Big thanks to Éva-Marie Lind and Anya McCoy for sharing insights on Piesse, Nick Lesley for videography, and Amanda Cachia and the SDAI crew for commissioning the work!
Septimus Piesse, a 19th century French perfumer, introduced a vocabulary to talk about smells that made use of musical metaphors. Words such as ‘notes’ (individual smells), ‘chords’ (combinations of notes), ‘harmony,’ and ‘progression’ are still used today in fragrance industries. In 1858 Piesse created an ‘Odophone,’ a literal scale of smells corresponding to different pitches in Western musical notation. By his own logic, scent chords could be formed. Piesse’s logic somewhat corresponded to the scientific understanding of smell in his day, which posited that smell, like sound, was perceived by frequency and vibration. That logic has since been debunked, rendering Piesse’s Odophone little more than a historical anachronism. That is, unless one is dubious of the scientific evidence that supports this conviction. Or, unless one finds value in mining anachronisms as a way to move culture forward.
Odophonics, a performance for scent and musicians, is an ongoing collaboration between Sean Francis Conway and Brian Goeltzenleuchter. The performance is a jumping off point to explore Piesse's Odophone to test new propositions about how one experiences smell, particularly in relation to sound.
The musical component in Odophonics uses Minimalist structures such as consonant harmony, drones and polyrhythms to create gradual chord transformations. All the notes in this ambient soundscape can be found on Piesse’s scale. As the performers play the composition, Goeltzenleuchter releases the corresponding scent notes in time. Each scent is faithfully derived from Piesse’s scale. Together, the musical and olfactory harmonics gradually shift. Specific to the performance is the question: What relationships exist between concurrent perceptions of smell and sound?
Sean Francis Conway, conductor
Brian Goeltzenleuchter, scents
Kate Hatmaker, violin
Travis Maril, viola
Alex Greenbaum, cello
Jory Herman, double bass
Brian Goeltzenleuchter is an artist whose multi-sensory projects consider the ‘use-value’ of art in contemporary society. He earned his MFA in 2001 at University of California San Diego. From 2002 - 2008 he was Associate Professor of Art and Director of the MFA Program at Central Washington University. He has held residencies at the Institute for Art and Olfaction, Los Angeles, the Banff Centre, Canada, and Centrum Beeldende Kunst, The Netherlands. He is currently a Faculty Fellow in the Weber Honors College at San Diego State University.
Sean Francis Conway is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in San Diego. He earned his BA in jazz composition from Berklee College of Music in 2007. Conway is the founder of the marching sound collective BOMBSHELL BOOM BOOM (!) and has performed with many notable groups such as The Santa Clara Vanguard, Gamelan Galak Tika, The Mobius Artists Group, Rasa Rasa (Tzadik), and No Know Sound Band.
For the past 9 years Art of Élan has been pioneering unique chamber music events and bringing the excitement of classical music to diverse audiences. Created by violinist Kate Hatmaker and flutist Demarre McGill, Art of Élan is continually expanding the scope of classical music in San Diego through innovative, one-hour programming in unique performance venues. Its partnerships with Malashock Dance, the San Diego Symphony, The San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, Lux Art Institute in Encinitas, The Glashaus in Barrio Logan, and A Reason To Survive (ARTS) in National City have led to multiple commissions, world premieres, exciting cross-disciplinary productions and enthusiastic, capacity audiences. By drawing inspiration from the word ‘élan,’ which represents momentum, vigor and spirit, Art of Élan continues to engage and energize audiences in new ways.