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