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Joe Chris Rolls Out Sonic Tastings; Curated Musical Experience That Makes Sound & Food An Immersive Experience
By Tina Traster
Joe Chris is a young talented music composer and entrepreneur – a pairing Chris hopes will open doors. Speaking of pairing, Chris, whose real name is Joe Hahnenfeld, is using his entrepreneurial chops to develop a unique alignment – curated musical experiences with food and beer tastings.
What Chris is selling is not just background music designed to enhance a culinary event; rather the arranged music is a custom-designed soundtrack composed to be part of the sensory and immersive pleasure of sipping a specific craft beer. Over the course of these events, known as Sonic Tastings, participants sample four flights of beer and nibble on finger foods while listening to guided compositions for each beer.
Two Ladders Brewing Company in West Nyack will be holding Sonic Tastings monthly; the next event will be held on August 12, and a portion of the proceeds for the ticketed event will go to People to People, the food pantry in West Nyack. Chris has been test-driving the pairings concept at other breweries over the past year, including Industrial Arts Brewing Company in Garnerville, Stony Point Brewing Company in West Haverstraw, and Slate Point Meadery in Poughkeepsie.
The concept is novel – and hard to sell because it’s tough to explain – but Chris, 25, is all in. The 2020 Berklee College of Music graduate, who studied music composing, scores for films and video games but this concept is a personal passion.
“This is not just about putting music to an event,” said Chris, who lives in Nanuet. “This is about curating an experience. Sure, you can play Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran while you serve beer and wings, but Sonic Tastings is more than background music. The music is elemental to the experience. It goes one step further to stir an emotion, to conjure an image.”
It’s what composer Ben Houge, Chris’s inspiration, calls a “whole new genre of audio gustatory expression.” It’s an attempt to answer Houge’s TedX talk question “What is the sound of asparagus?” Houge has used music to “score a meal.”
In short, Sonic Tastings is a derivative of this concept – an immersive experience, like so many curated events these days.
Scrappy but focused, Chris began racking up music composing gigs while still in college – short films, video games, podcasts. He’s a Gen Zer who knows his way around social media and Instagram, and he’s a good networker. He’s done his share of cold calling but says working on one film often leads to a second gig or opens a door to someone else who’s looking for someone to compose. And though his resume is growing organically, he’s also committed to this somewhat uncharted field of pairing music and tasting, and hopes word of mouth is his best salesman.
He says he thinks the fascination started in the Rain Forest. Not in the Amazon Jungle but in the Palisades Mall where, as a young boy, he ate with his family in the themed restaurant, the Rain Forrest Café, that enveloped diners with the experience of thunder and lightning cracks and animal noises to enhance the food experience. The restaurant is no longer at the Palisades Mall but it left a lasting impression and stirred his curiosity about the juxtaposition of food and music as he played and studied at college.
“In film, the composer is the last writer in the movie,” Chris explained. “The writer creates the script; the director brings it to life, and the composer brings out the subtext.”
The composer, who has a deep appreciation for craft beer, believes the act of eating and drinking is a tableau where elements impact the experience. We all know how lighting, sound, ambiance can change the tenor of a meal or even sitting at a bar. But music is Chris’s way to orchestrate a moment, to make his mark, to express. He says there’s a canon of food science to support the kind of work he’s doing, pointing to Ben Houge’s Food Opera concepts. He says he’s emulating Houge’s concept but streamlining it to one particular drink at a time.
To do this research, and to network, Chris sidles up to the bar and, well, drinks. He’s looking to understand the complexities of the craft and to cement relationships, which makes it easier to sell novel concepts. When he canvasses a brewery, he says he sits down with the tap room manager to gain a true understanding of what makes a beer special or unique.
“I have them walk me through it,” he said. “Like when I’m composing a film script, which is called a ‘spotting session’. The beer has a story to tell.”
The upcoming Two Ladders event, which costs $34.10 per person, includes a flight of four beers, four wing varieties from Chomped food truck and four original scores.