L’Eau d’Boot is a scent-image that maps our research and production process. A collage of notes call up memories of our method, nosing a dialogue between archival materials and new print production.
‘In the heart of matter there grows an obscure vegetation; in the night of matter black flowers blossom.”- Bachelard, L’eau et les rêves
THE THRILL OF WORKING WITH ODOURS A NOSE HAS 2 IMPORTANT FUNCTIONS, BEING BOTH THE OPENING TO THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM AND THE ORGAN OF SMELL. LOSING THE OLFACTORY ACTIVITY (ANOSMIA) CAN BE RATHER DANGEROUS SINCE ONE CAN'T SMELL GAS THAT WOULD LEAD TO EXPLOSION OR DEATH FROM ASPHYXIATION.
IN SCIENCE THE PART PLAYED BY THE SMELL-ORGAN HAS BEEN QUITE UNDERRATED, UNTIL RECENTLY SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH HAS PAID VERY LITTLE ATTENTION TO THIS SUBJECT. AND WHAT'S MORE THE RESULTS OF THE EXPERTS ARE OFTEN CONTROVERSIAL THOUGH THEY ALL AGREE ON THE FACT THAT THE SPECTRE OF SCENTS COULD BE UNLIMITED. SO EVERYBODY WOULD ADMIT THAT SMELLING IS AN IMPORTANT ACTIVITY. HOW CAN WE EXPLAIN THEN THAT ONLY TWO SENSE-ORGANS THE VISUAL AND THE AUDITIVE ONE ARE VALUED OR EVEN OVERRATED?
YET IN LITERATURE AUTHORS HAVE FREQUENTLY INDULGED IN ODOURS. A RESPECTABLE NUMBER OF EXAMPLES CAN BE FOUND ESPECIALLY IN (EROTIC) POETRY. BUT EVEN IN NOVELS WE CAN SEE HOW THE POWER OF OLFACTIC ASSOCIATIONS AROUSES A SERIES OF MEMORIES, FEELINGS OR THOUGHTS AS IN MARCEL PROUST'S "A LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU." IN RELIGION SCENTS ALSO HAVE (HAD) A CONSIDERABLE FUNCTION IN THE CEREMONIAL USE OF INCENSE AND PERFUMED BALMS OR OINTMENTS.
IN PLASTIC ARTS ON THE CONTRARY THE APPLICATION OF ODOURS HAS ALWAYS BEEN NEGLECTED, A FEW EXPERIMENTS EXCEPTED. USING AUTHENTIC SCENTS HOWEVER COULD MEAN AN ENRICHMENT SINCE A NEW MEDIUM AND UNEXPLORED FORM OF COMMUNICATION WOULD BE INTRODUCED. THIS REFERS AS WELL TO THE DEPICTION AS TO THE ACT OF SMELLING OR SMELL-SENSATION BY WAY OF PERFUMED LETTERS, SMELL-TUBES, SMELL-OBJECTS, THE EXHIBITIONS OF ODOURS (OR COMBINATIONS) OR SPRAY PERFORMANCES. IN THAT RESPECT MEMORIES, SENSATIONS OR THOUGHTS PLAY AN IMPORTANT PART THAT MAY COLOUR A SCENT NEGATIVELY OR POSITIVELY DEPENDENT ON COINCIDENCE AND INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE.
SO THERE ARE LOTS OF POSSIBLE KINDS OF COMMUNICATION OFTEN ENTIRELY UNPREDICTABLE, BECAUSE A SPECIFIC PERSONAL REACTION IS INVOLVED BUT THIS FACT INCREASES THE ESTHETIC ADVENTURE, THE THRILL OF WORKING WITH ODOURS. (1978)
REMARK: A SHORTCOMING OF ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION VIA MODEMS, FAX-MACHI-NES, TELEPHONES, ETC. IS THE ABSENCE OF TRANSMITTED SCENTS. THERE ARE SIMPLY AND SOLELY THE ODOURS OF THE OWN EQUIPMENT. (1990)
Scent Sense The twentieth-century French philosopher Gaston Bachelard observed that scent is tantamount to the tracks that mark the passage of solid bodies through the atmosphere, and consequently redolent of memories. An odor can immediately evoke the details and mood of an old experience, as vividly as if no time at all had passed. “Odor, oftener than any other sense impression, delivers a memory to consciousness little impaired by lapse of time, stripped of irrelevancies of the moment or of the intervening years, apparently alive and all but convincing,” writes Roy Bedichek in The Sense of Smell. “Not vision, not hearing, touch, nor even taste—so nearly kin to smell—none other, only the nose calls up from the vastly deep with such verity those sham, cinematic materializations we call memories.”
As Kant writes in Reflexionen zur Anthropologie, “all the senses have their own descriptive vocabularies, e.g. for sight, there is red, green, and yellow, and for taste there is sweet and sour, etc. But the sense of smell can have no descriptive vocabulary of its own. Rather, we borrow our adjectives from the other senses, so that it smells sour, or has a smell like roses or cloves or musk. They are all, however, terms drawn from other senses. Consequently, we cannot describe our sense of smell.”
The olfactory bulb feeds directly into the limbic system, the seat of both long-term memory and the emotions. The results of smelling are processed here, and loaded with associations, before they even reach the upper cortex, where language is composed. This is unlike the sense of sight, in which knowing and naming are intimately interconnected activities. In a peculiar way, smelling short-circuits conscious thoughts. It bonds to memory and emotion before it subjects itself to concepts, and emerges as already a part of the bodily unconscious.
Smell is not subjective; rather, it is simply very hard to communicate objectively, that is, to talk about and achieve any sort of consensus. Much like experimental versions of Mendeleev’s original periodic table, there are interesting possibilities for new spatial models for representing scents. Perhaps future models of smell will have to address similar orders of complexity, and the solution just hasn’t been drawn up yet…
Synthesizing Ingredients—Parts that make up a New Whole
Notes of Opoponax The genus name Opopanax derives from Anglo-Norman opopanac, from Latin opopanax, from Hellenistic Greek ὀποπάναξ, from Ancient Greek ὀπός (opos, "juice") + πάναξ (panax, "all-healing").
"I never fully appreciated the beauty of a material with a funny name like opoponax until about a year ago when I had to test a large batch for quality. A huge vat was unloaded on my desk and as I took off the lid and leaned over to dip a testing strip into the molasses-like liquid, the wave of warm, sweet scent washed over me. It smelled of aged scotch, mahogany shavings and bitter caramel, but it was also velvety and powdery. It was overwhelming to smell opoponax in such a way, but the tactual, almost tangible presence of its scent made a strong impression on me.
Of course, you don’t need a vat of opoponax to appreciate its suave presence in perfumes. Opoponax is sometimes called the sweet myrrh, because both myrrh and opoponax are derived from the bark of the Commiphora species (in case of opoponax from Commiphora opoponax/Commiphora erythraea). Its relationship to myrrh is mostly botanical, because opoponax smells sweeter, warmer, more powdery and smoky. Myrrh makes me think of damp stones; opoponax brings to mind the smoldering embers of a fireplace. Myrrh is a somber Gregorian chant, and opoponax is a joyful madrigal."
Notes of Vetiver Sowing roots. The grass whose thin yard-long roots can have subtle floral and grapefruit sides to their woody earthiness. It can grow up to 5 feet tall and its root structure can grow over 20 feet in depth. The impressive root structure allows vetiver to hold soil in place on all types of topography—from plains to mountains. Through centuries of selection for essential oil production, vetiver has a very high Root:Shoot ratio around 1:1, one of the highest among grass species.
This makes vetiver an ideal plant to build up organic matter in poor or degraded soils. Vetiver roots have a very high tensile strength, equivalent to 1/6 of design mild steel reinforcement, which strengthen weakly structured soil or uncompacted slopes. Vetiver roots are stronger than many tree roots. Essential oil extracted from vetiver roots is highly valued for its fragrance in the perfume industry, insecticidal characteristics for termite control and increasingly for its pharmaceutical values. Vetiver oils are so complex that so far they have not been successfully synthesized.
Notes of Suede Perfumery makes use of "fantasy notes," rendered through creative mixing of various ingredients or single synthetic reconstitution, that recall the ambience of some scents with animal inferences, such as suede hide. A synthetic note which replicates the soft, pliable, sensuous feel of suede on the skin. Soft, powdery, musky.
Notes of Patchouli The leaf of the Malayan member of the mint family, owes its earthy, woody qualities to patchoulol and other unique sesquiterpenoids, and a mustiness that may derive in part from the need to dry or slightly ferment it to extract it efficiently.
If there are smells that have an aura of particular time and place indelibly ingrained in their olfactory image, patchouli is certainly one of them. For many, especially those who grew up in the sixties, it is a smell of headshops, its earthy darkness masking the smell of marijuana. It is a smell that shows up in any blend bearing a reference to India. It is deemed as too earthy, too heavy, too overwhelming, too inappropriate for haute parfumerie. It is a misunderstanding, of course, because patchouli is one of the most unique scents and the basic building block of the many perfumery genres.
The scent of patchouli contains the same earthy element that is also present in vetiver, making it a dark and rich scent. It has an interesting structure, comprised of sweet herbaceous top notes, rich winey heart and balsamic woodsy base. The quality of oil will determine whether it will uphold its negative stereotype of musty and mossy or whether it will envelop one in an almost tangible cloud of sweet golden dust.
Notes of Musk It would not be an understatement to say that there is hardly a fragrance that does not contain at least one musk component. The power of musk to refine, balance, fix and accentuate compositions without adding a heavy note is exceptional, and no other ingredient can rival musks in terms of their popularity and versatility. Musk forms the pedestal upon which the entire composition rests. It fuses sensuality and warmth even into the simplest of compositions, and there exist numerous fragrances based solely around musk.
The term musk/musky in perfumery refers not only to the specific ingredients, but also to the abstraction of the complex odours of natural musk, which range from balmy, sweet, and powdery to fig-like, animalic, leathery, spicy, and woody. As Philip Kraft notes in his great overview of musks, “the more one studies its character, the more contrasting, vibrant and oscillating it becomes: repulsive–attractive, chemical–warm, sweaty–balmy, acrid–waxy, earthy–powdery, fatty–chocolate-like, pungent–leathery, resinous–spicy, fig-like, dry, nutty and woody, to give just some impressions.”
The discovery of the first synthetic musks is a by-product of research on explosives. In 1888, Albert Baur, in the process of searching for new explosives noticed that the product of the reaction of trinitrotoluene (TNT) and tert-butyl halides produced a pleasant odour. Musk Baur became the first synthetic musk, classified under the nitro musks category.
Notes of Ambergris Ambergris is the strangest of all fragrance materials, beginning as a stinking obstruction in the rectum of ocean-cruising sperm whales, and ends years later as sublime seashore jetsam, the finest emitting a smell like no other, with facets of the ocean and soil, exotic woods, incense, and tobacco.
Notes of Oud The aroma that set the imagination of Middle Eastern poets and Sufi mystics aflame is a fascinating product of the process that via slow deterioration brings immortality. cAn aromatic hardwood, agarwood, aka aloeswood, jinkoh, kyara, and oud—the last word Arabic for “wood” itself, agar deriving from ancient Sanskrit. When these Southeast Asian species in the genus Aquilaria are wounded and their inner tissues are exposed to fungi and bacteria, the trees and their resident microbiome respond by producing a protective terpinoid-rich resin that gradually permeates the wood surrounding the wound. The smell of oud is unlike any other wood or resin, with so many complementary facets, from woods to resins to flowers, spices, and leather, that the fragrance chemist Roman Kaiser describes it as “the mother of all scents.”
Notes of Ozone A fresh fantasy accord. Hang your clothes out to dry in the wind...when you bring them in, give them a sniff & you'll get that ozone smell. Thunderstorms & other static situations (laser copiers) can give you the same smell. Ozone is a molecule with 3 oxygen atoms, not the usual 2...it can be made when UV light splits the usual 02 & then the remaining 0 atom joins up with another 02 molecule to make 03. Unstable at ground level, but stable & very useful up in the ozone layer ;p To my nose it smells "see-through," synthetic (not unpleasantly so).
Notes of Oak Moss Actually not a moss but a lichen, one of the slow-growing survivalist creatures that form scales patches on rocks and trees. Lichens are ancient and still mysterious associations between fungi and photosynthesizing cyanobacteria or algae. The fungal partners in oakmoss manufacture powerful chemical defenses that provide smells of damp undergrowth and seaweed.
Oak moss (Evernia Prunastri) is a natural lichen which has a very lovely, smooth, and slightly musty odor. Highly sought after as an ingredient in perfumes in the nineteenth century, the use of natural oak moss declined after 1898, when a single part of its odor profile, Evernyl, was isolated and synthesized for the first time and became an ingredient in a range of famous 1920s perfumes and, via the vagaries of cold war fashion, 1970s men's colognes.
Oak moss itself is no longer easily available in commercial quantities. It grows chiefly in old stands of oaks, moldering slowly in very still groves. It has been close to unobtainable since 1986, as many of the best remaining natural sources are deep in the Ukraine, around a small town called Chernobyl.
Evernyl, for its part, remains a staple of the flavor and fragrance industry. Also known as Mousse Metra, Veramoss, or more rigorously, methyl 2,4-dihydroxy-3,6-dimethylbenzoate, the scent of Evernyl was described in Stephan Jellinek's classic technical text Perfumery: Practice and Principles with a single, oddly untechnical word: “dust.” He elsewhere classifies it as erogenic, in accordance with his unusual application of Freudian theory to the sense of smell.
Notes of Ink A fantasy note that is reminiscent of India ink. Ink notes are also surfacing from natural materials such as oakmoss.
Notes of Metal Does metal have a smell? To perceive a smell it has to be volatile; molecules have to physically fly into your nose, come into contact with a receptor and launch a chain of biochemical processes that the brain interprets as a certain type of odor. But it does not seem that metals are excessively volatile, with the exception of mercury. Besides that, smell is a characteristic of substances with a molecular structure, but substances with an ionic lattice (for example, inorganic salts) or a metallic lattice (iron) should not smell.
Wait a minute, you say, but metallic things do smell! They have a very specific and very recognizable smell which is hard to misinterpret. Door handles, swings, coins, keys, screwdrivers, spoons... Now take a good look at the list, do you see a certain pattern? Yes, all of these metallic things get in contact with our skin! That is the secret of a metallic smell. Metallic notes are typically distinguished by their clean, cool, fresh and a bit sterile feel.
Notes of Dust Our universe is a very dusty place. There are some days in which we need to smell the world through a bit of our own dusty nostalgia, that's when powdery perfumes in my collection call my name.