march 22, 2004.

I wouldn't smell a dead rat if I tread in one. I lost pretty much all of my olfaction a couple of years ago. I can no longer smell. I may stand and watch the most horrid scenes of advancing biological decay, see people all around me hold on to their noses in overt disgust, but I will not know what it is that makes them thus twitch. I just cannot smell. No flowers, no perfumes, no shit piles, no food. No nothing.

I cannot smell.

I still have good olfamemory, though: I do remember smells, I know what they are like, I know what it is like to smell a steak, fresh coffee, to smell girls or sweating boys ... But I hardly ever again smell them 'for real'. It is no longer very likely that a sudden odeur will trigger my memory. No me madeleines no more.

There are, though, some rare, too rare, moments when suddenly a puff of odour is breaking through ... through whatever it is that's blocking my olfasensors. And when that happens, of course I'm aware. Immediately. And it then is with a sense of wonder and thankfulness that suddenly I smell a smell ... It's amazing! Smells! A little miracle!

But it never lasts.

There was an evening of Cabaret électrique friday 12th in La Forge de Belleville. With a young man playing the piano (Ravel, Messiaen, Morton Feldman), two others did a duo for marimbas by Steve Reich; I also heard a (very) short extract of Xenakis's Bohor - but that was just on record - and there was a performance, with two dancers (one of whom had a hindy whose sheer volume somehow did not fit the rest of her physique) and live laptop electronics and video treatment (Reflet, by Elaine Thomazi Freitas).

None of it unpleasant, really. And I did enjoy the unintentional mingling of the hall's noises (a lot of dripping and cracking and buzzing going on around there) with the piano music. But on the whole it was too academic, really. Too much the like of a (classy) high school's cultural evening the theme of which, after much deliberation and many meetings of the organizing committee, had been set to : ... Twentieth Century Classical Music ... ! Tàrà-rà-tààà !

But then, I had not come to La Forge for any of the above. My reason for undertaking the (admittedly: short) trip to Belleville had been the very last item on the programme : Improvisation olfasonore it read on the last lines of the invitation I received.

Yes, it really did.

Sounds ... and smells. Antony Maubert would provide the live electronics, Gwen-Aël Lynn would spread the stink (diffuseurs d'odeurs).

It made me very curious. Even though I knew that the chances were pretty slim that I'd be 'getting' this. Wouldn't I be like the deaf man watching Don Giovanni at the opera, like the blind man going to the movies to listen to A clockwork orange ? ... But then isn't there good sense in doing so ? ... (though obviously there is only one :-) . How would it be to sit there listening amidst smellers and not smelling a single whiff?

Curiously, that friday for me started off as a pretty good night for smelling. For on my way to La Forge I had some quite strong smelling experiences, notably inside the Belleville metro station, and while walking along the boulevard de Belleville towards the event, I did catch the strong stink of some of the piles of dirt heeped up along the pavement. All was not without hope.s

For the last, smelling, part of the program at La Forge, the audience was seated in a cercle. Around the diffuseurs d'odeurs, indeed. Which were inside three black cardboard boxes, out of the top of which peeked the end of a narrow glass tube. The boxes were connected to ... a laptop controlling the release ? Probably. The principle seemed pretty simple.

I was not the only one to grab a handkerchief, and give my nose a good clean. Many did, to better smell the show of course. It was a short set, not even ten minutes in length. It was also not completely evident whether or not it had already started (why weren't the (only two!) performers seated amidst the smell-spreaders?), and then there were apparently some smell diffusion problems that had to be solved while the performance was already well on its way. But judging from the faces and reactions of the people sitting around me, sometime halfway the improvisation smells started to come through. I was seated about half a meter from one of the devices, and bend down- and forwards, which got me so close up that I might just have put the glass tube up my nose.

But to no avail.
When I entered La Forge my olfactory system must've shut itself down again.
I didn't smell a thing.
Not a puft, not a whiff, not a smoke.

The sounds were pretty lame too.
Guess I must've missed something.

[ related: France Telecom starts spreading smells via internet ]

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virtual theremin

march 22, 2004.

An informative posting about a week ago on the Xchange-mailinglist by George Lessard, drew my attention to a funny little 'educational and sound' toy that (until recently) was available as a free download from the BBC's website.

BBC's Mac_Theremin

George writes about the Theremin, invented in 1917, and, I think one can say safely, now more in use than ever. "The last truly innovative musical instrument," is (part of) the title of his post, which contains some interesting facts and links. Among them there was this link to the BBC's website, leading to a page in the playground section of the sciences section dedicated to the Theremin. The page proposed a free downloadable desktop version of the instrument, a 'virtual Theremin'. I downloaded the MacOS(9) version - it is a shockwave application, actually - and found it great fun. One controls pitch and volume of the sound of the 'virtual Theremin' by moving the mouse across the screen: moving it up makes the sound louder - moving it from left to right increases its pitch. One can also activate a couple of built-in loops to accompany the playing of the 'aetherophone' (bass, beat, break, strings, mathmos, mephisto) but that's really limited and of not much interest. Contrary to the Theremin itself, which I think I might actually start using. Obviously this is far from a 'hi-fi' toy, but for me that is part of its charm.

[ While writing this entry I noticed that the page containing the Theremin download-links is no longer available. They had a 'spring clean' over at the bbc's website, see. If anyone's interested in the MacOS9 version, contact me. I'll sent you a copy. ]

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