The algae mask captures CO2 to grow the algae and requires a non-reflexive breath cycle to maximise CO2 output.  This means the singer needs to take the breath cycle to the point of collapse. 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. 

In terms of the sonic enhancement of the algae, our relationship to pitch, tone and vocal colour also changes. Tone and colour in the algae framework is no longer linked just to text and texture, but also to flavour. What this means for me as a trained singer, is that I have to re-think technique, the purpose of the voice and explore a new vocal aesthetic to ensure that an algae sound creates food to feed you and me.”

Performance at V&A, 22nd September 2012


As shown in the diagram, the algae suit/mask works by pumping CO2 from the singer to the algae in the tanks. With a little fertilizer the algae feed and grow.
Over a couple of performances the algae population is sufficient enough to harvest.

In the opera piece, a chef strains the algae and uses it to make a sushi-like meal that is fed to the audience.
The two acts of the opera are composed to consist of sound pitches to enhance the audience’s taste of bitterness and sweetness as they eat.
As such, they consume the performer’s talent.









The Alge Opera


Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta

Composer: Gameshow Outpatient

Mezzo-Soprano: Louise Ashcroft

Actor: Samuel Lewis



6 September 2014 for EYE Nights as part of BEYOND BIENNIAL at EYE, Amsterdam

18, 19 May 2013 as part of Dulwich Festival, London
Performances at 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 & 17:00

22, 23 September 2012 as part of the Digital Design Weekend at the V&A, London
Performances at 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 & 17:00












NOW THEN Issue7. OCT - NOV 2013

PiePaper Pie "Food" issue, New Zealand

Article Cómo alimentar las ciudades del mañana on magazine Tapa pul, August 2012


The Observer, Technology monthly September issue, Sunday 15th September, UK

Le Soir CULTURE section, Mercredi 20 Mars 2013 issue, Belgium

Plantmens kan leven van licht, NRC HANDELSBLAD, January 2012, The Netherland

TV / Film TRACKS: Mutant Food by Justine Gourichon, aired on 17th May 2013 (French / German)

Online article highlights

Louise's journal blog Sitting next to the future Algae Opera” Nourishes Algae with a Singer’s Breath, 1st March 2013 The Algae Opera, A Singer's Breath Feeds Algae Which is Fed to the Audience, 28th September 28th 2012 Algae Opera imagines a world where song produces Earth's food supply on culture section by Liat Clark, 27th September 2012 EAT SOME ALGAE AN OPERA SINGER GREW WITH HER BREATH by Irina Dvalidze, 24th September 2012 AfterAgri present The Algae Opera @ V&A by Intelligensius Anarchus, 20th September 2012

Huffington Post: Algae: Art's New Star, Madeline Schwartzman, 10th September 2012






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