New Yorkers are accustomed to strange smells — including that mysterious wave of maple syrup that periodically wafts across the city — but that's nothing compared to what's in store this weekend at Unsound's Ephemera installation at Audio Visual Arts, where a cross-disciplinary team is exploring the synaesthetic link between sound, vision, and scent.
Bringing the concept of Smell-O-Vision up to speed for the 21st Century, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker, and Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Hyperdub founder Kode9) created sounds and supplied concepts which master perfumer Geza Schoen, of the Escentric Molecules series, then translated into scents: Noise, Drone, and Bass.
Now streaming (literally) as part of the exhibition, they will eventually be manufactured as fragrances, but there's not much chance of confusing them with Bieber's spritz of teen spirit. Frost, whose void-surfing distortion fugues already have the whiff of freezer burn about them, described one of his inspirations as the odor of the pickup truck on hunting exhibitions in Australia, where he grew up: "Moisture and insect drones, mold and gunpowder, empty shells and diesel in jerry cans, the buzz of flies over sticky blood."
Hecker, always the trickster, took a more conceptual route: "The smell of music that has somehow gone on too long, but no one cares."
Goodman, meanwhile, makes the explicit link between bass tropes and household appliances. "We had a dysfunctional vacuum cleaner that gave off a scent of burning dust," he writes, "so whenever I hear the sound of hoover basslines, or those kind of crackling low-frequency, foghorn-type bass drones, then I always get this burning smell which is not actually present, but rather is a virtual byproduct of this memory in which the smell and the sound have become cross-associated."
The final part of the installation includes video work by London's Manuel Sepulveda (Optigram) and Berlin's Marcel Weber (MFO); you can get a brief taste — metaphorically speaking, anyway — for the sonic and visual components in clips featuring Frost's "Noise" (above) and Hecker's "Drone" (below). The installation runs through Sunday, April 6 at Manhattan's Audio Visual Arts. Unsound's festival programming carries on throughout the weekend, including tonight's Mutual Dreaming party featuring Copeland, Deepchord, Huerco S., and Heathered Pearls, et al; tomorrow's free listening session with Thomas Köner; a free discussion with Suzanne Ciani and Andy Votel; and the Bunker Unsound Edition, featuring Porter Ricks, Ital & Halal, Demdike Stare's Miles, and more. See Unsound's website for the full schedule.