This is the current Studio Waft, for Studio Series 9.
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Welcome to Studio Waft 9, the periodic essay in which I discuss the inspirations, concepts, and processes within my studio practice, specifically as they relate to each Studio Series release. This Studio Waft focuses on the new release, After Every Ounce of Joy (Leaves My Body), which premiered in Studio Series 8, unceremoniously, with little more than its acronym attribute. Let's get personal:
AEOOJ 3, 4, 5 & AEOOJ (LMB)
I've kept no secrets over the years that I deal with mental health issues on the daily. Depression, anxiety, a few moments of utter decomposition and welfare checks by police ... it's been a colorful life.
In early 2019 I made the decision to come off some psychotropic medication that, for all intents and purposes, lost its efficacy and offered more side effects than semblance, as they often do. I have been on antidepressants for a majority of my life, buttressed with alternating and interwoven periods of self-medication and abject sobriety, peppered with times of clarity and happiness. It's been a very colorful life.
And I've had to come off medication before. For most of us, it's just another change. For some of us, it's an event. And furthermore, for a few of us, we occasionally experience what can be referred to as a mental health crisis of unknown severity or duration. This recent event was not my first of those, an afternoon of crisis when, my brain, experiencing withdrawl and transition, bent reality a little while drenched by psychotic waves.
It would be fun to sit here and elaborate the phrase "bent reality a little" as some trippy, kaleidoscopic, visual portal into which you're thrust; no, it's rather boring (internally) and taxing (wholly), to be honest. It's really just the experience of having an encyclopedia of your life's panic attacks read out loud, audibly and uncontrollably by your mouth, unpredicatably into the real world, without schedule, for unprepared strangers to endure.
Parts of my body have broken a few times. There was, when I was a child, the immense stress of falling from atop our couch, which snapped my arm. I got a cast and healed, bone stronger than before. Then there was that early adulthood morning where I woke up and half my skull was paralyzed, and 367 days later I woke up again and the other half of my skull was paralyzed. I got a spinal tap, a lot of MRIs, and mostly shrugs from a rotating audience of answerless doctors, and never fully healed. Permanent damage is often the case with the delicate, brittle nerves involved in facial paralysis.
It was, in my early adulthood, this concussion of paralysis that greatly influenced a need for various drugs in the ensuing decades, prescribed or no, to help me do anything more than just get out of bed every day.
But when you do get out of bed one day and suddenly you are in your backyard screaming at your empty pool — or, during that first, early adulthood mental health crisis, in your driveway screaming at the sky — and you finally melt back into your screaming vessel and discover your realness again, you are reminded how important the objects which contain substances are to what others do or do not perceive them to be.
During this recent 2019 event, in the bend, I found as a tether a phrase repeating in my mind: every ounce of joy leaves my body. I'm certain I was just trying to describe what I felt. I remember speaking it aloud that moment an unprepared neighbor shot me a weird, concerned look. It certainly describes that sudden sadness and confusion.
An obsessive notetaker, I wrote it down and for the duration of that day into slumber rested upon the phrase like a raft, finally, atop shore, dripping dry. It was April 26th.
The next day I found myself reading pages from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a psychiatric reference — for comfort? for self-reflection? — that I had already been perusing in the weeks before Timbre EdT was released, because that's what you do when therapy is not an affordable option. On Instagram I posted from the DSM a photo of a Model for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (I was dealing with a lot of pernicious requests from influencers at the time). I questioned myself: What do perfume and mental health crises have to do with each other? What's the smell of a mental health crisis? What's the smell of crisis? I blended the first iteration of AEOOJ that evening, furiously. It was April 27th.
On April 27th, 2020, After Every Ounce of Joy (Leaves My Body) was released to the public, an unplanned but exact year of work. I have never worked so hard on a project in my entire life. And I've never felt more confident about something I have done — both the perfume and to come off medication — either, too.
So, does crisis have a smell?
For me, when I'm in a bend, it's the sensory world that shifts and I become incredibly aware of scent, like a primal response, and repulsively so. Unlike the many synesthetic perfumers who see the world and smell colors and such, when reality breaks up I become dangerously aware of sweat and funk, rusted metals, fertilizers, the sort of foundational chemical scents that are the basic alcohols of life and the salts of alchemy. It's not that I am not smelling them all the time already. It's more that I cannot access the flowers, the grass, the fruit; in a bend, I mostly access the decay.
It became clear early on that AEOOJ would undeniably be a self-portraiture project, in the same way that 33 was about redemptive hedonism, but perhaps in opposition to that: AEOOJ was not about anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure, but instead the complete loss of your collected joy, some phenomenon existing between realms of grief, amnesia, and psychosis. Nevertheless, in continuing a project of self-portraiture, I knew that vetiver, a multidimensional perfume ingredient for which I have great affinity and the key facet of 33, was my starting point.
Vetiver's odor profile can range from distinctly earthy to distinctly plastic; it's rather a remarkable natural material in that its preparatory method greatly affects its resultant identity. For instance, the historical method of distilling vetiver in copper pots ironically yields a very sulfurous-like, almost noxiously green odor, despite the fact that the function of copper in distillation is sulfur removal. Similarly, solvent extraction of the grass produces a rich, dark black tar of highly concentrated vetiver that smells of burning tires on charred asphalt.
What is decomposition anyway, mentally or physically? Is it not a hyper-reduction to foundational elements? To rusted anxieties? To plastic containers foolishly melting in microwaves?
A plastic / acetone / vinyl / petrol note for me was, from the very beginning, a key goal to this project. It's fairly easy to get those notes operating briefly in perfumery; it's a challenge to give those sorts of odors, however, a longevity. A tri-dimensional accord of vetivers, I found, helps give that legs.
The summer after the event was critical to this project, when a few trips spent foraging for resins out in the mountainous forests of Eastern California helped my creative cause. Then, I collected five different resins, a product trees exude to repair damage to their bodies and protect against disease — we even refer to balls of resin as tears. Pinyon pine produces an exceptional resin. It smells like Splenda-sweet turpentine and is often a very short-lived note in perfumery, due to its volatility. I was fortunate in my excursion to forage some incredibly exceptional, rich, fresh Pinyon resin for tincture. The day it was filtered it became immediately clear it would go straight into AEOOJ — an unbelievable note of screaming liquid plastic with the tenacity of angels.
AEOOJ 3 contains no resins.
AEOOJ 4 contains alternate foraged resins.
AEOOJ 5 contains the Pinyon resin.
If you had asked me anywhere up until the point that I gambled with patchouli as a part of this project, whether or not I'd try to incorporate it, I would have laughed at you. Patchouli has issues. But, in the part of this project where I did get stuck, patchouli was one of the variables I chose to try to bring in a humic, decompositional element to the odor profile, without doing a clichéd soil accord or something like dried peppers to evoke dust, as in Io. Patchouli works. Patchouli bends despite its idiosyncrasies, if you incorporate it patiently. And, thankfully, it also helps to extend the borderline natural-synthetic accords in play beside it.
AEOOJ 4 contains no patchouli.
AEOOJ 5 contains one of the eventual three patchoulis used in the end.
Styrax, another resin that smells of fruit and plastic, did, then didn't, then did again become a crucial participant in the synthetic odors facets of AEOOJ. When styrax is overdosed, you can smell nothing else, like a raspberry dart shot directly into your sinuses. It's hard to work with, both chemically and creatively, and, in the end, is another lock which holds the whole AEOOJ experience together, gluing the plasticky, rubbery, almost bleachy facets together with the sweat, the humus, and the rust. It amplifies the screaming top note that disappears almost as fast as you recognize it.
AEOOJ 3 contains styrax.
AEOOJ 4 and 5 do not.
Therein, the project is mostly one of perfume chemical magic. There's aldehydes, there's musk, and a few esoteric chemicals that give me nerdjoy to use.
But throughout every stage of this project, the driving question was always: What materials can help reinforce an idea of distillation and decomposition, of breaking down nature, of returning to an absence of sense, perhaps to an end goal of raw plasticity.
Whether or not, or to what extent, I accomplished a conveyance of trauma, breakage, and a slipping-between remains to be determined given public feedback. Nevertheless, the idiosyncratic result of this project is satisfying, and, in hindsight, heals some history.
And isn't history the hardest vessel to unbreak?
In that vein, I was so incredibly amazed by the essay, An Observation of the Permeable, that Sunday Williams wrote as a part of this project. The essay is emailed to everyone who purchases Studio Series 9.
What is more remarkable, though, is our unintended synchronicity. The Studio Series is planned out in advance, long before the edicts of isolation were handed down by governments, and I have, in both cases, not discussed with great detail (or shared a sample thereof) the perfumery part of the project with the writers until a midway point of editing. So, that in the midst of finishing an olfactive project and a written essay on trauma a pandemic unfolded ... well, it's safe to say Sunday and I were very caught off guard.
I'm glad we both agreed that the current global situation was, in fact, more reason to go ahead with releasing the project, and not deterrence.
One of the most damaging parts of trauma is often the shame and silences that follow the event. It's the weeks or decades of internal terror that, like a hammer inside our head, drunkenly destroys surrounding memories and daily presence in an attempt to single out a particular nail.
With all its primal alarm functions getting stronger every day, perfume, like reserves of emotion, sometimes finds its own way out of a bottle, despite the torque we effect to keep it sealed.
Who are we to always control that?
RMX A & RMX B
AEOOJ has been draining. The holidays prior were draining. And then, pandemic! I think we all agree we need a little levity, and in my times of great stress I find myself escaping to the shelter of house music.
One of the greatest threads of contemporary dance music is the remix.
Take gospel music, for instance, apply electronic drum machines, bend its pitch, filter it through a vocoder or some atmospheric filter, and you may arrive at one of the great audible classics enjoyed by discophiles and ravers. Two specimens of the same origin, one a devotional, perhaps even a morose dirge, the second, transformed into a completely different mood, perhaps even with a new reading of its spirit.
RMX A and RMX B are the beginning iterations of a Remix Project, and your nose might guide you to the perfume tracks which start this off. As is my wont, I shall end here and, again, leave you with a little mystery, another chance to just enjoy the music and let the beat within these three vials hit you where it may.
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.