This is Studio Waft 11, the periodic essay which accompanies every Studio Series Set and discusses the processes and concepts behind my work. Waft 11 breaks from the norm a touch — let's not delay...
RMX A (Io / Timbre Remix)
I spoke at length in Waft 10 about remix culture and why I initiated this project; my ideas there apply to this version, too, and can be read separately.
The merger of Timbre and Io make sense on paper: woods and incense, one fresh and dry, the other resinous and scorched. Chemically, the contrasts and complementary shading of each mesh together, too.
Personally, however, I have always viewed this particular remix to be about the closure of a concept: to perish and revive; to die and return; to start and to end.
Many of you have been reading these Wafts since they began in 2017 (!?); a smaller group of you have known my work and words even before that. The Studio Series was the first perfume object I put out into the world, meant to test the waters and see if there were a spot in which I could swim, as well as alleviate the sinking feelings I then had with respect to creative viability and economic survival, having just extricated myself from a bout of temporary homelessness. This, too, all occurred atop the crescendo of the Trump administration, so, if nothing else, the Studio Series and these Wafts have been, in a way, a diary of emotions I have shared with the public, filtered through scent and perfume composition.
But, dear reader — I am exhausted.
I am also exhausted from having typed that sentence so many times now only to slam the backspace key repeatedly over it, only to type it again, and return to delete, and again ... afraid to say it aloud, to you. But this time the ink sticks.
When I began work on Io three years before it launched, I did not know that I would revise it over 500 times before completion. When I hit a point, before its release, where I could not figure out how to finish it (or even correct its flaws), I gave up and committed to a pleasure project, which became 33.
Shortly after my initial launch, I began the Wood Project, which premiered in Studio Series 3, over three years ago, and since its inception I have worked on this project in some form or fashion — from its beginnings to Timbre EdT to Timbre EdP and now to the Io / Timbre Remix — almost every week since.
I am, to be frank some more, absolutely exhausted by the smell of cedarwood. It now feels like the scent of a horror movie, the ominous chime in the score for the villain who's ready to suffocate me with the smell of a cheerful forest, moments before leading me to the very wood chipper that growled and screamed underneath the opening credits.
None of this is your fault or your problem, obviously; I have just always aimed to be radically transparent about my studio in these Wafts, and today it gets blunt.
I am exhausted by this year of quarantine, indeed, but I am more exhausted by the horrific sales cycle indies are thrust into, like a wood chipper, where we must ironically somehow determine how to dodge the blades of irrelevance in order to stay alive in an attention economy that, too, seeks to suffocate us all, for capitalism.
When I was a young gay man, before it had become fully okay to be out of the closet and publicly homosexual, my peers and I and many before us found refuge and relief on the dancefloors of the world, in unlicensed spaces and repurposed buildings held reverent by strobe lights and fog machines, for us. It was there that the liturgies of remixes influenced the middle-aged (sidebar: is this my fulcrum?) man that I am today.
It was there, too, that I was introduced to the refuges of addiction, the myopia of obsession, and the habits of getting so lost in a thing that you, in turn, close the closet doors you so painfully labored to kick open.
As I write this I am a few weeks away from my ten-year sobriety anniversary, we have just ejected a fascist president via election, and a vaccine for COVID seems near. And I just feel exhaustion from so much getting here in every part of my body, and it's taken its toll on my faculties and vision.
I wish that, in the tradition of the Studio Wafts, I could sit here and give you a breakdown of what's in each vial and the progress of this project's development.
Today, I cannot.
The short explanation why is just incredibly photographic of this time: Supply chain issues limited access to certain chemicals necessary to the performance of this project; many natural materials have been harder to procure; et cetera, et cetera... RMX A 3, 4, 5 are indicative of trying to account for these headaches of the times and RMX A 6 and 7 are indicative of giving up, moving on, and making do with what's available — much like Relief — hopefully with some optimistic success.
I plug in my headphones and turn up the volume to wash out:
Be With You (Remix) by Sylvester (8:35)
I am not normally someone who considers it acceptable to publish incomplete projects, but for a project whose purpose is incomplete projects, why does this edition feel so upsetting to me, having so little to say about the work, I ask myself?
The Studio Series is a project I have been immensely proud of, a feeling which, this morning as I do the final edit of this Waft, grows, as several people are posting throughout the attention economy their excitement for Tracy Wan's absolutely devastating essay, beautifully presented as a tactile zine in collaboration with Stephen Grebinski.
Goosebumps (Mushroom Head Remix) by NYLX feat. Lula Grelhada (15:11)
Making the Studio Series multiple times each year requires a lot of labor, and since expanding this project to be collaborative with other artists and writers, a lot of planning and control.
The beauty of dancefloors, as so many of us know, is its loci for loss of control. The best DJs of our time seem to wrest our bodies from us. The beat takes over. The world flashes away through the pulse of strobe lights. Hearts race. Thoughts fade. Time dissipates. We bump respectfully, yet recklessly, amongst the crowd that somehow both surrounds us and contains us. We feel joy.
Somehow perfume and its communities do this now, too.
There is a beauty in drug and alcohol addiction that comes between the catharses of recovery and the ignorance of inception, and for some of us that beauty stretches years, for those of us who, somehow, kept control of our descent, steering it like a gas-less plane gliding on a wind in tandem with our external lives.
Keep Control (Chopstick & Johnjon Remix) by Sono (8:17)
Capitalism is a drug. Some of us are forced to consume it every morning; others have figured out how to extricate themselves from this dulling; fewer still were born into life largely free of the toxic side effects from the worries of survival — lives, somehow, largely lived in chill-out rooms far removed from the raves of hysterical consumption-survival.
Three of the last four Studio Series Sets were produced during COVID. Three of the last five artists I've asked to collaborate in this time had to bow out, one at the last minute, due to the pandemic, each understandably so. But as the person driving this bus, that's not been an easy upheaval to wrangle.
Systems of Silence (Junior Vasquez Remix) by Billy Ray Martin (7:53)
Perfume is a system of secrets. So is addiction.
So much of addiction is rooted in shame and the silence we subject ourselves to as a result. There were, amongst those flashes of strobe lights and the bloodied noses dripping onto the dancefloor, pangs of silence in which the crowd of people become a sea of nothingness and a heart-stopping realization of the present and future, all at once, of an uncontainable — a reckless, diffusive odor of powerlessness that, particularly in the late 1990s, reeked beside overwhelming clouds of Dolce & Gabbana and Angel emanating from that very stained dancefloor, like gay smelling salts, always somehow bringing you back from a flash of ...
The Lightening (The Remix) by Future Primitive (12:06)
Addiction, like writing, is much a task of finding a way out, a conclusion.
And like writing, perfume compositions need conclusions, too. Perfume projects need conclusions.
A recent running dialogue I have been sharing amongst friends is about the too-muchness of the perfumery world. Megabrands are certainly the most violent offenders — the number of Calvin Klein flankers is almost worthy of its own Netflix documentary. But, too, indie producers, some who seem hellbent on churning out more new releases than the year before, as if this were a race to see who can make the most.
Porn Infection (Remix) by Marko Fürstenberg (5:32)
I knew I had a drug addiction problem, the first time, when I woke up in my car, on a Sunday evening, the hot winds of tractor trailers blowing through an opened summer window, with a half-eaten McDonald's cheeseburger in my hand, parked at the rest area on I-95 North just past the Connecticut/New York border, having just woke up unable to remember leaving the club earlier that afternoon.
Touched By The Hand of God (Biff & Memphis Remix) by New Order (10:00)
I have always thought that ten minutes was a perfect length for a remix because one of the most perfect remixes I know is the Biff & Memphis Remix of Touched by the Hand of God by New Order.
There are many good qualities to this remix, first of which is its elevation of the song's lyrics and Bernard Sumner's singing to something more reverent than its original performance. An understanding of subtexts. It is the pauses stretched out between stanzas. It is the preservation of the whole song's spirit, a song which is somehow, all at once, about love, about depression, about ignorance, and, the more you learn about its characters, addiction. In their remixing of a pop-rock song, Biff & Memphis electrified the emotion in a manner that convinces the body, as it hops to the entrancing 4/4 beat, to let go and spin.
But it is the sustained ending — perfectly metered, to an exact tenth minute — that leaves you wanting more.
Strangeworld (White Label Bootleg Remix) by Ke' (9:36)
I vividly remember the last time I partied really hard, consuming a gargantuan amount of ecstasy and ketamine and crystal meth on a four-day binge that started in Boston on a Friday, looped into New York City Saturday night, and ended at that same rest area sometime Monday, cheeseburgers, this time, fully consumed. It was memorably perfect.
It was July 1999, it was New England hot, and it all took place at several venues, none of which exist anymore. It was the perfect party, recklessly irresponsible, and as each hour of the events progressed, it became more clear to me I had reached the pinnacle of what drug-fueled pleasure could be. I danced on a parkway at night. I partied with the DJ. I could never achieve this high again. I knew it was the end, and it was the last time I used that trifecta of drugs, dancing for nearly four days straight, only to sleep for four-something more, exhausted. I am grateful I survived.
Excess (Eddie Baez Remix) by X-PACT (8:21)
I first got sober sometime in 2000, developed a brutal prescription drug addiction shortly after while working in the casino industry, got sober again, and then relapsed once more shortly after emigrating from the East Coast to California, fleeing my problems, then I stopped drinking again, and then once more decided it'd be cool to drink and smoke weed after settling in San Francisco, a totally different kind of dancefloor where drinking and smoking weed felt like a civic duty. After almost killing myself in November of 2010, I gave it all up, a fourth time, on December 8, 2010. I've been clean and sober since.
Juxtaposing addiction, perfume, capitalism, and creative capital might come across as crass to some — but this is my story. I think it's hard to edit addiction out into something neat and saleable.
Now, I look at the legions of perfume collectors who have garbage bags full of perfume samples, curio cabinets overflowing with bottles, and a seemingly insatiable appetite for engagement metrics in the fragcomm attention economy and I wonder to myself: At what point does this become unhealthy?
I cannot answer that question.
I can, however, conclude my story.
The Studio Series has been a wonderful experience — for me, and because of the gracious sharing of stories by its many subscribers and fans, like you, dear reader, I know it has been wonderful for many of you, too.
But I know it's come to its natural terminus. For no other reason than, for me, it has just become too much. The demands of creating within the capitalism cycle are great enough, the attention economy even greater, but the meta-demand of having to pull together experimental samples for projects in development that are now on a three-year timeline, has just become too overwhelming. And like that last night in New York City, the pangs from a future course uncorrected are undeniable.
Studio Series 13 will be the end.
Land of the Living (Junior Vasquez New Vocal Mix) by Kristine W (7:36)
Good perfume takes time — something I think the Studio Series demonstrates. Vintage perfume lovers especially know the value of time for perfumery. The production cycles of yesteryear were much slower than today, and many of us, even outside of perfume, yearn for a slowing down. I know I do.
Pumping out a product that is mostly perfume samples has lost its experimental allure for me, and in conversation with many of you, I know that you share this feeling, too. How many little vials can we own? Enjoy? For some of us that number is: Too many.
Here to Stay (Felix Da Housecat Thee Extended Glitz Mix) by New Order (8:11)
Recovery takes, time. Commitment, too.
My favorite remixes have always been obscurities. B-Sides that get retooled and in the process become more revered than the lead single.
Music and perfume have been inextricably linked for decades now: we still refer to the parts of a perfume work as "notes." And now, in our time, writing and perfume are the next wave of interdependence. In that vein, it is my goal to preserve the written aspect of both the Studio Wafts and the commissioned writers, moving forward. How that manifests, though, I do not yet know.
Paninaro '95 (Angel Moraes Deep Dance Mix) by Pet Shop Boys (10:28)
Personally, my goal in perfume creation has always been to beat the norm. To date I have released ten perfumes. I can look back on what I've accomplished today — both in those ten releases and in my ten years getting to this moment — and say with a sense of pride that I think I have accomplished beating the norm.
My hope for the next ten releases I have planned (and there are currently ten in development), is that they ride a knife's edge of obscurity just long enough to be regarded as edgy, without falling atop it to become irrelevant. Without survival.
As artists, sometimes we create work which needs no editing. Perfect snapshots. Other efforts take years to steel and refine. Those rough diamonds, chipping away at our files, slowly over time.
But, it is always that sense of time that we must somehow try to wrest and overcome. A knowing of when. And with perfume, the challenge is so frequently one of longevity, both in terms of composition and in relevance. A knowing when to break. And to bow.
One Two Three (No Gravity) (Dettinger Remix) by Closer Musik (5:05)
And this is that break.
I sincerely thank everyone who has supported this project to-date. What was meant to be offered as a learning experience in perfumery for collectors also turned out to be a learning experience in humanity through perfumery for me, and for those of you who wrested that into fruition unknowingly, my gratitude cannot be accurately placed into words.
As always, your purchase of a Studio Series set helps sustain the work I do in independent perfumery. Thank you!
Not yet experienced any of my work? Purchase a Studio Series Set or a Perfume Discovery Set and explore the full range of fragrances in my studio.