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How to Make a Scent Opera
Christophe Laudamiel is a fine-fragrance perfumer. He has created scents for Abercrombie & Fitch, Frederic Fekkai, Cath Kidston, The Estee Lauder Companies, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Harvey Nichols, Slatkin & Co. He is co-author of Polo Blue for Men, Ralph Lauren 2002, which received in New York City the 2003 FIFI Award for Fragrance Star of the Year as well as the Perfumers’ Choice Award. Laudamiel received his Perfumer-Creator Degree from Procter & Gamble in 1997, and was later promoted to Senior Perfumer. He holds an M.A. in chemistry, and served as a teaching assistant at Harvard University and a teaching fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a unique inventor on several patents citing new molecules and new fragrance diffusion techniques. He is also member of the American Society of Perfumers, the French Perfumers’ Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Wildlife Fund and the French League for Bird Protection.
Question: Why and how did you make a smell opera?
Christophe Laudamiel: So the... it’s been a dream in the minds of many people to associate the excitement of sense and olfaction and perfumes with other elements from the entertaining world. And of course as a perfumer, this is something also very exciting and I hope to be able to bring much more of that with other operatic pieces or in the movie industry or any kind of entertainment; the ballet, the museum, et cetera, because there is much, much to do. As much as what has been done so far with music, for instance, in those arenas.
The... for the Scent Opera, there were two challenges. The creative challenge, you had to make fragrances that would be played in a very short period of time, the fragrances have to be compatible with each other, one difference with visual clues, for instance, is that the molecules from the sense of smell are natural, it doesn’t matter, but what you smell lingers in the nose longer than something lingers on your retina.
So when you smell something, the impression that you get depends on what you smelled just before. So in the Scent Opera, where people are smelling things as fast as every six seconds, you had to create smell number two, for instance, depending on what smell number one was, and depending also on what smell number three would be. And then smell number two would be played against later in the opera after smell number 16, so smell number two had to take into account also 16 to be perceived still as smell number two, et cetera So there was this whole gymnastic of things.
Also, people for the Scent Opera, people have smelled around 30 scents within 30 minutes creating 30 scents, it’s a very different task from creating... usually you create one scent to put in one bottle, or one scent to put in one shampoo. Like here it’s like a zoo, if you wish, of 30 animals all of a sudden that you have to manage, that you have to, number one, create and tame and then it’s quite something creatively wise.
The other challenge was the technology, which was blocking the scent clues from the entertaining world until now because you... contamination is number one enemy. You don’t want the cinema to smell like a soup after awhile; you don’t want that after the first performance, you don’t want that everything is contaminated, so we had to have some very special equipment made. And so we went with a biggest ventilation company in the world for that and they custom made something, a scent organ, for us. In fact, I had to work in very close collaboration with them to almost invent every step along the way so that we could play all these scents and recognize them and keep them in a pure form and have several performances, one after the other without problem.
So it was... well it was quite something, but it worked and hopefully now we are going to make many more.
Question: Can you explain how people experienced the opera?
Christophe Laudamiel: So we played it at the theater, at the Guggenheim Museum here in New York, and every seat was equipped with, what we called a “scent microphone,” that was actually the arrival of an individual tube so the seats were not wired, they were tubed individually for every viewer, or sniffer to be able to enjoy the scent opera. And the scent organ we built with Flat Woods and the company, it’s like... how should I say, like Yamaha would build a very good piano, I guess. And then you have Flat Woods building some
very special air managing equipment, very, very precise to handle those scents so that they don’t mix with each other, et cetera.
But the viewers would just sit in their seats and then enjoy the music and the scent coming at them, if you wish. And the challenge was to make sure that people would recognize the scent. It's very unusual right now when you watch a movie, the musical clues, you know them because you've been educated with them. Why when you hear the strings on the violin you know that something bad is going to happen? It's not because you were born with this perception of the music, it's because you've learned it by watching over and over in movies and you associate now that violin kind of clang music with a bad moment.
And now even if you don't see the monster you know the monster is in the room because those violins are starting playing that kind of music. Now people don't have those clues yet in their memory about scents or we had to play the prelude where we describe the scent with the music and with some words, so that they started to make this association quite quickly and thank God the brain is very used at associating an event with a scent.
The brain is even better at doing that than at associating a visual clue with an event. You don't have to repeat as much and so within 15 minutes we gave already a few tips I would say and then we... people attended the opera in the dark and... could really make the association between the scents coming and going and musical clues. The music playing at the same time.
So it was quite an exercise, but we could see because the audience would laugh at the right moment and then they would tell us after, "Oh, yeah. I could really see what was happening, the battle between technology and nature and metal coming in and all that kind of stuff. And then the weirdo passing by and making a chaos and all that."
So people could really make a parallel with what they would have enjoyed in another arena.
Recorded September 9, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
"It’s been a dream in the minds of many people to associate the excitement of sense and olfaction and perfumes with other elements from the entertaining world," says Laudamiel. His scent opera attempted to do just that.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
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These new status behaviours are what one expert calls 'inconspicuous consumption'.