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.
"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.
"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.
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.