Ephemera - a project by Unsound + Geza Schoen

So, here's the first "highlight" of 2015 for me. A new cross-disciplinary project curated by the guys at Unsound Festival (Poland), in collaboration with perfumer Geza Schoen. You can find all the information online, but basically the Ephemera thing is about three perfumes - Bass, Noise, Drone - connected with three prominent underground electronic musicians (Kode9/Bass, Tim Hecker/Drone, Ben Frost/Noise). They wrote some kind of "brief" each and created three short raw pieces of music, each with its own short video, which served Schoen as a starting poin to create scents inspired by them. I know what you're thinking, as it was what I thought too: this can turn either into complete shit, or something *really* interesting and new. Well... here's my report about this.

Now, I must start by remarking that this is a totally peculiar project which I guess and understand may “divide” peoples and opinions due to its peculiar nature, but as a form of respect for the people involved in it (which are all totally respectable in their fields), it needs a sort of “suspension” of the usual parameters one uses to consider perfumes (not hard to do that: I am usually so skeptical, presumtptuos and snob, if I managed to do it, you can do it too). It’s not the usual launch of just another new brand or a line of perfumes entirely belonging only to the perfume market, where the “visual” stuff is just part of the marketing. It doesn’t even start in perfumery actually; the guys at Unsound just called a nose, so the whole thing starts there into another world other than perfumery; and so one shall put oneself in that position – “accepting” that world with a positive curious attitude – before judging these. In other words, I think this Ephemera thing requires us to take into account all the frame, as an important a mandatory step needed to get a better idea of them. Which means considering – with your mind opened at your best - the sounds, the videos, the textes, the musicians’ words as tools on the same level of usefulness and importance (and if possible, to get familiar a bit with the musicians themselves). This is a proper inter-disciplinary project which can be enjoyed at its best by considering with the same interest all aspects of it. Which makes it possibly a true example of “niche”, as it kind of “cuts-out”, or at least puts off quite a lot of people, and for once, not only for sad RRP policies.

Then, the scents can obviously also be viewed “per se”, as I did too in fact; but limiting to the perfumes in my opinion, and with no offense to anyone, would be a bit miopic and quite derogatory towards all the creativity involved in this project, mostly because people here worked to give you something which has to be used and considered the way they imagined it. It may be hard to consider the whole thing especially if you aren’t familiar with these musicians or, in broad terms, with this “world”, or if you don’t like them, but well, then it would be better to simply stay away from it.

Overall anyway, always referring to the whole Ephemera project, I honestly find this a solid, consistent, interesting and clever project about synesthesia. It could have been so worse, more shallow and more cliché-y, while it isn’t. The only fact that it involves 3 fantastic prominent names of underground electronic music, which is something I would have never thought to see linked to perfumes, is more than enough to have at least my “sympathy”. Perfumery needs this creative experiments to cultivate its “fresh” experimental side, and this one went particularly well in my opinion, considering how rare these projects are. Most of the times, “avantgarde” in perfumes is either self-referential, or just bare pretentious and random marketing shit. While here, at least there's is indeed “something” around perfumes – there’s real musicians, real music, real work, a whole group of real people. I am an enthusiastic fan of Kode9 in particular, and seeing his name linked to a perfume - which means my other big passion - is just thrilling and enticing for me. The same for Tim Hecker, although personally I was kind of disappointed by the quality of Drone.

Now, the scents. Bass and Noise are surely more than good for me, considered “per se” and related to the project and their respective inspirations; while Drone, I personally find it weak, boring, a bit “rushed” and “easy” – too “eas y” to be compared to its far more creative and compelling brothers.

More in detail (yeah, that was just the introduction...) :



The standout for me here. The more complex, more solid, more fascinating as a perfume itself, and also the more appealing and “versatile” among this line in my opinion. I find that Schoen has been really clever here to put in Bass all the “bass” he could, from any point of view, starting from a really nice, generic olfactory depiction of bass frequencies, to the actual smell of sound apparels (some kind of “electric” smell I can relate to wires, amplis, woofers), to – more in particular – Hyperdub’s “urban” mood, to – even more in particular – Goodman’s specific brief about his personal memories and suggestions, that cracked vacuum thing with its “dusty bass sound”. Bass smells of synthetic, dusty, plumbeous “subwoofer” blackness still including cracklings and mellow-sweet nuances melted with darker heaviness – as bass frequencies sound in fact, and correctly recalling Goodman’s words. Finally, speaking as a fan of Hyperdub, I think it perfectly gets all the features of Kode9’s music – Kode9 basically took a couple of decades of UK’s underground rave music, rewriting it with a sharp, nocturnal and futuristic cold digital vibe, still dark and “urban”, just digitally polished and “contemporarily” aloof. I think Schoen quite got into Kode9’s world and sensitivity with this. Speaking as a perfume “per se”, I find this much good the same: it’s a well-crafted, complex and fascinating woody-resinous-herbal fragrance with a really dry, bitter post-industrial vibe all over, it’s dark and rich with, in my opinion, quite some interesting contrasts between dark mellowness and sharp-sour angles and cracklings. It’s obviously much synthetic (as all the three scents here) but I don’t see the problem as long as it fits its context frame and smells nice.




I find this a bit more “easy” composition-wise as regards of Bass, but it quite nails the point the same. If you read Frost’s brief and look at the audio-visual part, Noise perfectly captures it all. It’s “predictably” quite harsh and grayish-black, but with quite some interesting notes more on a mellow-hypnotic side. I am quite sure many other noses – more naif, less sensitive or just less interested in this world – would have done something far more boring, more “generically harsh”. While Schoen, I think he was smart and attentive enough to include also softer, almost “watery” nuances which add a sort of nostalgic “glow” feel to the scent. The contrast with the violent harshness of other notes perfectly nails the feel of “confusion” you get in both Frost’s text (which juxtaposes unrelated memories, images, smells) and in his music. The music is made of clashes and glitches, but also refrains, hyper-slow dilated sounds, and so is the perfume. So kudos to Schoen for having been quite “tuned in” to this. And like for Bass, personally I find this a really nice scent totally wearable and not challenging at all; a woody-roasted futuristic concoction with a colder vein of gassy-mineral nuances but also a warmer ambery shade, showing overall a kind of lunar, faded feel, with a nice evolution towards greener-softer woody territories. I find this “moody” in a way which quite fits the concept.




Here’s the “no” for me of this line – or well, the “meh”. I can accept and appreciate the (not that creative, honestly) correspondence between the lactonic-airy texture of the scent (more than hedione I actually get a dusty, “gassy” and kind of cloying blast of aldehyde C12, with just something milkier below and greener on top) and its sort of plumbeous staticness with “narcotic” anisic sweet nuances, with Hecker’s audio-video part and in broader terms with this musician’s world and soundscapes: yet... well, in my opinion it all feels a bit more naif, rushed, less creatively related to it. Drone honestly smells to me like a quite predictable and stereotyped interpretation of that world, “easily” recreating its more evident aspects (that sort of suspended, hypnotic, uterine mood). The thing is that in both Bass and Noise I sense like a “contact” between Schoen’s world and the musicians’ ones, I think I get something deeper and more intimately connected with them. While here I don’t get that, and I don’t think it ‘s my problem as I am a fan of Hecker too – actually that is why I say this, because I know “much else” has been kind of “left out” the fragrance. To me, this feels more like just a professional, shallow work on a brief made by someone who doesn’t really care that much about it (or doesn’t “get” it). And this in my opinion kind of undervalues all potentialities of Hecker’s part in this project. Finally, taken as-is unrelated to the project, Drone smells just, well, plain boring and dejà-vu to me, although I admit I am not a fan of these particular notes/materials.



Final conclusion: I would perfectly get the skepticism about this project but I find it (the project) consistent, interesting, well developed enough, and above all worthy our support even just for the idea and the efforts – like has been already said above. Niche perfumery is nowadays so little creative, so static, so stuffed with boring stuff, this Ephemera project is a healthy breath of fresh air. Nevermind if these aren’t masterpieces, at least there’s real skilled people and talents working together on something new, trying to proof perfumery can step out its own boundaries. Not just another wealthy “Mr. Nobody” quitting his whatever profession and deciding it’s time to invest money in perfumes, then hiring a couple of copys to put together some random arty-fartsy marketing stuff for the scents. This is obviously different, this is a concrete project and I like it even only for the fact they tried to establish an actual bridge between perfumes, music and visual art.

Final-final conclusion: they’re too costly, though.

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