Smell and Sound: Exhibition of Sensory Art at Schindler’s House.

Smell and Sound: Exhibition of Sensory Art at Schindler's House.

The scent is easy to describe. For example, in the 1970s, LAX smelled of jet fuel and expired cigarettes.

But how do you describe the act of smelling? Is jet fuel plummeting into your nostrils or is it flooding your senses like a high tide? Does the smell of a lit cigarette cause an earthy taste or a sickening smell? Do the combined odors irritate your stomach or evoke nostalgia for your long-term travels?

A thousand people could give a thousand different answers, since the smell does not lie in the source of the smell, but in a purely personal archive of experiences and sensations that the sniffer brings into action.

This sensory space – between an object and its perception – is of interest to the German artist Florian Hecker, who once created a book-long piece inspired by the nature of timbre, the hard-to-define resonances that enable the human ear to distinguish one sound from another. For example, a high C might be a high C, but the timbre is part of why a high C played by Maria Callas can land in the ear differently than when played by Kathleen Battle.

In an empty room with wide windows, there is a stack of speakers and a text display element leaning against the wall.

Florian Hecker’s “Resynthesizers” synthesize sound, text and smell in the Fitzpatrick-Leland home of Rudolf Schindler.

(Studio by Fredrik Nielsen)

Hecker currently has an installation about smell and sound at Fitzpatrick-Leland Rudolph Schindler’s historic Hollywood Hills home. The show was hosted by Ellie Lee and Matt Connolly of Equitable Vitrines, a non-profit art organization, with assistance from the MAK Art and Architecture Center, which provided the venue.

“Resynthesizers” stop at the aforementioned whims of perception. This also applies to intelligent rabbit holes associated with synthesis, the history of fragrance chemistry and the nature of space.

And what space it is: Schindler’s 1936 structure is made up of several interlocking geometric shapes that cling to the crest of a hill and frame views of the Laurel Canyon.

Hecker has little to no involvement with House Fitzpatrick-Leland – at least visually. (Although the work recognizes the house, it was not directly inspired by it; some of these ideas are those Hecker has researched over the decades.)

Around the two-bedroom home, which spans three levels on the hillside, viewers will find three industrial diffusers, three speaker stacks, and three small electrophoretic displays (also called e-ink displays) all combine for distribution. bursts of smell, sound and text as you walk around the room.

Each of the three synthetic fragrances selected for the project has a historical significance. The first, vanillin, is a synthetic vanilla extract developed by German scientists in the 19th century that became an essential ingredient in what is widely considered the first modern perfume: Guerlain’s Jicky. The other two diffusers distribute Calone, a popular perfume ingredient developed in 1951 that evokes sea-like qualities with hints of melon (think the commercial ocean breeze products), and Flowerpool, an antiseptic scent that was registered this year – and it really is. worthy of a pandemic.

Like fragrances, Hecker’s sound component is also a product of synthesis, the fusion of various elements into a single whole.

In fact, the artist who now lives in Portugal is best known for his sonic work. In 2016, he released an experimental binaural sound bite called Inspection for the BBC, which used synthetic sounds and machine-readable text. And for many years he worked with Axel Robel of Ircam, a Paris-based music and sound institute, to create computer sounds that are then synthesized and re-synthesized to create new sounds in the process. For his Los Angeles installation, Hecker arranged for these sounds to rotate sequentially in sets of speakers located throughout the house.

Scent bottle with inscription "Resynthesizers 0.4: Vanilla Oceanics by Mark von Ende and Philip Kraft."

Resynthesizers 0.4: Vanilla Oceanics, a fragrance designed by Marc von Ende and Philip Kraft for Florian Hecker’s Resynthesizers.

(Studio by Fredrik Nielsen)

The accompanying smell and sound are streams of text that materialize on e-ink displays, which are presented as a minimalist sculpture leaning against the walls. The text is a libretto by the British philosopher Robin McKay, which brings together – one might say synthesizes – texts about the chemistry of scent, synthetic sound, architecture of the house, and even the libretto itself. This also applies to elements of some of Hecker’s earlier works.

Sample excerpt:

Resynthesizers are like a Russian nesting doll of thought experiments – synthesis of syntheses – due in part to the dense advertising brochure printed in tiny sans serif type.

The piece is also quite cacophonic.

Around the stairwell, where rooms intersect, scents coalesce to form a strange mixture – a smell one would imagine if Yankee Candle Co., a supplier of sickeningly sweet scented candles, suddenly began making hospital cleaning products. Sometimes it all comes together in a scent reminiscent of industrial plastic; other times it’s a vanilla potpourri nightmare. But linger in individual rooms, and some of the individual scents will become more prominent.

I especially liked the Calone, diffused in the bedrooms, mingling with the breeze entering the house. Was that Kalon? Or was it a real breeze? The exact boundaries of any odor cannot be determined. But when combined with Schindler’s architecture, the scent seemed pure and soothing. That was familiar, too. This is likely due to the fact that Calone is used as an ingredient in a wide variety of colognes and perfumes, including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Christian Dior fragrances.

The diffuser sits in the middle of an empty room with wooden floors and large windows overlooking the plants and trees.

The nebulizer introduces scent to the Fitzpatrick-Leland home of Rudolf Schindler in Florian Hecker’s Resynthesizers.

(Studio by Fredrik Nielsen)

I had a similar experience with sound elements that sounded just like noise over long stretches. At times, however, I thought I could make out recognizable contours throughout the entire computer rack: the sounds of water splashing, a broken music box, the static of an antique TV on the days when channels switched to grainy fluff after midnight.

At least that’s what I am heard. The essence of smell and hearing is that our mind seeks patterns and fills in the rest. The sound of a broken music box to my ears could have been the rumble of a piano for someone.

Consequently, Hecker’s art takes place not so much in the rooms of the house as in the synapses, where we try to process the world around us. As I exited the installation, Mackay’s text display flashed on the screen at my feet:


This is an astute observation. Piece is an everything is internal: within you and within yourself.

Each visitor to the Resynthesizers receives home a pack of incense sticks based on the scents Hecker used in the installation. Separately, they smell of sweet vanilla, clear breeze and pungent antiseptics – and when I put them all together, they transport me into my foggy afternoon at the Fitzpatrick-Leland House. And this is a place that is always worth a visit.

Florian Hecker: “Resynthesizers”

Where: Fitzpatrick-Leland House, 8078 Woodrow Wilson Drive, Los Angeles
When: Until Mar 13, 2022
Tolerance: Admission is free, but advance booking is required.