Clip from olfacto-sound performance / by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

Clip from olfacto-sound performance with Sean Francis Conway at A Ship in the Woods on April 24, 2015. 

“Scents, like sounds, appear to influence the olfactory nerve in certain degrees. There is, as it were, an octave of colors like an octave in music; certain odors coincide, like the keys of an instrument. Such as almond, vanilla and orange blossom blend together, each producing different degrees of a nearly similar expression” - Septimus Piesse, The Art of Perfumery and Methods of Obtaining the Odors of Plants, 1857

Septimus Piesse was a French perfumer, who in the 19th century introduced a vocabulary to talk about smells that made use of musical metaphors - words like notes (individual smells), chords (combinations of notes), harmony, progression, the list goes on. Many of these terms are still used today in the perfume industry. 

He created an "odophone," a scale of smells corresponding to different pitches. By his own logic chords could be formed. This is self-evident in music. An individual note has its own frequency/characteristic, for example playing an  A (440 hz).  If you play 2 notes together you can hear each note individually if you listen closely, but what you end up hearing/feeling the most is the relationship between the 2 notes.  Those relationships have distinct characteristics and even have their own names.  Major 2nd.  Perfect 5th etc… As you play more notes together the relationships become more complex. But to what extent would that hold together for olfactory accords? And what relationship existed between concurrent perception of smell and sound?

Sean Francis Conway and I developed this performance as a jumping off point to engage Piesse's odophone with diligence and sincerity, though we both had a lot of skepticism about the limitations of applying musical metaphors to explain olfaction. Using steam vapor and a handheld fan, I introduced essences from Piesse's odophone in time with Sean striking the corresponding note on a piano. Every four minutes we introduced a new essence and a new note, until Sean was playing a C (9, 13) and I had dispersed the corresponding essences (neroli, almond, orange, tonka, and camphor).  We are currently at work on a slightly more elaborate arrangement.

From The Art of Perfumery (1857), Piesse's Odophone.

From The Art of Perfumery (1857), Piesse's Odophone.