Unsound presents: Ephemera. The smell of Bass, Drone and Noise.

I will open 2015 with one of the most exciting perfume-related experiments in quite some years. In April 2014, curators Malgorzata Plysa and Mat Schulz from Unsound (a festival focused on commissioned works and unconventional music) launched the Ephemera project: a synesthetic experiment in which avant-garde perfumer Geza Schoen translated into scents rough patterns of sound composed and produced by three of the most influential musicians in their respective genres.

From the Ephemera website:

"Ephemera was first conceived as an installation, to emphasize the synesthetic properties of the project, with visitors immersing themselves in scent, sound and visual elements. The aim is to explore a disorienting and rewarding interzone where the human senses blur. The focus on the olfactory opens up new interactions between scent and sound, image and light, the material and the immaterial. 

The installation was first launched at Unsound Festival New York in April 2014 in the compact space of Audio Visual Arts, with Bass, Noise and Drone presented at various times. 
The second phase takes place at Unsound Krakow from 12 - 19 October 2014 at the National Museum of Krakow, Szolayskich House, across five rooms. The Noise, Drone and Bass rooms also contain an improvised structure created by Piotr Jakubowicz. In two separate rooms, Marcel Weber (MFO) and Manuel Sepulveda present visual reinterpretations of these fusions of scent and sound in a form of video works and graphic patterns printed on canvas. 

From 23 - 26 October, Ephemera will travel to the Tromsø Center For Contemporary Art in Norway, to be installed as part of Insomnia Festival"

What came out are three fragrances called *Bass*, *Noise* and *Drones* inspired by the respective sounds.

Here are my takes on these compositions:


"For Steve Goodman, the idea of Bass connects with childhood memories triggered by the sound and the accompanying scent he remembers of a broken, burning vacuum cleaner. Geza Schoen translated this to a scent which opens with woodsmoke and rum notes, developing into leather, mastic, and tea notes, and finishing with castoreum and moss, among other scents".

*Bass* is based on a pattern of sounds by musician Steve Goodman aka Kode9, owner of the UK-based electronic / dubstep / bass-msusic / post-techno label Hyperdub which is responsible for more than 100 releases by seminal artists such as Burial, Fholston Paradygm (aka King Britt), Martyn and DVA amongst several others. The fragrance strikes as one of the most relevant mastic-prominent compositions currently available on the market. A mix of woody notes which is somewhat related to the work Geza Schoen did for german designer Anat Fritz, enriched by smooth smoky elements and hyper-green / almost astringent angelica while a warm, deep and completely enveloping combo of leathery castoreum and mastic gives birth to a fragrance which is pulsating, throbbing and well rounded, just like low frequencies are. There's a remarkable human factor to Bass, something about its warmness, its animalic facets, its ability to feel alive but, at the same time, it's juxtaposed to an overall sense of detachment. It's like part man part machine. It's warm, bass-driven music generated by a human via electronic devices such as synths, softwares and controllers. It's a human sweating while dancing in a club with the biggest subwoofers ever.

To sum it up, we've experienced several fragrances which included mastic amongst their notes (Masque Terralba, Sysley Eau D'Ikar, Comme Des Garcons Chalayan Airborne and Testa Maura Carticasi to name only a few) and while I liked most of them, none has represented such a vivid and realistic interpretation of this note as Bass did. Bass, not only accomplished its purposes in this synesthetic experiment, but it's also a tremendous (and honestly quite unique) piece of modern perfumery. Solid, original and completely wearable. Great stuff.

Rating: 8.5-9/10


"Tim Hecker’s notion of Drone does not have any direct personal narrative, drawing instead on his imagining of “a speculative day-glow incense from rituals where long-form sound induces levitation.” For Geza Schoen, that translates into aldehydes and air notes, developing to fir and juniper, with a base of patchouli, ambergris, and vetiver".

Drone was built around the  installation  by  Canadian  musician  and  producer  Tim  Heckerwhose works for labels such as Mille Pleateaux, Alien8 and Kranky (amongst others) have become points of reference for anyone into experimental / abstract electronica. Immense soundscapes, manipulation of white noises and endless drones applied to a cinematic approach to music. The fragrance is closer in style to certain Comme Des Garcons (especially the more *transparent* ones), to Nu_Be Oxygen, to Craft by Andra Maack and, more in general, to that section occupied by clean, frankincense-inspired (as opposed to frankincense-centered), fragrances. A pretty tight composition that opens with a blast of super-sparkling, almost blinding, aldehydes. Cold and kind of metallic too yet somehow not aseptic. There's an overall incense-y presence that gives the fragrance a kind of purifying effect while a green / grassy vetiver / juniper combo provides woody aromatic facets bringing to mind of winter forests, immense landscapes covered in snow and isolationism. it's like breathing fresh air at full-lungs capacity (hedione overdose). All this, is paired to a subtle yet remarkable ambery base that provides a tad of warmness to an otherwise freezing composition…well, just a tad. The fragrance ends with a nice mix of salty / iodine vetiver /ambergris that's smooth and striking.

It's funny how this fragrance is able to conjure huge naturalistic landscapes as well as more industrial environments at the same time. It's the outdoors during winter in the north hemisphere and an all-white industrial warehouse at the same time. It's freezing and kind of angular but not completely aloof. Clean without bordering into functional smells and housekeeping products. Meditative and melachonic while being fizzy and radiating but, most of all, Drone represents yet another proof that the biggest strength of fragrances is the power to evoke images and sounds.

Rating: 8.5/10


"Geza Schoen created the scent representing Noise inspired by way of Ben Frost’s deepest recesses of olfactory memories: catholic church holidays, Australian bushfire, moisture, and insect drones, among other stimuli. Those ideas Schoen connected with aldehydes, ozone, black pepper, saffron, and labdanum, to name a few".

Ben Frost's career is pretty dense and counts collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno and The Swans together with composing soundtracks for films by Tarkovsky, Simon North and Julia Leigh. He recently signed to Mute with which he released his latest album Aurora. A mix of electronica, tribal percussions, noise, experimental music and avant-garde with influences that go from kraut rock to modern electronica via punk, industrial and ethnic music. Noise is based on these musical resonances and, in my opinion, strikes as the most *typically* Geza Schoen-esque of the trio. Think about an hypothetic mix between Kinski and the Monocle Series by Comme Des Garçons with a tad of Nu_be Sulphur . A rough, dark-green spicy incense which is earthy, dusty, dry and extremely angular. It opens with a blast of piercing aldehydes, pepper and saffron to then evolve into a dark green woody-vetiver / labdanum combo which is really not that far from Kinski. Whereas Kinski introduced a hemp-inspired note, Noise opts for something aiming at gasoline and, more precisely, like spilling gasoline on a bushfire (!!!). It's fire on fire. Again, it's the naturalistic outdoors and industrial environments paired together, it's the arid uninhabited desert and the forest, it's death and life, it's piercing yet somehow comforting. A daring fragrance that perfectly captures the essence of noise. 

Rating: 8.5/10

For the sounds, please check here.
To purchase Bass, Drone and Sound, please check here.


A few final words on this line. My support for Ephemera and all the people involved with it, goes beyond the fact I completely enjoyed the final result (three full bottle worthy fragrances). It starts from the fact this is one of the very few projects to actually elevate fragrance from a (very often shallow) status of *luxury goods / cosmetics* to *art*. Ephemera is a solid concept not just a product.

Mucho Love, Everyone.


Nero Profumo's Best of 2014

Another year just passed and, as usual, we witnessed countless brands trying so hard to standout with their promises of luxury, exclusivity, quality, uniqueness and whatnot. Hundreds (if not directly thousands) of new launches, re-issues, re-launches. New brands, new perfumes, new formulae but, in the end, for the most part, the same old stories. In this more and more crowded playground, we've all tried to navigate in what has become an impossible to catch-up with scenario. We've tried to find our own standouts and our new favorites in a sea for the majority populated by forgettable juices presented in fancy boxes / flacons. Don't get me wrong, there have been several remarkable new fragrances this year but the *number of launches / good quality* ratio is getting lower and lower. Too much of everything. Too much. 

With that said, I still liked something like 40 (maybe 50) new fragrances. Bogue Profumo's Maai is definitely one of them. A grand animalic / floral chypre by one of the most interesting new perfumers currently on the market. Old-school, uncompromising and stunningly beautiful. Vero Profumo never disappoints and the new Rozy Voile D'Extrait gains a full mention amongst *the best of the best*. My third pick is for Masque Fragranze and their Russian Tea. A tremendous example that in order to make something remarkable, you don't necessarily need to deliver something weird or over the top. Wearable, easy to like, versatile and completely satisfying.

A bunch more that catched my interest includes Sadanne by Slumberhouse. Theoretically everything I don't like about fragrance but surprisingly working in its juxtaposition between berry notes, rose and animalics. Hermes finally delivered an Hermessence I would literally bath in. Their Cuir D'Ange has been a big winner in my book and I won't exclude buying the biggest bottle in the future. Angelo Orazio Pregoni and O'Driù kept on polarizing people and Pathetique worths a mention for being, beside controversy and personal tastes, a solid piece of perfumery and not simply a prank. Comme Des Garçons had three new fragrances and while I more or less liked all of them, their collaboration with controversial artist Tracey Emin and Serpentine Gallery get the prize for being their best this year. A little gem that, in the typical twisted style of the house, delivers a compelling mix of green notes, environmental suggestions and woody-incense. French firm Jardins D'Ecrivains launched Junky which was inspired by the much missed William S.Burroughs. A bizarre concoction based around hyper-green elements, hemp notes and incense. Jovoy tributed Sun Tzu's L'Art De La Guerre and it didn't disappoint. A bold masculine with an eye on the past on one on the present. Finally, Olfactive Studio and their Ombre Indigo. Beside being a tremendously wearable leathery fragrance, this one wins the prize for the most beautiful juice color to date…

For those who are not necessarily interested in novelty and are fine with something simply solid, Cuir Cannage by Dior delivered yet another take on classic leathers a-la Chanel's Cuir De Russie. Amouage presented their tribute to classic masculine perfumery with Journey Man. Cartier launched La Panthere, a sort of nu-chypre with a nice floral presence and what's possibly the best packaging amongst designers' offerings. Comme Des Garcons introduced Wonderoud and with it, yet another micro-variation on synth-oud. Not exactly exciting but so easy to wear and like.

A bunch of honorable mentions:

Serge Lutens -  L'Orpheline. This didn't grab me at first but kind of won me over with time.

S-Perfume - Musk-S. Sacre Nobi re-packaged and re-launched his infamous brand (responsible of gems such as S-Ex) together with four new fragrances of which Musk-S seemed to be the more interesting in its iteration of the *invisible-musk*.

Narciso Rodriguez - Narciso. Still one of the very few designer brands worth of attention.

Dior - Dior Homme Parfum. Basically an improvement on Dior Homme Intense.

In 2014 we've also witnessed a bunch of re-introductions / re-launches amongst which the most interesting from my point of view were Helmut Lang's entire range (finally!!!), the new version of Pascal Morabito's Or Black and the Le Galion line.

I've also discovered some (new to me) fragrances / lines I had previously left behind that gave me quite some satisfaction. Rancè and their L'Aigle De la Victoire has been a stunner for me. A skanky / animalic leather / oud combo with so much courage a no restraint. Resist Me by Liaisons De Parfums gained a special spot up there together with smoky-pillars such as Bois D'Ascese. Finally, the whole Abdul Samad Al Qurashi line. An immense range of arabic oils I suggest to not miss out for anyone into eastern perfumery or to those who simply want to discover a whole new world of fragrances..

Last but not least, I would like to mention a bunch of fragrances that for a reason or another I haven't been able to smell yet but I'm pretty sure they would have made their appearance in this article if I did. Unsound and their Ephemera project which involved perfumer Geza Schoen in a synesthetic collaboration with musicians Kode9, Tim Hecker and Ben Frost was probably the most exciting news about fragrance this year. Black Heart by Map Of The Heart has piqued my interest since it has been unveiled at Pitti Fragranze 2014. Beside the questionable design of the bottle, the juice sounds like something I would thoroughly dig. Eventually, the two new *missing-in-action* Humieck & Graef (Abime and Nouveau-ne). I'm still bummed by the fact they haven't hit the shelves yet…

That's all for this year, folks…catch you out there and have good holidays everyone.


Rundholz Sep.21.1966: A (Not So) New Fragrance.

I was so excited by the news of a new fragrance from Rundholz. Their previous 03.Apr.1968 was an incredibly solid take on straight forward balmy incenses slightly softened by barely perceptible floral facets. Thick, bombastic and completely enveloping. As it weren't enough already, it came with one of the most interesting bottle / box design I've seen in a while. A little masterwork which, with much of my surprise, skipped the typical association between minimalism and inconsistency by presenting something monolithic and comforting at the same time.

I'm afraid 03.Apr.1968 hasn't been topped by the brand new Sep.21.1966. It's still a take on incense but this time, instead of the smoky opaqueness of their previous fragrance, they opted for transparency, ethereal floral notes and green elements. What comes out is something extremely familiar to those who know Buxton's or Duchaufour's works. It's a sharp synth oudy-woody-incense with the addition of rhubarb, heliotrope and magnolia. There's a subtle smokiness going on but the overall vibe it's definitely more luminous than Rundholz' previous delivery. Not something necessarily bad per-se and surely still pretty much in-line with the brand's aesthetic but it feels really too deja-vu to gain a completely positive rating.

I still have to properly figure out what it exactly reminds me of but, just to give you a rough idea on the territories in which Sep.21.1996 moves in, think about Mark Buxton's Devil In Disguise, Aedes De Venustas EDP (post-L'Artisan from 2012), a bunch of Comme Des Garcons (Girl above all) and basically most of the dry-woody stuff by either Duchaufour and Baxton.

Kind of a letdown, I'm afraid.

Perfumer is Arturetto Landi who previously worked on Rndholz' first fragrance and for other brands such as Linari, Biehl Parfumkunstwerke and I Profumi Del Forte amongst others.

Rating: 5.5-6/10


Guest Reviewer Of The Day: Way Off Scenter

A landscape architect and garden writer by trade, Way Off Scenter is a long-established and prolific reviewer of fragrances for the Basenotes web site, first as “Vibert” and then as “Off Scenter.” He has been reviewing under his current moniker since returning from a two-year’s absence at Basenotes. Click here for more reviews by Way Off Scenter.

MAAI: A Remembrance of Things Past

MAAI is an enormous, unapologetic animalic chypre scent composed in a style that hearkens back to the tropes of post-WWII perfumery. Perfumers like Edmond Roudnitska, Germaine Cellier, and Ernest Daltroff used to compose scents of this ilk for such firms as Hermès, Piguet, and Caron. Now MAAI stands as a glorious anomaly and a tribute to an art of classical perfumery that seems at times to be languishing.

Imagine, if you will, Cellier’s Fracas bedding down with Opium and Serge Lutens’s Muscs Koublaï Khan on a mattress filled with oakmoss (real, I’m told!) and you’ll have some sense of MAAI’s overall structure. The composition feels like three massive blocks laid down over a chypre foundation. First to emerge is a pungent animalic component (the Muscs Koublaï Khan part), rife with civet and castoreum, and not all that far removed from the animalic accords in Roudnitska’s original Madame Rochas or Daltroff’s vintage Narcisse Noir. Next up is a sensuous tuberose-centered white flower accord, smoother and quieter than Fracas, but still decadently creamy and substantial. Last out of the starting gate is an intensely spicy amber oriental, seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, bergamot, and plenty of labdanum. (Opium, anybody?) The two last-mentioned notes blend with the potent oakmoss to establish MAAI’s profoundly rich chypre accord. The result is simply magnificent, and seems certain to cruise to the head of my “Best Release of 2014” list. (Not that there’s much competition.)

Once the elaborate tripartite structure is established, the components slowly rotate through olfactory space, yielding an ever-shifting sequence fragrance perspectives. Projection and sillage are both copious, especially for the first four to six hours of wear. After that, MAAI very slowly distills itself down to a marvelously warm and decadent labdanum and oakmoss skin scent, in a drydown that remains detectable for at least a day after application. Though the description might put some men off – what with that tuberose – MAAI strikes me as a thoroughly unisex composition. In fact, my wife says she has a hard time imagining it on a woman. At any rate, I heartily recommend that anyone with a serious interest in fragrance sample this great big, indulgent and uncompromising chypre. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore!

Rating: a shocking 9.5-10/10


Helmut Lang 2014 - EDC, EDP and…Cuiron: Alive And Kicking!

Cuiron 2014

After being discontinued for almost ten years and after reaching mythical levels of appreciation amongst perfumisti who paid literally hundred bucks to get that bottle sporadically showing-up on the internet, the infamous Cuiron has been re-launched.

A lot of things have already been said on the fact if this current 2014 iteration is faithful to the original and, in my opinion, it completely is. I think most of the differences people perceived between the two versions of Cuiron are mainly due to the aging process of the juice which felt in the original formulation a bit sharper during the opening (some top notes might have turned a little bit). For the remaining aspects, the fragrance is still 100% the old infamous Cuiron.

A little disappointment came with the fact the fragrance seems a bit (and unnecessarily) overpriced today. When originally launched, it went for average designer price vs its current average niche tag. Well, I guess that's still better than the astronomic amount of bucks we all had to theoretically splurge to get a bottle of the vintage.

Rating: 9/10

Helmut Lang EDP 2014

The great news about Helmut Lang re-launching their whole range of fragrances, surprised quite a lot of us in the fragrance-sphere. Everybody was happy and concerned at the same time to discover if they messed up with these mythical fragrances and with much of my surprise, I've to say they didn't at all.

Current EDP is incredibly close to the original but, if I can dare, it feels almost better. It's slightly stronger and more balanced on the sweetness and, after all these years, still feels unique enough to gain all of my support and endorsement. I've to say that I found the original musk a bit more nuanced as it felt clean but maintained a certain dirtiness typical to this ingredient whereas the current iteration feels overall woodier and cleaner. Still top-notch stuff in my book.

Rating: 9/10

Helmut Lang EDC 2014

All of the other re-issues by Helmut Lang hadn't disappointed my expectations and I'm more than happy to say that EDC makes no exception.

This is probably the one that's more distant from its original formulation but it's still somehow faithful to its former self. It feels slightly soapier, more sparkling and cleaner (closer to Tom Ford's Pure Musk in these aspects) but they also enhanced the general barbershop vibe which is, in my opinion, one of the most appealing traces of this impossible to overlook fragrance.

Enduring love.

Now PLEASE, bring back Velviona and Helmut Lang Parfum.

Rating: 9/10

Check out my takes on the vintage formulations here.


Guest Reviewer Of The Day: Colin Maillard

Today I've the pleasure to host one of my favorite reviewers of the last couple of years or so: Colin Maillard. Already known and respected by fragrance-freaks for his severe but totally solid perfume criticism on Fragrantica and Basenotes, Colin is actually one of the sweetest guys around. He likes to read and write just like he did when he was 5. He loves his cat, his girlfriend and traditional tattoos but, most of all, he loves his mortgage with which he's bond in a really long-term relationship.

He also runs his personal fragrance-related blog Ye Olde Civet Cat. For more reviews by Colin Maillard please check here and here.

Tiffany For Men: Luxury In A Bottle.

Straight to the point: Tiffany for Men (vintage, "cologne" version) is a masterpiece. Jacques Polge composed it pretty much when he was working on Chanel pour Monsieur, and the similarity between the two fragrances is quite clear, but to me Tiffany overpasses the Chanel to any extent - creativity, richness, uniqueness, class. If you want, in a way this is far more "Chanel" than the actual Chanel. The opening of Tiffany is quite, and I’d say "deceptively" at first, adherent to late 1980's/early 1990’s “modern” trends in masculine perfumery: a chypre accord with sweet and powdery nuances, that is classic masculine structures revisited with a dandier, more exotic and more feminine touch. The soft, mellow, sweet notes of the Nineties are around the corner. In a way, the opening is also a bit similar to Héritage by Guerlain, mostly for its complex spicy-woody-floral substance, but only in this very first phase, and anyway in a far more compelling and balanced way here. The initial accords are all about powder, woods, oak moss, dense humid flowers (rose, carnation) and spices, quite "heavy" in a way, but wait just a bunch of minutes for heaven's door to open. 

Not more than thirty minutes after application the scent literally opens, or in a more figurative way, "blossoms up" with an airy, spacious, dimensional power which I have almost never experienced in perfumes - and that surely is the first significant mark of difference with the abovementioned scents this one is often compared to. Partially this would be probably due to the extremely high quality of materials, as this scent dates back when brands still destined high budgets to perfumes (especially a discreet and sophisticated brand like Tiffany about to launch their first perfume for men); and partially to the talent of Polge in using and balancing them. Once the opening phase passes, everything starts to smell more and more sumptuous, golden, invigorating, extremely refined , with a palpable yet oniric feel of silk, warmth and elegance, with just a hint of shady animalicness on the very base. The magnetic, irresistible smell of pure luxury - Clive Christian, Roja Dove, Amouage? Parvenus. 

Tiffany for Men is even quite simple to describe as regards of what it actually smells like, as I mentioned above it is basically all about citrus-neroli notes on head, oak moss and rosewood on the base, a really subtle and velvety woody-smoke note all over which creates a great sense of "shady" and sensual refinement, and then this central heavenly symphony of talc, iris, jasmine, rose, carnation, spices, vanilla, sandalwood and amber notes, both the "warm", sweet amber note and something which to me smells like amber gris, the real salty-camphoraceous one (but it may just be benzoin which creates that feeling with woods). All realistic, vibrant, golden, captivating: we're talking about great iris, great rose, great woods, (perhaps) great ambergris... you can imagine how deep, rich and faceted this gem smells. It's exciting how the greatness of this fragrance grows as minutes and hours pass, contrary on most of nowadays' perfumery (niche included), where averagely all happens within the first hour, then it's all about declining power and faint drydowns. Here, the more hours pass, the better it gets, with a transition towards a dusty woody-iris drydown with a stout oak moss base still dusted with talc, spices and vanilla notes. Which lasts for hours. Tiffany for Men is possibly one of the most rich and refined fragrances for men ever made, and probably (not to sound presumptuous) one of those which are more likely to be loved by people who love perfumes - like those obscure musicians which are praised by colleagues far more than by the audience. Self-confident, restrained just enough, modern and incredibly classy, with just the right amount of dark exoticism yet completely civilized and safe. Finally, one of the very few scents which embodies and expresses my concept of "exclusivity" *solely* by olfactory means (this means neither by price, nor marketing bollocks: just for how great and holy-grail-esque it actually smells).



Comme Des Garcons For Pharrell Williams - Girl: Unhappy!

Being myself a Comme Des Garcons aficionado, I don't deny that the news about this collaboration with Pharrell Williams left me a bit surprised. Yes, CDG delivered a bunch of *fancy* streetwear-inspired collections in the past (especially in their *Play* line) but, for the most part, I think their aesthetic is very distant from diamond rings / earrings and revised ranger's hats. I'm surely missing something here because there must be something else beside, um, mere commercial purposes that links these two entities but, when I think about Comme Des Garcons, what immediately comes to mind is their unmistakeable drop-crotch pants or their most avant-garde / punk-ish designs. I can't help it. Bascially because that's what I always liked about the brand. I can honestly live without their doodle-style red-hearts logos.

With that said, the fragrance is nothing more than a decent spicy woody concoction with floral facets. It opens with a leafy / green violet note paired to pepper. A smooth and kind of milky accord provide a fig-like vibe and some entertaining juxtapositions between transparent notes and opaque ones. The fragrance then turns into a darker synth woody / incensey drydown that dangerously borders into plastic-y woodyamber territories. That's it. 

It's nice and, depending on your tolerance to woodyambers, it's also pleasant to wear but, while feeling *smarter* than most celebuscents available on the market, it really adds NOTHING to the Comme Des Garcons roster. In other words I would say it's a trite CDG and a good celebuscent but given that my interest towards this fragrance was mainly because of the CDG's involvement, I'll have to stick to the *trite* aspect of it.

All in all I would suggest this to either Comme Des Garcons novices or to the brand's completists. People who don't have a special fondness towards the brand and are simply into *interesting* fragrances, might want to look somewhere else.

Given Kaws' involvement in the design of the bottle, this might become a collector's item pretty soon.

Rating: 6.5/10