Olfactory Organ
Geza Schoen on collaborating with artist Wolfgang Georgsdorf for ‘Smeller’, an olfactory machine that plays scent symphonies.

The Smeller is an electronic olfactory organ. It looks like an alien from behind, huge, with 64 writhing metal tubes. Each tube leads to a source- chamber with a single smell in it. You could put anything that has a smell in the source-chambers: an aroma-chemical, a flower, a dead fish. Wolfgang ‘plays’ these smells like someone playing the piano.

The machine can be used to add a whole other dimension to a movie. I went along to a showing of a film by Edgar Reitz with input from the Smeller. At a certain point a sledge appeared onscreen drawn by four horses and in came the smell of horse. It was spectacular. People in the audience were hyper-ventilating.

This new art form is like an olfactory theatre. Wolfgang uses the organ to compose ‘synosmies’ – sequences of smells that tell a story, an ‘osmodrama’ that’s quite wild and abstract.

My role is to formulate the smells for the source-chambers. Some have worked out better than others. ‘Earth’ unfolds beautifully in the air. ‘Cheese’ is pretty effective – it doesn’t just knock your socks off, it takes your toenails with it. ‘Burnt-out Cable’ is pretty good too. I took this from a smell I made for Lufthansa. They use it in training sessions, so pilots learn to recognise if any electric wiring has burnt out in the cockpit.

One day Wolfgang turned up at my lab with two preserving jars like the ones your granny uses. I opened them. One contained cowshit, the other was sheep shit. He was really excited: “Hey, can we replicate these shit smells?” I hesitated. Hanging my nose over sheep shit trying to sniff out its finer points is not my idea of fun. Plastic, rubber, copy machine, human sweat? Sure, no problem. Sheep shit? I handed the jars back to Wolfgang. ‘I’d love to, but you know, it’s just way too complex a smell’.


The Osmodrama festival continues until 18th September