New Perfume Reviews Ephemera by Unsound Bass and Drone- Does it Feel Good?

I started my reviews of the new Ephemera by Unsound line with Noise because it is going to be the easiest of the three to approach. That doesn’t mean the remaining two, Bass and Drone, aren’t as good because they are. Perfumer Geza Schoen continued to use music as his brief for the perfumes and MFO provided video interpretations. In the continuation of the conversation I began in the Noise review Bass and Drone live right on the edge of what is commonly considered pleasant smells. This is why these might be less easy to initially embrace. I think these are perfumes worth the effort because once they invade your consciousness they are darn hard to shake.

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Geza Schoen

Bass was founded on a piece of music from Kode9 aka Steve Goodman. He titled the music “Vacuum Burn”. It is his earliest olfactory memory of a vacuum cleaner which emitted a burning smell. Hr. Schoen goes for that odor of burning electronics, dust, and hair. That smell is going to be seen as flat-out unpleasant by many. I once responded to a forum thread on weird smells you like with hot electronics and the smell of hair burning. For me this means Bass accesses that affection for odd smells. Hr. Schoen does a fantastic job at bringing this to life. How he achieves this effect is to take woodsmoke and combine it with rum. The rum stands out very early on but eventually the smoke shrouds it and this forms the burning hair accord. The heated electronic accord consists of a combination in the heart of leather and black tea, on a platform of mastic. Hr. Schoen takes the mastic and uses it as a foundation to build this accord. The base notes are a rich animalic castoreum matched with oakmoss and a couple other musks. It forms a very human final accord as it reminds you there is a young child accessing a unique smell for the first time. Bass has 14-16 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The video of Bass, above, captures the sense of heat and burning but the music especially does an amazing job of this. There is a sound of crackling burning punctuated with an irregular mouse click. When I wore Bass and listened to the track I saw the image of the vacuum on overload. I spent my whole hour commute one day listening to Vacuum Burn on repeat with my eyes closed breathing deeply the evolution of Bass. The time flew by.

The piece of music Tim Hecker supplied Hr. Schoen is the antithesis of the name, Drone. It is a languidly swelling soundscape. Early on I lean in to hear the opening notes; by the end it has me sitting back in my chair. Mr. Hecker wanted “a speculative Day-Glo incense from rituals where long-form sound induces levitation.” Hr. Schoen starts with us up in the air as he uses a different set of aldehydes and ozonic notes than he used in Noise. In Noise these ingredients radiated cold. In Drone they do almost the opposite as they convey an expansive openness. This is a fabulous example of what a very talented perfumer can do with primarily the same sets of raw materials. By balancing and combining in just the right way Hr. Schoen produces two very different effects. These early moments of Drone make me feel like I am gliding a few hundred feet above the ground. The heart notes bring me in for a landing in the middle of a stand of pine trees. Fir and juniper are the heart notes but this is mostly fir with the juniper adding in depth. As I continue to take in the airy opening accord over the fir Hr. Schoen pulls out a wonderfully weird synthetic vetiver which begins to insert itself in between the other notes oozing into the spaces and creating a new fragrant accord. The base notes are patchouli and ambergris and they form perhaps the most traditional accord of any of the three fragrances in the collection. Drone has a lot of unusual angles and shifts to it to the point that on first sniff I wasn’t excited. I wore it a lot and the combination of sound and visual really drew me in. Drone has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Drone was the complete package for me. The music by itself was the one I liked the best and the one which has made it onto a playlist with other non-perfume music. This time the video captures the smell and the sound perfectly. There is a moment in the video at the 1:14 point which visualizes the way I smell the vetiver combining in the scent as the music hits the crescendo it has been building towards. This is the perfect combination of sight, sound, and smell. Because of all of this Drone has become my favorite.

Now let me return to the thesis I brought up in the review of Noise, does a perfume have to smell good? I can see showing someone these three perfumes and they can’t find anything within them that smells good. That is judging them solely on a superficial level. What I think all three of the perfumes in this collection exemplify is if you have the vision to go more than skin deep and attempt to connect with more than just the sense of smell there is something beyond the purview of simple questions like “does it smell good?”. Instead the question becomes, “Does it make me feel good?” Where the answer to the first question might be variable; if you allow these perfumes and the music and the visuals the opportunity I think the answer to the second question is something much more affirmative. If you have any interest in the potential of what perfume can do this is a collection you need to try.

Disclosure: this review was based on samples I purchased.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Ephemera by Unsound Noise- Does It Smell and Sound and Look Good?

Whenever I try a perfume which is attempting to be avant-garde I always think of the words of the late perfumer Guy Robert. He said famously, “A perfume above all must smell good.” I think many of us who love fragrance would take this as a truism. I also think if we want to believe that there is such a thing as olfactory art then there has to be room for a perfume which can audaciously explore the line of what smells good. The last part of 2014 and the first part of 2015 has been an opportunity for me to explore this concept in a brilliant new collection, Ephemera by Unsound, from perfumer Geza Schoen as part of the Unsound Project.

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Geza Schoen

The Unsound Project debuted a collaboration between Hr. Schoen and three electronic music artists Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and Kode 9. This was all further accompanied by three videos by MFO. Each was inspired by the other. Hr. Schoen took his brief from the music especially composed for each fragrance. MFO created visuals which capture the music and the perfume. I have heartily dug into this experience as I have spent time just listening to the accompanying track on my headphones on the days I’ve worn each. I’ve sat in a darkened office with the visuals playing and the music at high volume coming from the speakers. This is as complete a multimedia experience as I can remember experiencing with perfume at the center of it all. It is this satiation of so many of my senses at the same time which makes this as memorable as it is for me.

We return to the central thesis though, “Does it smell good?” I am going to share my opinion on that over the next couple of days as I review each of the three perfumes Noise, Bass, and Drone on all of the levels that I experienced them on.

Noise as a perfume is a fragrance about chilly components. Hr. Schoen wanted to capture some touchstones from Mr. Frost’s olfactory memory. Mr. Frost asked for Australian brushfire, the showering sparks of an arc welder, church on Sunday- cold stone and frankincense, the bed of a pickup truck with the remnants of the tools of the hunting party. These are the kinds of things Hr. Schoen has captured in liquid form in the past. For Noise he boldly displays them as a fragrance equivalent of an Ice Princess. The beauty draws you in but if you stay too long the frostbite will devour you. He opens this perfume with a cocktail of aldehydes and ozonic notes. You’ve smelled all of these individually in hundreds of perfumes over the last few years. Like a music producer laying down tracks Hr. Schoen drops one aldehyde and another, then an ozonic note, then another aldehyde and so on until a bright olfactory harmonic is achieved. A slug of black pepper adds orthogonal spice. This moves into a heart of woody tinged florals. The note list says it is magnolia and orchid. I smell a bit of linden also and, as in the top, saffron is used as contrast. By using the woodier floral notes it keeps Noise aloof never allowing a full defrost to occur. The base returns to the metallic themes of the top notes but this time there is the hint of smoke in the distance and the smell of grinding gears. Hr. Schoen uses frankincense, amber, labdanum, cedar, and leather together to form this base accord. Noise assessed solely as a perfume is everything I can ask for of a fragrance willing to push my limits of what smells good.

When I just listened to Noise by Ben Frost while wearing the perfume I can’t say I found as much of the influences cited in just the auditory portion of this installation. What did pull it all together is the video above. The visuals capture my experience of the perfume as if they were pulled from my head by MFO. As I sat in my office surrounded by the music at high volume, pulsating, and the video occupying my entire visual field; right there this project came to life in a way I’ve rarely experienced with the multimedia explorations including perfume.

Noise has 16-18 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I will come back to answer the question of whether it smells good after I have reviewed Bass & Drone. On a more reductive scale Noise is one of Hr. Schoen’s most complete compositions ever. From a perfumer who excels in exploring the borders of perfumery Noise is perhaps the best example of avant-garde in his repertoire.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample set I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Reviews of Bass and Drone can be found here.

New Perfume Review Ormonde Jayne Black Gold- Collaborative Virtuosity

I am not sure what it is about Harrod’s but when a perfume line designs an exclusive for the Knightsbridge luxury department store they seems to go all out. I could name five perfume lines where the best perfume in their collection is their Harrod’s exclusive. I can add a sixth name to the list as the new Ormonde Jayne Black Gold is the best fragrance from Ormonde Jayne in many years.

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Linda Pilkington

Ormonde Jayne owner Linda Pilkington has been working with perfumer Geza Schoen from the very beginning of the brand back in 2002. From the very early days of their artistic partnership they have had a more intimate relationship than the traditional Creative Director-Perfumer hierarchy. Ms. Pilkington has used her love of travel to also allow for her to discover and access some of the more unique raw materials, from all over the world, being used in niche perfumery. As she finds her ingredients she has Hr. Schoen assist her in striking the right balance and by adding in a supporting cast so the special ingredients are displayed prominently. Black Gold is a prime example of this style of collaboration and composition.

In the press notes for Black Gold Ms. Pilkington describes the five keynote raw materials for this perfume. Two of the ingredients are fractionations of the absolute where a second distillation is performed and the oil is collected within a very specific, and narrow, temperature range. The concept is you can fine-tune an absolute down to a very specific scent profile. In Black Gold it is sandalwood and ambrette which are afforded this treatment. The other three are carnation absolute, labdanum resinoid, and an Andean version of pink peppercorn called Schinus Mole. All five of these are some of the most precious raw materials you could choose to work with and Ms. Pilkington literally took years to find and source all five. She brought these ingredients back to her home base in London and together with Hr. Schoen they created Black Gold.

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Geza Schoen

Black Gold opens with top notes that are all Hr. Schoen as his adeptness with citrus and herbs is right out front. Bergamot, mandarin, and lemon provide the tart and juicy citrus spine for clary sage and juniper berry to interact with. The result is a lively fresh olfactory appetizer. But now it is time to tuck into the main course as the first two of the focal points come forward. The carnation is one of the finest versions of carnation I have encountered and is combined with this Peruvian pink peppercorn which picks up the clove-like aspect of the carnation. I would say that I think this species of pink peppercorn is a bit less rough adding in a sophistication I usually don’t get from pink pepper. Jasmine, rose, and waterlily provide a floral foundation so that the carnation does not get lost in the spice cabinet. The base starts with the two fractions of sandalwood and ambrette. The sandalwood fraction is all about the arid quality the finest sandalwood has. The ambrette fraction swaddles that very dry woodiness with a powdery aspect along with the botanical musk that ambrette provides. The final piece to the Black Gold construction is the labdanum which provides a green glowing heartbeat to the final phases of this perfume. A very intricate underpinning of patchouli, vetiver, moss, and vanilla provide all the grace notes these three jewels need to shine to their fullest.

Black Gold has 24 hour longevity and very little sillage as it is extrait strength.

Black Gold is a beguiling fragrance that enchants with a whisper and fascinates with a unique set of ingredients. It is my favorite Ormonde Jayne fragrance since 2006’s Orris Noir. Ms. Pilkington and Hr. Schoen have created a spectacular sensuous perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke