Traveling to Japan—Through a Symphony of Smells

Erica R. Hendry in Smithsonian:

SmellProducer and curator Saskia Wilson-Brown and a 13-artist team have convinced at least a few hundred people to make the jaunt from Los Angeles to Japan through only a handful of scents in “Japan in Sixteen Minutes, Revisited,” a show that recreates a trip to Tokyo—from an airport shuttle to the first moments of sleep in a hotel room across the Pacific—with perfumes and an ambient soundtrack.

…First up: strip the audience of sight. Hartmann’s venture featured not only geishas, but also a number of musical and theatrical acts to accompany his scents. Wilson-Brown’s team, however, “really wanted to focus on the olfactory and auditory journey,” and decided to blindfold the audience, though a few visual cues in the program put the performance in context. The choice allowed the group to truly build a performance with smell at its core, a challenge because scent is so subjective. What Brown smells when she steps on a subway, for instance, could be completely different than the aromas sensed by the passenger beside her. Rather than use single scents as Hartmann did in his performance, perfume artist Sherri Sebastian went after more complex aromas, in part to capture the range of smells that identify certain places. The show’s final “scent compositions” are just that: perfumes that use up to two and a half dozen ingredients to recreate places—an airport terminal, city streets, a hotel bed—along the journey. Those smells won’t be as literal as the audience might think. While waiting for a shuttle in L.A., the audience might get a hint of a passing ice cream truck in a perfume with a “creamy lactonic base, sweet candy overtones and a healthy dose of green notes inspired by the vegetation and palm trees in Los Angeles,” Wilson-Brown says. The arrival in Tokyo will overwhelm the room not with gasoline, but with a note of rhubarb. The way the rhubarb's tartness hits the nose sort of mimics the intensity of bright city lights.

More here.