You sit in a white, technical environment, but you feel you are being taken deeper and deeper into a primitive forest. You are taken there by the scent created by Geza, green and resinous – the smell of the branches - but also slightly sweet, woody and rotting - the smell of the forest floor. At the same time you are surrounded by sounds recorded in seven forests round the world by Chris Watson, who is probably the most renowned field recording artist out there. You’ve got an Australian eucalyptus forest, the Masai Mara in Kenya, the Finnish taiga, and an ancient English greenwood, all delivered on a 16-channel sound system.
At the beginning the sounds are subtle and the smell seems to fuse with the delicacy of these sounds. But then something happens. The soundscape builds until it becomes this massive noise show. It’s the sound of thousands of cicadas and it’s deafening. At the same time a mist, like in a cloud-forest, drifts through and the scent intensifies. What you are experiencing is so different from the dry gallery space you are sitting in, there’s a feeling of strange otherness but also total immersion.
As humans, when we get used to a scent, its effect diminishes. So eventually the scent mutes into the background. Then as you leave the installation, the sound vanishes and it’s the scent that lingers. It is as if you are carrying a weightless relic of the pristine forest with you.
The dark underbelly of Foris is that this is the smell and the sound of a vanishing. These environments are almost extinct thanks to climate change and habitat loss. We experience places like this now only in the artificial form of ‘national parks’, and the gallery setting of the installation is meant to emphasise that artificiality. We want there to be an element of political activism to this, for people to be prompted with the desire to preserve what little remains.
Foris is part of Ephemera, a project to create new interactions between scent and sound. The first part took place at the Unsound Festival in New York a few years back where we asked three electronic composers, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and Steve Goodman (Kode9) to create raw sonic material which Geza interpreted into three different scents for the installation, Noise, Drone and Bass. We also brought out Noise, Drone and Bass as limited edition fragrances. They are now pretty much sold out but we are planning to re-release them, with the Foris fragrance as the new centrepiece to the collection.
Foris launched at the Unsound Festival in Krakow last October and it was such a success we want to do it again. Chris is always in faraway lands recordings the sounds of nature. One minute he is in the Arctic Circle, the next in an equatorial jungle. When we can pin him down later this year we’ll bring Foris to London or Berlin. Watch this smellspace.
Photography: Helena Majewska