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I had a conversation the other evening about scents and music with a friend from Swedish band Diablo Swing Orchestra. Two of my favorite topics in life, so you can imagine my mind went all the way to eleven. (Sorry, musicians’ joke, some of you might catch the reference).

Music and perfume are related in so many ways, after all it is not by coincidence that the language of perfumes with notes and accords is taken directly from the terminology used to describe music composing. I don’t know how you feel about this, but for me the bond is much more profound and omnipresent. As with any language connected to any of our senses, I feel that the language that scents “speak” also has rhythms, paces, vibrations, textures that can be detected in music. Listening to music I associate the instruments, moods, transitions etc with scents and I feel instant affinity between certain fragrances or smells and songs. These associations are of course very personal and subjective, so any other person would be likely to make other connections than I do.  With some persons that I have helped find signature fragrances, or created fragrance wardrobes for, their music preferences have been a very valuable tool in the process after I felt like I grasped their way of “sense-translating”.

I don’t know how many of you share this way of thinking. I’m guessing I am not alone in this and I would love to hear your reflections. So let me start this topic by sharing some of my reflections from the conversation I had with singer/composer/musician Daniel. These are not revolutionary thoughts or ground-breaking associations. Some are quite obvious, others less. But I do find the interplay between sound and scent very inspiring and helpful so maybe these reflections will be useful to some of you.

Daniel Håkansson, Diablo Swing Orchestra

Let’s take for example instruments. Drums, I love drums. I am perhaps slightly obsessed with drums. To me drums are resinoids, some woody notes and animalistic. Drums are never flowers in my mind. Never moving or floating. Other sounds, like for example a cello can have something very mobile, alive and almost painfully transient about it. For an olfactory exercise – here’s a mind blowing reference to play with:

Diablo Swing Orchestra – How To Organize a Lynch Mob

My associations are not always directly from music to scent, sometimes they go via color, texture and pattern. Details in a song will feel like white dots or like a string about to burst or like a sweeping caress. Some ingredients will share one of these characteristics. It is highly subjective, but completely unarbitrary. And just like instruments or accords can be dissonant, a scent accord can be in conflict. To me the smell of dissonance is sour or like bitchy little flowers.

I like to use music as inspiration for fragrance composing in my mind… This spring there is one specific bridge that I have crossed a gazillion times as it takes me from my work to my favorite coffee bar. Many many of these walks I have listened to the song ‘Undisclosed desires’ by Muse while creating a fragrance in my head. I used a poem to remember the transitions between top, middle and base. (If you google “Trisiagion et L’Ame” you should be able to find it if your are curious). I would like to make this fragrance someday so I don’t want to talk it apart beforehand. My point is this, sometimes a specific song brings ideas of colors, characteristics, tonalities, opacity or denseness etc… that can be directly translated to notes and in this process music can serve as inspiration, storyboard and reference.

Can scents be used as an inspiration tool for musicians? Just as music can be used to augment olfactory thinking, I am convinced that scents can benefit the music composing process. Scents work with the brain in a very powerful way. This has to do with the human anatomy, the passage between the scent and the brain is short and direct. I will look into this more so I can provide you with a better more thorough explanation but until then let’s just embrace this fact and the possibilities it creates. We have the obvious aroma therapeutic aspects, such as citrus as uplifting. But how can we go a step further? My idea here is that by surrounding yourself with mood scents you’ll be stimulated to balance the music you create or to add a certain atmosphere in a helpful way. For example when looking for a way to add softness or desire or savageness or depth to a melody. Say if you want to make the music darker, I am sure that incense or animalistic notes would help your mind find the way.

So, what about G minor? This was the question that triggered the conversation the other night, “what does G minor smell like?”. Take a moment to think about it and then I will tell you my thoughts.

G minor. This is where I go with my brain – the sound smells like a plant to me. Not a flower, not a spice, not resinoid, not animalistic. It is something that moves and lives. Like the strings on a guitar it stretches, vibrates. My first specific scent associations were the way that air smells between the lightnings during a thunder storm – wet, sweet, angry and vibrant. But also new. The idea that comes to my mind is vetiver. Solid but flexible, alive. Dark and light at the same time. Rooted and reaching out.

Thank you Daniel. For the music and for a great question.