The Lickestra isn’t like other orchestras. Nor, exactly, is it like an ice cream parlor, though it’s closer to that than most musical performances. It’s an orchestra consisting solely of ice cream cones, which have been turned into digital musical instruments that can only be played by licking them.
Lickestra was created by designers Carla Diana and Emilie Baltz, doing a joint residency at the School of Visual Arts. “We challenged ourselves to find the intersection between our passions,” writes Diana in an email. “Mine is objects with electronic behaviors and [Emilie’s] is design around food and the senses.” They approached Arone Dyer, a musician who often uses homemade instruments, to help them compose the music, and then performed the Lickestra at an art space in a former bodega in the East Village.
So, how does it actually work? Writes Diana:
The conductive ice cream works by being placed within a cup that in turn sits inside plastic cones that have capacitive sensors embedded within them. The sensors can perceive when ice cream in the cup is touched. The cones are then perched atop pedestals and performers stand inside them with just heads and shoulders exposed, so the only way they can interact with the ice cream is through licking. When a tongue (or other body part, really) makes contact with the ice cream, the signal is sent to an electronic board and then to a computer.
The ice cream, luxuriously enough, was Big Gay Ice Cream Truck’s very delicious cayenne chocolate. The instruments really were instruments, though, in the same way that a theremin is an instrument. Each cone has it’s own tone, which could be altered in pitch or length or timbre by the way they’re licked. Writes Diana:
We worked closely with Arone Dyer, who crafted a 4-part composition that included sounds reminiscent of winter icicles and slippery surfaces. 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.
It is, of course, completely ridiculous, but, writes Diana, the members of the audience were also given ice cream, which elevates the project to the sort of ridiculous thing I’d probably go to. At least in the summertime.