Editor's column

Olfactory art: Welcome to music for the nose

How an encounter with psych-jazz duo Witch 'n' Monk at Fluid Form Club led to a new encounter with scent art.

Photo: Witch ‘n’ Monk

No, this isn’t a critique on the body odour of concertgoers. This is about a new form of media, one that has a real special funk to it. Earlier this year, when I visited Fluid Form Club, an event hosted by pioneering local psych-jazz duo Witch ‘n’ Monk, I had my first encounter with an olfactory artist who performed live at the proceedings.

Olfactory art, also known as scent art, is an interdisciplinary practice that uses scents and odours to create new immersive sensory experiences. Basically, you could say it’s music for the nose. What’s special about this is that scent can trigger memories and emotions, things that connect with your past – which is where the unique beauty in using olfactory art alongside music lies. If your favourite songs take you to your happiest and saddest memories, prepare to level up. This is music on steroids.

The aromatic designs blended smoothly with the avant-garde, tribal and eclectic flute-and-guitar jazz

The olfactory artist at Fluid Form Club was Klara Ravat, co-founder and director of the Smell Lab Berlin, a sort of incubator for inhalation and smell experimentation. Ravat is no stranger to joining forces with musicians. Along with other similar collaborations, she worked with the Ensemble Hermes back in 2021 to reimagine Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as a new Baroque bouquet, creating a scented experience across several live concerts.

Ravat’s inclusion came as a pleasant surprise to me, as I’ve come to inherently trust the taste of Witch ‘n’ Monk and didn’t scan the lineup closely beforehand. Throughout the event, Ravat used different perfumes to complement the music. The aromatic designs blended smoothly with the avant-garde, tribal and eclectic flute-and-guitar jazz by Witch ‘n’ Monk’s Mauricio Velasierra and Heidi Heidelberg.

Photo: Witch ‘n’ Monk

As our ears were soothed by the sounds and moods, the scent of blooming flowers, open fireplaces and tropical locations created smellscapes that lived right next to the musical soundscapes. It was an experience that triggered a sense rarely used within the world of music. The intimate crowd basked in the funk and performatory arts that embraced both their ears and nose. Ravat succeeded in putting a smell on us all, you could say, while Witch ‘n’ Monk enchanted the crowd with their looping flute effects and blowing vocals. 

Many may think of the idea of mixing olfactory art and music as being a bit overripe. Yet the power of smell has been scientifically shown to affect your mood, trigger memories and emotions, and even help you bond socially – something that music has been doing for centuries. Over the past decade I’ve seen, heard and experienced new multidisciplinary forms of music that I would have never expected: 4D sound, binaural audio, NFT concerts – the list is long. Olfactory art as a medium is often overlooked, as there is simply nothing to see, touch, taste or hear. But with the power to trigger new emotions, maybe it’s time we started to trigger this fifth sense. Welcome to the scent dimension!

  • Fluid Form Club with Witch ‘n’ Monk, Sep 6, Ausland. Read more on Klara’s art on klararavat.com