Whenever I try a perfume which is attempting to be avant-garde I always think of the words of the late perfumer Guy Robert. He said famously, “A perfume above all must smell good.” I think many of us who love fragrance would take this as a truism. I also think if we want to believe that there is such a thing as olfactory art then there has to be room for a perfume which can audaciously explore the line of what smells good. The last part of 2014 and the first part of 2015 has been an opportunity for me to explore this concept in a brilliant new collection, Ephemera by Unsound, from perfumer Geza Schoen as part of the Unsound Project.
The Unsound Project debuted a collaboration between Hr. Schoen and three electronic music artists Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and Kode 9. This was all further accompanied by three videos by MFO. Each was inspired by the other. Hr. Schoen took his brief from the music especially composed for each fragrance. MFO created visuals which capture the music and the perfume. I have heartily dug into this experience as I have spent time just listening to the accompanying track on my headphones on the days I’ve worn each. I’ve sat in a darkened office with the visuals playing and the music at high volume coming from the speakers. This is as complete a multimedia experience as I can remember experiencing with perfume at the center of it all. It is this satiation of so many of my senses at the same time which makes this as memorable as it is for me.
We return to the central thesis though, “Does it smell good?” I am going to share my opinion on that over the next couple of days as I review each of the three perfumes Noise, Bass, and Drone on all of the levels that I experienced them on.
Noise as a perfume is a fragrance about chilly components. Hr. Schoen wanted to capture some touchstones from Mr. Frost’s olfactory memory. Mr. Frost asked for Australian brushfire, the showering sparks of an arc welder, church on Sunday- cold stone and frankincense, the bed of a pickup truck with the remnants of the tools of the hunting party. These are the kinds of things Hr. Schoen has captured in liquid form in the past. For Noise he boldly displays them as a fragrance equivalent of an Ice Princess. The beauty draws you in but if you stay too long the frostbite will devour you. He opens this perfume with a cocktail of aldehydes and ozonic notes. You’ve smelled all of these individually in hundreds of perfumes over the last few years. Like a music producer laying down tracks Hr. Schoen drops one aldehyde and another, then an ozonic note, then another aldehyde and so on until a bright olfactory harmonic is achieved. A slug of black pepper adds orthogonal spice. This moves into a heart of woody tinged florals. The note list says it is magnolia and orchid. I smell a bit of linden also and, as in the top, saffron is used as contrast. By using the woodier floral notes it keeps Noise aloof never allowing a full defrost to occur. The base returns to the metallic themes of the top notes but this time there is the hint of smoke in the distance and the smell of grinding gears. Hr. Schoen uses frankincense, amber, labdanum, cedar, and leather together to form this base accord. Noise assessed solely as a perfume is everything I can ask for of a fragrance willing to push my limits of what smells good.
When I just listened to Noise by Ben Frost while wearing the perfume I can’t say I found as much of the influences cited in just the auditory portion of this installation. What did pull it all together is the video above. The visuals capture my experience of the perfume as if they were pulled from my head by MFO. As I sat in my office surrounded by the music at high volume, pulsating, and the video occupying my entire visual field; right there this project came to life in a way I’ve rarely experienced with the multimedia explorations including perfume.
Noise has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.
I will come back to answer the question of whether it smells good after I have reviewed Bass & Drone. On a more reductive scale Noise is one of Hr. Schoen’s most complete compositions ever. From a perfumer who excels in exploring the borders of perfumery Noise is perhaps the best example of avant-garde in his repertoire.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample set I purchased.