311 The Distance of The Moon
I was asked a while back by NASA to create a “smell of space”. This is not the first time I’ve been asked to do such a scent and I have always declined.
Why? I told Nasa that by all the rules of human olfaction such a scent is impossible to truly capture. In order to perceive any
odor at all, we require an atmosphere with specific properties in order for our olfactory systems to register it. Space is famously
lacking such an atmosphere. And even if one were to “headspace” (a technical process used to analyze odor to understand what aroma molecules the nose detects) Space, we would still only be able to appreciate any resulting scent through the lens of our terrestrial atmosphere. To my way of going about things, this is not really the smell of Space. Much like trying to capture the precise odor of the depths of the ocean, there must always been an olfactory distance.
Now i have read numerous reports and comments from astronauts who claim that space does have a particular and distinct odor. They would certainly know having been up there but what can they possibly mean by this? Obviously they’re not rolling down the windows of the space shuttle or similar to poke their heads out and take a few lungsfull of whatever might be out there.
No, the atmosphere they describe that allows them to sur
vive in the vacuum of space is very carefully contained within whatever vehicle they happen to be inhabiting up there - an atmosphere I might add that is highly controlled, monitored and filtered and which necessarily originates on Earth.
Now I’m not disputing the fact that these astronauts noticed a very particular and unusual smell within said vehicles. I’m sure these meticulously controlled interiors do have a very distinct odor. But it is not truly the smell of Space. Rather it’s the odor of a bunch of humans living in a very small space with seriously recirculated filtered air. Not being even remotely familiar with aerospace engineering, I can only guess at what metals, plastics and various electrical odors might contribute to that peculiar olfactory environment but I would more than willing to bet it’s quite a lot.
In the past when I’ve declined these various requests to “capture the smell of Space” and given my reasons for doing so, I’ve then often been asked, “Well can’t you just imagine something?” Well, no I can’t.
Such a flight of imagination falls well outside the scope of my work and indeed my purpose for capturing olfactory experiences in t
he first place. I am now and have always been only interested
in capturing as accurately as possible the multitude of smel
hat humans can actually perceive to express the comfort and delight such scents can so profoundly supply. My interest is entirely in celebrating the reality of Human Olfactory Experience.
At least until now - which brings us to my newest perfume, The Distance of the Moon. Here’s how that scent came about.
Last fall, I got an email from my dear friend and fellow artist, Carla Ciuffo who was preparing an exhibition of her work which was to be entitled “Lunar”. She asked me if I could provide a moon-like scent which could be released through the gallery for the run of her show.
At first, I was extremely hesitant and told her all the reasons as to why such a smell was impossible. But because I so very greatly admire Carla’s work (she’s really a quite brilliant artist) I agreed to at least give the prospect some thought. And after a good deal of rumination and discussion, I found a way forward.
Given the context of her show, we determined the smell should be beautiful, comforting but still somehow alien. This was a challenge but because Carla is Carla, it was a challenge I was glad to accept.
I raked through my archive and found a bunch of olde
r work devoted to the various smells of rocks and minerals - a VERY tough category in general as there are precious few chemicals within the perfumer’s palette that even begin to define such odors. In fact, only a few of the accords from that work ever made it out of the archive as I deemed them unsatisfactory. But I did find a few that were curiously attractive and, with a bit of tweaking, might just do. I put something together and sent it off to Carla for her comments. Well, when she smelled my “lunar” mix she was extremely pleased. One might even say, she was “over the moon”. (And if one did, one should spend the rest of the afternoon in one’s room which would be all right with me.)
The name of the scent is taken from the first story in I
talo Calvino’s “Cosmicomics”. Calvino has long been one of my favorite writers and his “Baron in the Trees”, Invisible Cities” and “Mr Palomar” have held pride of place in my library for decades along with his “Cosmicomics”. I find his work to have just the right mix of whimsy and surrealism I have always enjoyed employing in my own approach to the World - and which I might add enables me to survive the absurdities and horrors of Modern Civilization and American Society in particular.
In “The Distance of the Moon” Calvino writes of a time when the moon was so close to Earth that it was possible to simply put up a ladder to climb up there and explore. But with time, the moon began to drift away and this immediate connection was lost. It was then only possible to observe and contemplate the moon remotely. Of course none of this is even the least bit scientifically accurate but it does make for some captivating fiction. And this concept of remote contemplation I have always found most intriguing...
(Anyway, it’s a marvelous story and I highly encourage you to read it.)
So the ultimate scent of The Distance of the Moon is so
mething of a departure for me - or an experiment if you will. It conforms to my original premise of creating smells that are beautiful and comforting but it is rather alien and not at all a commonly encountered human olfactory experience. It is a little “rocky” and “metallic” - as i mentioned, it owes a lot to my previous work on the smells of rocks and minerals - yet it’s also rather mysterious and a delight to smell. It also wears wonderfully on the skin. At least I think so.
I’ll be very curious to hear what YOU think of it...!
PS If you’d like to explore Carla’s work you can do so by clicking here. She really is a marvelous artist! Enjoy!