This is Studio Waft 10, the periodic essay which accompanies every Studio Series Set and discusses the processes and concepts behind my work. Waft 10 takes a look at the new special edition, Dub, and a series of six experimental perfume iterations for the forthcoming project, Involuntary Catharsis. Let's go:
Can we remix perfumes like we remix music?
This was the question that popped into my head one day as I was invariably "relaxing" by thinking about studio work with headphones sandwiching my skull.
Of course! was my immediate thought — the comparisons between musical and perfume composition date back centuries now, so it seems inevitable, really, that we begin to talk about the contemporary synthesis of these modes today.
In fact, I hope we see other perfumers not only begin to publicly remix their own works (as opposed to, say, just remaking their work and naming it something new), but also to find other perfumers with whom to remix their work together. Because I think — especially for independent perfumery — the necessary partnership one would need to form to undertake the task would strengthen the community at the same time it would diffuse knowledge in a niche of our industry that is otherwise highly secretive, cutthroat competitive, and desperately in need of ridding itself of fatekeepers.
Addendum, Sept. 2, 2020: Regretfully, beset with exhaustion from running this business singlehandedly, I previously omitted mention of perfumer Christophe Laudamiel and his work Sailors, which is a remix of Jean-Claude Ellena's Déclaration (1998) for Cartier — despite knowing this information beforehand. Laudamiel's 2018 release was published with a declarative statement to Ellena, Cartier Parfums, and Symrise (a large perfume and chemicals manufacturer) that if they "would like to be compensated with a royalty agreement, we will gladly abide," suggesting Laudamiel or his company did not seek permission (or receive clearance) beforehand to re-appropriate Ellena's work and a possible fear of retaliation for publishing it despite that. Indeed, many (if not a majority) of remixes in DJ culture are often created as bootlegs — colloquially referred to as white labels due to the practice of affixing mostly blank stickers to the record pressings of such remixes, the albums' producers abdicating written credit for the work. Ironically, in the beauty world, white label refers to the practice of perfumers formulating anonymously for other companies who then release the work under their own brand. My apologies to Christophe for the omission and for his kind email pointing out my oversight.
You know with music you can listen to a track and replicate its pieces fairly easy, just by sound, or acquire a recording and directly sample parts using technology. With perfume it's often harder to discern how compositions are constructed; however, it is becoming more easy to unfurl a perfume with the growth of gas chromatography — a technology readily available to large corporations who almost certainly examine their competitors work at a chemical level.
It is my theory that if independent perfumers begin to form strategic partnerships — and a culture of remixes is one way to do this — those that do will get ahead of the curve of competition by using re-appropriation in a way that increases the creative capital of those involved, as opposed to the negative-sum actions of cloning and straight plagiarism, more of which we see each day in our community.
I have to be honest with you: I was terrified to release Dub, having felt a little bit of consternation while mulling over whether or not to publish it... for the very reasons I just mentioned. Dub really is my most naked perfume.
So, what is a dub in music parlance? A dub or dub music finds its roots in reggae, through the hands of seminal artist/producers like Lee "Scratch" Perry who stripped down and intertwined musical tracks devoided of their vocal tracks. It is considered a forebear of modern electronic music, and its diffusion across musical genres is sweeping.
In an extreme primal definition, a dub could be considered a structure stripped of its content.
And that is, essentially, what Dub the perfume is: an intertwining of the instrumentation that prop up all the floral and spicy flourish of Quasi una absurdia and Bluer Skies (Whenever You're Around), containing not much more but some added reverb and echo.
It's worth mentioning here that flankers and layering are both a thing in perfume and, as such, fit as types of remix somewhere into a spectrum, indeed.
But could you perhaps imagine the hysteria if the houses of, say, Chanel and Calvin Klein were to intentionally re-appropriate their best works, together, into a remix? CK 5, anyone?
Or — more importantly — if they had already done that by now?
What's ahead in the Remix Project? The completed version of QUA + BS (WYA) and the other remix, which, if you have not figured it out by now, is Io + Timbre.
When it became clear that our worlds would suddenly come to a halt because of COVID, it also became unclear what materials would soon go unavailable to indie perfumers, gone the same way of toilet paper, which had suddenly overnight become a rationed grocery store item.
One natural material did amass into a worldwide glut, however: emotions — anger, confusion, horror, outrage, exhaustion. So, so much of it. Personally, this was all happening, too, as I was preparing to publish After Every Ounce of Joy (Leaves My Body), a project which had already been all of that, as well.
As I intimated in Studio Waft 9, my sketching process often starts with random phrases or word pairs, written down, then used as the jumping off point toward some derivative idea. This was exactly the case with AEOOJ. When COVID started killing, it felt like we were, as a society, being forced toward a period of involuntary catharsis, and for me that thought really just became a title for this moment in time, and in turn felt like the code name for a new project. It got written down.
Many of you might recall that earlier this year I formed an LLC. Two successful years of growth suggested this was worth pursuing even more rigorously. With the inception of the LLC, I had plans in motion for physical expansion, larger production runs, et cetera. As it became clear there would be a sudden dearth of things like toilet paper and meat and proper healthcare, it also became clear that there might be a dearth of money, and thus, from a business owner's perspective, customers, too. As suppliers shut down, trade fears of poor harvests for raw materials percolated. Shit hit the fan. Still, as of this writing, there is a cascading worldwide Iso E Super shortage (of all things) due to factory shutdowns in China where much of the chemical is produced.
My own survival demands that I keep busy; I cannot stop working on some new project or I begin to mentally rot into depression. So, in the brief period where everything seemed even more unclear than it still does today, I backtracked and decided to halt a few projects that were being budgeted and undertake a project of purging, a voluntary catharis, if you will: using up some precious raw materials I had hoped to use in the future, but in a manner I had not intended. Instead of holding on — carpe diem, and let loose now.
Furthermore, I figured it was an opportune time to distract myself with a sort of game. I am rather vocal and outspoken about some of my peers, particularly the ones who seem to churn out 20-30 new perfumes each year. Like 33, which was a rapidly composed project with a goal of quashing boredom, I figured Involuntary Catharsis could be a fun, limited project, whose impetus was speed and recklessness. For fun. (LOL)
I've set a self-edict to complete this project by November. (LLOOLL)
IC 1 2 and 3
When I start building a new perfume, I often focus on my structural accords as soon as possible. Generally, I first approach composition through a sculptural lens: what is my armature, what is my form, what is my plinth?
Armature itself is a formative choice, since certain formal materials require stronger (or less dominating) structural supports. Similarly, considering the sum of your internal mass and your external adornments, a sculptor must then consider the foundation upon which it will all stand. The logic is same in perfumery, and it's often why we visualize perfumery as a pyramidal object.
I have been hoarding some especially fine myrrh that is so bitter yet bright that it borders on fruity, a trait, in my experience, uncommon to the material. Pairing this myrrh with orris, which can have an appley quality to it — given its heavy irone and ionone content, two chemical classes that are cousin to damascones and damascenones, responsible for the scent of apples, berries, and roses — will hopefully help preserve this vivacity.
The first three iterations demonstrate how the structural accord come together: IC 1, myrrh and resinous chemicals brought into accord; IC 2, orris butter and orris chemicals balanced into harmony; IC 3, those two accords brought together to form a core structure.
Tobacco absolute is a glorious material, especially if you are a reformed smoker, which I am. While a proximate smell of active smoking makes me rabid and aggressive, the aroma of a humidor is enough to incite ecstacy and calm.
On a whim, I decided to take this project down a tobacco route. I have no regrets.
Once the tobacco accord was in full play, it made sense to just turn this into a full-on chypre. Oakmoss and tobacco are a dream team in perfumery history.
I think they begin to feel dreamy here, too.
This is where things get complicated and luxe. First, precious Santalum album. A gargantuan glug of the real stuff comes into play. In addition to smelling remarkable on its own, sandalwood is a true teammate. It encourages the best facets of other notes to show up. It harmonizes a choir. It lends fixation, finesse.
The sandalwood I am using here was originally meant for long-term aging. Alas. Time seems so warped nowadays, maybe those ten-to-twenty years have actually passed. A supplier kindly dipped into their reserve of "the good stuff" a few years back and offered me some for my enjoyment. The clock bends — I have no regrets.
Finally, deliciously challenging aroma chemicals. There are a whole set of perfumery chemicals which do things like cause anosmia or briefly act as a hypnotic. Yes, please.
Speed? Check. Recklessness? Check.
The future? To be determined.
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