Robert Hodge

Tasting excellence: serial multimodality and metamodal strategies in Noma’s presentation of self 

This presentation combines two concepts, serial multimodality and metamodality, developed through an analysis of textuality surrounding Noma, Denmark’s most famous restaurant. Noma as a site poses some interesting challenges for multimodal practice and analysis. How can Noma use multimedia resources to communicate what can be supposed to be the essence of its message, excellence as an attribute of something eaten and tasted? What kind of multimodal analysis can identify these strategies and their possible effects? 

Serial multimodality describes the processes involved in the generation and circulation of complex texts whereby different multimodal structures are transmitted and transformed into new meanings and effects at different stages. For instance, the Noma multimedia package contains both speech and writing, but the speech is recorded audio, whereas the written text does not reference a prior spoken text. Images record specific dishes, primarily as visual images but also communicating effects of taste, all combining to signify a less sensual meta-signifier ‘excellence’. 

For this complex package of multimodalities to work, makers and receivers of the multimedia package need means of labelling the functions and effects of the different modalities and integrating them in a functional though possibly fissured whole. For this process I use the term metamodality, modelled on and inspired by Bateson’s theories of meta-communication.  

For Bateson normal communication occurs across at least two modes, in his case verbal and non-verbal. He envisaged these two primary modes as having different primary functions carried by contradictory messages, with metacommunication loops assigned the task of assigning meanings and values to different messages across different modes. Weakness in these metacommunication loops led to damaging dysfunctionality, according to Bateson, manifested as schizogenic minds, communication and relationships. 

In this talk I look at Noma’s communication from this double perspective. Can analysis show a subtle but effective control over the relevant forms of serial multimodality? Or could an organization achieve international success by exploiting what might be dysfunctional strategies of communication and uses of modality? Or could both be true, in different respects for different purposes?