‘The smoke’s smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.’
From Digging by Edward Thomas
As a writer I do from time to time receive requests from perfumers to review their scented work. I don’t pen negative reviews, so if I choose not to post my thoughts on something, it means I haven’t liked the scent or scents or found anything arresting enough in the olfactive composition or genesis to inspire me. Not everything has to be masterly or game-changing. I just need to be interested and surprised enough. On the Foxy blog I have said before I prefer to write on fragrances I have purchased, this act of simple aromatic commitment honours both perfume and perfumer. This may sound a tad simplistic but it allows me to avoid the poisonous vapours of gloomy and antagonistic reviewing.
Occasionally I am the recipient of work that surprises me; the perfumes themselves are intriguing enough to draw the Foxy gaze or perhaps the creator is someone who has taken a journey in strange shoes in order to arrive at an unconventional ambrosial place. This was most intriguingly the case with a request from Paul Schütze, a name I knew from the world of electronic music and compelling sonic soundscapes; he has released over thirty albums since he first started making music. He is a multi-talented creature of rare ability, a complex CV embracing composer, installation artist, critic, printmaker and photographer.
|Behind the Rain, Tears of Eros |
Paul said he was launching three eaux de parfums and would I like to sample them. I said yes, I was interested in how this talented polymath whose works are suffused with melancholia and the urgent cadences of sex, introversion and death would tackle the world of niche scent.
Paul isn’t exactly new to perfumery; although his route is one of leftfield aromatic projects beautifully lit and shadowed by scented books, music and candlelit rooms. In 2012 he produced a limited edition run of twenty handcrafted black books entitled In Libro de Tenebris. Each exquisite, moody copy was cloth bound, glassine wrapped and stamped. Every page was black and in infused with a bespoke scent created by Paul. The notes for this monographic brew included hay, vetiver, oak moss, aged sandalwood, cedar, tuberose, nutmeg and myrrh. In Libro Tenebris was originally part of an exhibition called Silent Surface, concerned with the emotive corrosion of books, paper, inks and bindings as they travelled, aged and decayed through time.
|the scent of burning books...|
The impregnated and blackened pages of this evocative work resembled something pulled from the wreckage of a house fire or bombing raid. Choosing to perfume the pages deepens the sense of emotional connections, suggesting to those that viewed the object, inhaling the odours that perhaps they were sniffing history and inhaling molecules of the book’s soul.
|In Libro Tenebris & Paul Schüzte|
The project was a finalist for the 2015 Art & Olfaction Sadakichi Award for Experimental Use of Scent category that is no mean feat; competition is fiercely diverse and selection from Saskia Wilson-Brown’s dynamic organisation is high praise. I love the idea of this black book, ink-soaked, perfume-stained, handmade tome of sacred utterance buried beneath the atramental layers, protected by Paul’s assembly of woods, spices, indolic tuberose and the morbid beauty of resinous myrrh.
|Sir John Soane Museum .. |
the candlelit lates..
A 2015 project was creating in-situ scent installations for a unique one-night only event at the Sir John Soane Museum in London, surely one of the most eccentric and beautiful spaces in London. Part of the museum’s incredibly popular Sensational Lates series, where the museums is hauntingly lit by candlelight only, thus transforming every twist and turn of this extraordinarily dense collection. Paul composed three site-specific scents to be diffused into the flickering ether. I am very interested in this kind of work, marrying aroma to words, music, places, rooms and artefacts. It’s an area of olfaction that is woefully unexplored or pursued with feeble and rather superficial integrity. Immersing us in a multi-sensory environment, including aroma, is fascinating. We live in a technological and covert era where hotels, supermarkets, offices, bars, cafes and public transport manipulate the molecules we breathe. Scent artists like Anicka Yi, Sissel Tolaas, Peter de Cupere and Koo Jeong A are setting out to challenge how we perceive scent and perfume; the prettiness of it, the odours we fear, the ones we exude and secretly find erotic. The definition of perfume, of scent and olfaction is slowly being stretched, torn, excreted, scrutinised and exhibited. I love it. Bring it on. We are so terribly afraid of the unknown, smells that don’t conform, that aren’t beautiful or desirable. But by who’s olfactory almanac are we judging this? We all have the ability to love the wrong side of scent. We just choose to do so in private most of the time…
|'Smoke Room' by Peter de Cupere Scent art...|
Threading through his olfactory projects towards his newly launched triptych is Paul’s preoccupation with the mysteries of location and the fugitive anomalies that these places inherently give rise to as we visit them. We rest, love and move on through, leaving traces of ourselves behind and consequently pulling minute particles with us as we travel. Paul’s approach to all things has been resolutely individual and anarchic, sensing chaos beneath surface, he has sought to mine its beauty and absurdity, be it through performance, art, music and now in perfumery. I have been listening to fragments of his huge oeuvre of musical work as I prepared to write this piece. I have always needed to lose myself in music; I never go anywhere without it, senses plugged into a selection of over 10,000 tracks. Ever since the first Walkmans appeared I wanted to be able to isolate myself, ignore my surroundings. If I’m honest I’m not sure I could tell you the last time I went outside without sounds in my ears. I actually panic at the thought of having to listen to real world sounds sometimes. Crazy. My music or silence. Those are my options. I have a huge obsession with electronica, eighties pop stuff (my era…), ambient swelling dream stuff that rolls around my night head, Scandic melancholia, soundtracks that conjure knives, deserts, lips or lost neon worlds, whispered synths and clattering heaving, sick beats. I find worlds within emotional worlds within my swathes of electronica.
While I’m writing this, I have the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s slick, erotic Giallo-soaked horror The Neon Demon playing on repeat. Clint Mansell’s throbbing, Mororderesque beats clatter and stain the air, reminding me over and over of my obsession with this kind of electronic urgency; it both stimulates and crowds my head, allowing me to wander in my thinking but also to lose myself in the persistent tonal electricity and repetitive rhythmic call.
|TSF Reworking of Album artwork for Paul's album|
'The Annihilating Angel; or the Surface of the World" 1990
I like Paul’s urgent, repeated work, it feels like a raft of internal monologues reaching out to connect, rolling over one another to reach you from beyond a darkened veil. I see razed sci-fi worlds, autopsies, shredded love, walks with ghosts through desolate houses, cities full of chattering machinery and still voice so small audible beneath the glorious pain of mechanisation. There are beautiful longeurs, pieces of soft touch and instruments, dials being caressed like lovers’ flesh. I don’t like everything, how could I, it’s like offering me a room full of strangers, some I will be drawn to, some will bore me, others disturb. Others I will barely notice. There were two pieces I picked out over a couple of days indulging. I by no means completed Paul’s vast repertoire, I just wanted to see how some pieces felt to me, how I’d respond, would I see the music in the olfaction and the olfaction in the rhythm.
One was The Black Lake from his 1995 album Stateless, a foreboding clouded piece with rumbling strings that felt on repeated listenings like aural night graffiti, muffled bells sounding helplessly in dream fog. A soundtrack for somnambulists. I found it to be claustrophobic and strangely exhilarating at the same time. The other piece was The Lotus Voltage from Abysmal Evenings, a piece of low glottal electronic muttering, a droning prayer over glittering water. A single persistent note pulled through a haunting squelched haze of bubbling sound. In your ears, these pieces of music play out like landscapes of tonal texture, the brain choosing to decode and reflect on what it chooses. I imagine like scent, we will all interpret differently. Not everyone enjoys this form of electronic musical soundscaping, but as composition to me it feels like inks dropped carefully onto the surface of water, colours radiating and synthesizing to create, harmony, ornament, contrast, effect and dissonance.
|Paul Schüzte sample trio|
When I first received the elegant sample trio of Cirebon, Tears of Eros and Behind the Rain from Paul, initially he didn’t furnish me with any information on the materials he had used so I blind tested them, making notes, sampling on skin, card and cloth. Something to bear in mind with Paul’s work is his personal eschewing of traditional olfactive pyramid structures that are generally used through perfumery. Simply put, the use of head, heart and base notes, smaller more vivacious brighter scent-setting molecules at the top, thematic, rounded, often floral notes at the heart and more deeper basso profundo notes in the base, notes that anchor, fix, texturise, draw out and help stabilise the composition. This is a very simplistic sketch, but perfumery is assumed by many to be a journey from head to the base, a seamless movement along the evaporation curve to the resins, woods, spices, ambers, animal notes and musks of every permutation that lie languidly in the depths.
Paul’s perfumery doesn’t do this and it isn’t really linear either, another form of structure which is technically very hard to achieve with beauty and resonance. The true exemplar of this is still Annick Ménardo’s magnificent Bulgari Black, one of the greatest scents of all time, a flawless brew of Lapsang Souchong tea, rubber, vanilla, cedar, tobacco and amber. No olfactory pyramid, goes on skin as it is and amplifies its rubbered smoke then fades slowly like an ember waning. Linear perfumery is often used by lazy perfumers to describe mediocre work that they’ve struggled to build correctly. You can smell it the collapse of structure as the scent opens and the notes just fold in on one another rather than delicately arrange themselves in harmony like exquisite objets in a mannered room.
Paul has arranged his perfumes as his does his music and art, assembling fragments, moods, textures, colour, tone to create a aromatic triptych of place – haunting, compelling place.
Sampling them blind was fascinating; I’ve done this before for a couple of other perfumers who work with rich, informed palettes. It focuses the senses and allows a freeform association with how you feel the materials feel and appear, rather than how they actually are. Cirebon, which I’m coming to in a moment is strictly speaking a very aromatic green citrus scent, a memory-psalm to the bitter orange tree, but as I wore it blind on a muggy Sunday evening, I imagined a Japanese tea ceremony on a bright spring morning, walls dropped to reveal lemon sky. I pictured the texture of ceremonial cups, the stirring of powdered matcha, a burst of yuzu, and curling tendrils of incense. I kept getting green tobacco which I now realise was the vetiver. It’s an interesting exercise to do, envisaging the story of the perfume as it were. It works well with work like Paul’s, which is more abstract and opaque in its construction.
|Metallophones & gamelan|
Cirebon is a scent of pure aural pleasure; inspired by the first time Paul heard Javanese court gamelan music at night by a lake. Cirebon, the name of a busy, historic port in java, is his olfactory interpretation of the gamelans hammered metallic and muffled mellifluence mingling with aqueous acoustic and the ambiance of sultry Javanese twilight. Homage and tonal reconstruction of his encounter with sound and nectarous experience. His mix of bigarade, bergamot, petitgrain and orange flower absolute is truly intoxicating at the explosive pithy top. The scent feels citric but not in a clean, conventional way, more of an erotic, slow undressing of fruit for a lover in the dark sort of a way. Zest firing into the air, perhaps hissing off embers and staining skin.
All the elements of the exquisite bitter orange tree are here, cold, clear, sensual, indolic, bittersweet and marmalade shudder. What gives it resonance is the late night throaty catch of woods behind the peel and zing. This is a very muted pairing of cedar and sandalwood, but nonetheless alive as the cedar, soft and papery drops through the composition and the beautifully handled sandalwood is milky white, glowing like pale flesh glimpsed by moonlight.
|An example of gamelan arrangement|
Writing this I had to remind myself of the actual definition of gamelan. I know its singular oddly hypnotic sound as its distinctive chiming emotions echo throughout Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Bafta award-winning soundtrack to Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. It is one of my all time favourite movie soundtracks, up there with Blue Velvet, In the Mood for Love, The English Patient, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Piano, Candyman, Three Colours Blue and Max Richter’s heart-breaking score for Perfect Sense. Once you have heard that ensemble shimmering gamelan sound it’s hard to forget. It is of Javanese or Balinese origin and can consist of a different permutation of instruments. Usually these are metallophones, a kendhang (a hand-played drum) augmented by a zither, flutes, xylophones, bowed instruments and occasionally vocals. The gamelan world is one of complex ritual and stylised playing, music passed down originally through an oral tradition although over the years, court musicians and increased exposure the west dictated a need to find a notation system to preserve the music. I’m a huge admirer of Erik Satie so it was very interesting to find out how interested he was in gamelan music and actually it makes perfect sense; if you listen to Danses de Travers: No 2 Pièce Froides, you can echoes of gamelan in the liquid flow of melody and key press.
Cirebon actually amplifies during its settling thanks to a good sweet earthy vetiver that reminds me a lot of the rooty, anisic one that Karine Vinchon used in the magnificent Coeur de Vétiver Sacré sadly discontinued by the chaotically managed L’Artisan Parfumeur. She used two really beautiful types and I’ve never forgotten how that that smashed grassy rootiness resonated off my skin the first time I tried it. Inside the herby liquorice explosion of her vetiver was an intensely cold smoky effect, controlled and immensely seductive. I smell that same grassy, fumed drift in Cirebon, a ganja-tinted wandering over Paul’s robustly arranged array of citrus stained materials. There is finally an overall metallic finesse to Cirebon from Paul’s use of the sweeter elements of bitter orange while the whiter aqueous and creamier notes of magnolia and cyclamen temper the bitter citrus and clarify the smoke. They are quiet guests at the table of Paul’s musical memory. But they are welcome nonetheless.
|White Hyacinth (TSF)|
Tears of Eros (also the name of a controversial Georges Bataille essay from 1961)is a quite beautiful piece, a stage work of three main protagonists, incense, clementine peel and hyacinth. A pièce-montée if you like, inspired by these three random elements coming together in Paul’s Paris studio on one particular evening. A hyacinth in bloom on a windowsill overlooking the city, some tangled green clementine peel on the floor and incense drifting and curling into the air. The fortuitous minglng of these notes resonated liked soft music in Paul’s memory enough to trigger this vapourous perfume. On skin the tears are immensely more erotic, the scent visibly curling over the stretched, post-coital hide of a lover, windows flung open to a damp, washed sky. Perhaps a fade of Gauloises amid the woody contemplative haze. This is a goodbye sex; words are tricky and held back in both fear and anger, caught in saddened smoked throats. Maybe a shadow of another lover looms, like a bitter green tightening of the heart, suggested by the otherworldly mulch of hyacinth, the crystalline whoosh that explodes Guerlain’s Après L’Ondée, here in Paul’s Tears of Eros brooding on an open window, it’s oppressive Spring violence rising and falling in the evening miasma.
There is a careful diffusive aura to this perfume; it smells like ambient electronica; hushed lenient beats, melodious and caressing as you lie in a darkening room watching the sky fill with stars. The vital descriptive inclusion of green clementine peel is beautiful, working with and against the waveform incense and increasingly powdered florality. You can smell the bitter scrape of ghostly pith and almost sense the indents of fingernails on the skin of the fruit. It is a vivid rendering that adds a shy suggestion of bittersweet absinthe to this unusual composition.
|Green Mandarin (TSF)|
It is my favourite of the three compositions and kudos to Paul for inducing me to like a scent that contains any hyacinth. It is a floral note I abjectly loathe in real life; I really dislike the peppered skank of the flowers at a certain stage of bloom. There are a couple of varieties that emit a clovey creaminess when the flowers first appear, but generally it is a tricky note to balance in perfume correctly, without overdosing that feral steminess. In Tears of Eros Paul has successfully transmuted the earthy, garden-centre side of hyacinth into a more elegant, dare I say poisonous hypnosis of the flower’s blue-toned drift. Mixed with the persistent headiness of the incense and that startling green citrus, woods and wonderful resins, this is languid, harem vapour of beautiful ease.
Like Cirebon, Tears of Eros has lovely swelling longevity; pink pepper and chocolately labdanum really smooth out the scent on warm skin. And on skin it must go, it does not come alive in any shape or form on mouillettes. Paul’s technique of aromatic architecture, assembling the materials until these olfactive memories provides a detailed aromatic image for his canvas seems to work, there are accords and emotions, themes if you like that echo through all three perfumes, but as an audience, the music will smell different to each and every one of us.
The final part of the trio shares similar traits to the others in its use of citrus, resins and roots but Behind the Rain is essentially an arresting and hugely aromatic portrait of vetiver on a ground of storm-trashed leaves. Split branches, broken blossoms and churned earth; all this warmed by the sun as the rain passes on. As with Cirebon and Tears of Eros, Behind the Rain is inspired by a memory, in this case of a sudden Aegean storm, its aftermath and sheltering amid conifer trees. The impetuous storm lashes trees, leaves, stems and bark, unleashing a melange of petrichor-soaked aromas.
The sunny grapefruit note is generously sweet, not too acerbic and working beautifully with a generous dose of black pepper, which characterises the top. I love lentisque or mastic in scent; it is utterly unique, with a parched, shrubby ochre aroma instantly reminiscent of southern France, Corsica and Greece. It reeks of rubbed, herbaceous sunlight. There is nothing quite like it and it really smells radiant in Behind the Rain. The heat of it over the oddly cold, inert patchouli exalts the post-storm vibe of the perfume’s aromatics. That little touch of linden is gentle, but necessary, a reminder of the bruised florals amid the tumble and lash of leaves, resins and wood. I find frankincense quite ghostly in scent and here is no exception; suggesting perhaps the ghosts of fallen trees in the settling of an ambient and electrified sense of air washed clean.
It’s a scent and sense I remember from my childhood, testing my nerve in countless rainy season thunderstorms in Africa. Standing in thunderous weighted downpours, exhilarated as the sky exploded around me. I love rain and the sudden eerie afterwards before life starts up again. Rain cleanses and eradicates. All is silence expect for the spilled water falling like tears. The assault of flora, ground, building, root, leaf, bark and tar produces aromas of discordant beauty. As a kid I loved it, this reckless immersion in the elements. Even now as an adult I get perverse pleasure from rain wandering, music turned up high, lost for a while in water and sound.
This scent could have been called After the Rain, but Behind the Rain is infinitely more evocative, implying the organic nature of the storm moving away, leaving survivors behind to tell tales, witness damage. In the same way the grapefruit, pepper and overt resinous mood pass on in the perfume, allowing the radiant vetiver to come to life. You can smell it subtly throughout the composition, but it really does smoulder as the scent starts to move into its later stages. And although Paul’s perfumes don’t strictly speaking obey the classic triangular note format, there are moments in all three when certain key materials break free of that format. The vetiver is excellent and ably supported by the quiet use of sweet fennel lending an elegant vegetal anisic facet to the grassy, stalkiness of that lovely rootiness.
|Vetiver - dry & fresh|
As with all three of Paul’s compositions the quality of the materials is paramount; they move with harmony and clarity within the work. Wearing them you can identify elements and then they are gone again swirling carefully into the blended entirety. The nuances and attention to detail are delightful. I’ll be honest, Behind the Rain didn’t hugely impress me the first few times I tried it; sometimes I really have to be in the right frame of mind for vetiver fragrances. If I’m not, then bleh. But the more I wore this and wore it in context with the other two I liked it more and more. The vetiver had echoes of L’Encre Noire by Lalique, a benchmark vetiver for me, Behind the Rain has a little of the same bleak aridity in the final phase. I won’t say it bowled me over, however that is still more to do with my relationship with vetiver than anything else. I know if you love vetiver fragrances, Behind the Rain will need to be in your collection.
All of Paul’s work is about memory of place, distinct and real, objects, sounds, music, scent, all lifted into his polymath mind and woven like a tapestry of glass, light, smoke and words into shadowed scent, suffused with a very tangible sense of nostalgia. Not the remembering of laughter and social media, but the genuine, heartfelt, tremulous souvenirs of a man who seems intent on infusing his work with stillness, adoration and the eroticism of loneliness.
For more information on Paul Schütze perfumes, please click on the link below:
©The Silver Fox 06 August 2016