Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Dogs of Smell & Tell: An Interview with Stella the Terrier

The many moods of Stella the terrier as she sniffs
a variety of fragrance blotters on March 4, 2020

Stella isn't a typical Smell & Tell fan. She walks on all fours, has a superior sense of smell, and is quite curious when encountering novel scents. Stella has an interesting habit. She likes to smell fragrance blotters her owner brings home from Smell & Tell. Her reactions vary, but they’re always colorful. 

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by our dog interpreter. One of our readers wants to know how you manage bad smells?

It depends. What smells unpleasant to a human nose tells a slightly different story to a dog nose. Going on a smelling jag in the park is like reading a good book. You don't want to stop until you've figured out a smell, and all the smells underneath that smell, so you know the whole story. Somewhere along the way you come across something unusual or threatening, like the smell of fear. Then you have to figure out where it came from, and if you should stay, run away, or stand your ground and bark your face off.

       Stella relates to the conundrum in "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash

Have you ever followed a scent trail straight into trouble?

Following a scent trail doesn't work if you latch onto a skunk. Young dogs learn this early on, others get a case of amnesia the second time around and walk straight into skunk spray, whining and crying like an amnesiac when it's happened before. A single skunking was enough for me. Getting cleaned up afterwards isn't glamorous. The combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Dawn dish detergent makes me smell like a demented lemon. Some of the skunk odor lingers, which doesn’t go over well with my friends.

Are there smells that you find overwhelming?

Things that make me feel like I can't breathe really get to me. The acrid odor of vinegar humans use to make pickles, the smell of bleach when someone in the house is in cleaning zealot mode, things like that. I loathe smoke. Smoke from a fireplace can be tough on my lungs. You won't find me close enough to get my fur in a singe, that's for sure. It's bad enough that I smell wood smoke on my fur the next day. Smelling like a piece of bacon isn’t the same as eating bacon. It's confusing.

Do you have a favorite smell?

That depends. I really enjoy smells when I have a chance to investigate them in the yard. I like playing by myself because I can chase a squirrel up a tree without interference from other dogs, and smell whatever I like. Walking on a leash can be fun as far as sniffing things, but it's subject to human whims like stopping and chatting with neighbors, or being forced to meet other people's dogs. 

To answer your question, I love the smell of being with other dogs in the dog park. You get to smell your friends, which is a combination of their unique dog smell, and smells from where they've been and who they've been with. On the whole, it's the smell of kin. Why humans don't smell each other more often is beyond me. They should take up reading books about Dr. Richard Feynman and his nose-forward ways. 

Stella the Jack Parsons terrier as a pup. She'll be 13 
on March 23, 2024. Image courtesy of Kirsten Segal.

Why do you like sniffing fragrance blotters from Smell & Tell programs at AADL?

It's like smelling a human version of a dog park crossed with a forest, a garden, the elements, a scent lab, and a chef's kitchen with a hint of je ne sais quoi. Smelling fragrance blotters from Smell & Tell is like smelling a world inside a world to infinity. I sniffed something interesting from the Brian Eno Smells program in 2020. I was captivated by a strange tuberose perfume called Nardo by Madini, and kept sniffing to figure it out. 

Then it happened. I saw my reflection in a window and didn’t recognize myself. I barked at the stranger in the glass, and was compelled to roll on the perfume blotter and pursue it. It took a few minutes before I snapped out of it. I adore and fear the smell of Nardo perfume because of this. I have a confession to make. Sometimes, when I want to understand a smell better, I lick the perfume blotter or smell through my mouth while baring my teeth. I can’t tell you why, but it works for me. I am a dog after all.

Notes & Curiosities:
Is there a logical explanation for Stella's reaction to Nardo perfume? An educated guess says that the presence of indole molecules may have something to do with it. Indole is present in mammalian feces. Its fecal-like qualities are noticeable at higher concentrations. Interestingly, indole smells like flowers at .01% (200ppm), and shapeshifts into fecal, mothball and horse-like odor qualities at .01%-1%. George S. Clark described this binary as "a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde nature" in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. Indole signals insectivory and attracts pollinators, which is why it's vital to chemical communication in plants like jasmine and tuberose.

 "Indole presents a dual organoleptic profile, or, to state it another way, a Dr. Jekyll and Hyde nature.” Ah, mais oui. Serge Gainsbourg relates to the Jekyll-Hyde duality.

Nardo by Madini is no longer distributed in the U.S. by Talisman in Seattle, Washington. Fear not, perfume lovers. Madini perfume hasn't disappeared. Parfumerie Madini is located at 5, bd. Pasteur Tangier, Tangier-Tétouan-Al Hoceima Morocco. “The perfumery is owned by Sidi Madini and is a family business that has been passed down through his family for more than 500 years," according to a listing in Fodor's Travel

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Remembering Nubia Through Scent at Narrating Nubia (Thru Oct 27th)

"Remembering Nubia Through Scent" supports the work of
Dr. Yasmin Moll in the 
Narrating Nubia exhibition at the
Duderstadt Gallery at the University of Michigan. 

Scent references in literature connect us to emotions and memories embodied in ourselves and fellow human beings. We extract smells from text without realizing it, locating internal experiences in the brain and sense making the rest as we immerse ourselves in story. Familiar aromatic signifiers create a bond between reader and story throughout the act of reading, allowing for a more immersive experience. 

Perfumers tell stories in the air with volatile molecules arranged by rate of evaporation. A typical formula is constructed with top, middle and base notes in order of ascent. Base notes-the least volatile ingredients–sustain the longevity of a fragrance. Their function supports the narrative arc of a fragrance, leaving the wearer and the receiver open to the mystery of what transpires next.

Fragrances exhibited for "Remembering Nubia Through Scent" are inspired by aromatic passages in Nights of Musk: Stories from Old Nubia by Haggag Hassan Oddoul. Each of the three scents created by Michelle Krell Kydd complement a specific excerpt of the text, and are mainly composed of base notes. 

Scent № 1: 
Long, long ago, south of the rapids, the nights exuded incense and oozed musk. They were watered by the celestial majesty of the Nile and nourished by the strip of life that lined its banks. Their sky was pure and their air invigorating. There was born generation after generation, dark, dark. We would say: “We are dark, dark, for our sun shines upon our faces.”
Key Notes: Bakhoor (vintage), Jasmine, Musk, Orris Butter, Rose, Saffron, Sudanese Frankincense (Boswellia papyrifera), Suede. 

Scent № 2: 
They had rubbed you all day with dulka oil from Halfa, with extracts of fragrant oils and herbs. Its sweet smell penetrated your pores and radiated from your body, as if dulka oil was in you, not on you. 
Key Notes: Dulka oil is made from a variety of aroma materials including smoked red acacia wood (Acacia seyal), operculum (flap that closes the mouth of the outer shell of a marine mollusk) and French perfumes mixed with oils/attars. The ingredients in dulka oil vary as it’s an artisanal creation bound to culture and tradition. This Egyptian dulka oil smells floral, woody, musky, and smokey with a hint of amber. It has a gentle uplifting quality associated with the use of citrusy aldehydes in French perfume formulas. 

Scent № 3 
All around our Nile is a translucent halo, and the tips of the waves are gentle like the steps of a tender young child. Its perfumed breeze diffuses throughout the universe, and I take in great drafts through my nose, my eyes, my pores…The long narrow strip of green breathes sweet-scented sighs and clusters of dates hang unseen in the twilight exuding a divine, intoxicating aroma. The branches are tipsy and sway softly in the roofs of the palm trees, where the primeval fragrances are blended and lovingly scattered to the four winds.  
Key Notes: Galbanum, Gamma Octalactone, Ivy, Musk, Sandalwood, Tulip Poplar Leaf. 

Photograph by Dr. Yasmin Moll

Working with an unlangued sense like smell doesn’t require proof of vision. It requires detachment from likes and dislikes, an evaluative mindset, and respect for the fact that memory and emotion precede language because humans are neurologically wired this way. Smell is memory’s sense and we cannot afford to forget this. 

The Duderstadt gallery is open from 12:00pm to 6:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Narrating Nubia runs thru October 27th. The Duderstadt Center is located at 2281 Bonisteel Boulevard Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109. 

Excerpts from Nights of Musk: Stories from Old Nubia, by Haggag Hasan Oddoul are interpreted as bespoke scents in a gallery setting. Fragrances are housed in passive scent devices arranged on a raised table in a multisensory setting. Each device can be smelled by one person at a time. Attendees are encouraged to linger as long as they wish, moving from one scent experience to the next.  

Dr. Yasmin Moll, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, obtained an exquisite Nubian Dulka oil while conducting ethnographic research in Egypt. She directed Hanina, a short film that can be viewed at the Narrating Nubia exhibit. 

Rêve d’Or by L.T. Piver is an inexpensive French fragrance used in homemade perfumes, bakhoor (incense), body oils and scrubs made by women of Nubian heritage. It’s formulated at eau de cologne strength (2-4% fragrance concentrate to alcohol) and acts as a binding agent across fragrance formulas. 

The boosting effect of Rêve d’Or can be sensed in Scent №2. It supports the unique smoked acacia wood note in the artisan dulka oil formula. Key fragrance notes in Rêve d’Or are molecules found in: orange blossom, tea rose, rose geranium, heliotrope, vetiver, clove and sandalwood. It smells great by itself and when used as a fragrance layering agent. A 14.25 oz bottle of Rêve d’Or retails for less than $30.00. 

Michelle Krell Kydd’s next project at the University of Michigan is focused on AI, machine learning, and sensory evaluation. It’s funded by a New Initiatives/New Instruction (NiNi) grant from the University of Michigan. Kydd is collaborating with Dr. Ambuj Tewari on the NiNi-funded project.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Stink, Stank, Smellmatize (Eau Ferula)!

Wheel of aromatic ferula resins or secret stink device?

Teaching people how to evaluate the smell of an unknown material on a perfume blotter requires trust and a sense of adventure. This is true for novices and experienced attendees at Smell & Tell in Ann Arbor, which was highly evident at a recent AI-themed program.

The sense of apprehension that’s experienced before blind smelling an odorant is a reminder of the underlying purpose of smell, which is to protect us from danger (and encourage behaviors that lead to survival like eating, and sniffing out desirable qualities in a mate).

Hemulen, a character in Tove Jansson's Moomins series, gave up stamp collecting for botany. You can smell his tabula rasa mindset. 

Blind smelling requires a tabula rasa mindset, so you can sense the character of a thing. It's not about whether you love or hate a smell. The smell exists irrespective of your opinion of it. Your job, in real life and at Smell & Tell, is to interpret what your brain is interpreting through your nose. 

The tendency to seek visual proof for non-visual sense objects gets in the way of being fully present for an experience. Smells that are polarizing are challenging to evaluate, but it's important to give smells a chance because what you notice at first sniff changes as it evaporates—and some smells transform in fascinating ways.

Once in a while, I throw a polarizing nose surprise into a Smell & Tell lecture that pushes a contextually relevant button. It’s not done for the sake of theater (a mixed chorus of "icks" and expletives that are the inevitable result of encountering something less than pleasant). 

"Green Wheat Fields, Auvers" by Vincent Van Gogh

When attendees experience a shapeshifting smell from start to finish, they're more than surprised; they're elated. This reaches beyond the fact that the fragrance blotter no longer smells unpleasant. It's proof that patience is worth the time it takes to understand the essence of a thing—because you might learn something new. 

Case in point. A two-year old asafoetida tincture was smelled at Smell & Tell: AI, Machine Learning & Smells last month. The material, which was the sixth and final material in the scent flight, had a nose wrinkling reputation with a twist. Attendees were in for a surprise after class.

The smell in Asafoetida that reminds humans of sulfur, garlic, and onions changes over time. This particular tincture possessed more than the balsamic vanilla drydown noted by Steffen Arctander. It smelled sweet, citrusy, floral-rosy, musky, powdery, orris-like, and citrusy (lemon).

This, dear reader, explains the wheel of ferula resins that accompanies this post. They are part of a tincturing project that informs a future Smell & Tell lecture on the ferula family of scents. I was inspired by an email I received from author Alex Kourvo who attended last month's event. The subject line read “What is this magic?” and continued with:
Smell and Tell was sooooo fun on Wednesday! All the smells were interesting and as always, I felt like my brain grew two sizes. I was amazed that the blotter that had asafoetida on it smelled so much better the second day! I almost threw it away instead of taking it home because it smelled so awful at first. But on day two, it was almost like a perfume. And on day three, it's still pleasant. How. How. How?
Alex's question is an important one that resonates with comments from other attendees who've attended Smell & Tell at the Ann Arbor District Library since it’s inception in 2012. Humans generally don't expect something beautiful from something that smells unpleasant, but it's possible. That's an experience worth holding onto.

Asafoetida was used at Smell & Tell to make a point about avoiding cow pies regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI), human olfaction and neurology. The term “AI" is frequently substituted for "machine learning" by startups on the AI bandwagon. Don't believe the hype

Smelling tinctured resins comprises half of the method I use to evaluate scents (the way I was trained a la perfumery). I use a thermostatically controlled incense heater to experience smells that resins release into the air over time as this enjoins perfumery's predecessors; medicine and incense. 

Image of Die Wachauer Nase By Schurdl (CC). The sculpture, one of a series of nose sculptures in Austria, was organized by the Gelitin art collective.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Smell and the Past: Noses, Archives and Narratives by William Tullett

December 31, 2023 marks the end of Odeuropa's research grant, which is focused on olfactory heritage. The scope of their work and what they're delivering for public consumption is a priceless foundation for future scholarship on tangible and intangible olfactory heritage. 

Dr. William Tullett is in charge of developing the Encyclopaedia of European Olfactory Heritage – a new web-resource that will be the first of its kind – that will catalogue and describe the smells, odorous spaces, feelings about scent, and key noses of the European past. 

This is one of many Odeuropa initiatives informed by their mission; there's also a book.

Smell and the Past: Noses, Archives and Narratives by Dr. William Tullett is available as a free download on the publisher’s website. It’s informed by his work on the Odeuropa project. [Tullett, W. (2023). Smell and the Past: Noses, Archives, Narratives. London,: Bloomsbury Academic. https://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350371811.] 

Odeuropa’s latest newsletter is chock full of nose-worthy news. Get your nose in the late summer/early autumn edition here.

Odeuropa was awarded €2.8M from the EU Horizon 2020 programme for the project, “ODEUROPA: Negotiating Olfactory and Sensory Experiences in Cultural Heritage Practice and Research”.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Smell Edition: | Issue 32 of Garland Magazine (2023 Sensorium Series)

Craft offers a lingua franca between cultures. It sits outside the developmental narrative, which is mostly about catching up with the West. There is much to learn about the value of the object in different cultures as a way of sustaining meaning across time and space. Embedded in the object is the deep time necessary to master techniques for giving expression to the language of materials. As the object travels from the workshop to the gallery and home, it nurtures the source of this creativity with the respect and honour that sustains it. Garland magazine.

I discovered the "Smell" edition of Garland magazine after reading Sigrid van Roode's September newsletter. Roode, a jewelry historian and government archeology consultant, specializes in ornament (her latest book is Silver and Frankincense, Personal Adornment and Scent in the Arab World). 

If you think academic-driven books and newsletters are boring, think again. You won't find lexical jargonese in Roode's work or in the pages of Garland, which has an authentic voice and mission that's arts, culture and craft-driven. (BTW: Roode is currently pursuing a PhD at Leiden University.)

Fans of NEZ: The Olfactory Magazine will relish the "Smell" edition of Garland, but it's not because Garland magazine is like NEZ. Garland is what NEZ could be on occasion if it wasn't shadowed by fragrance industry support and dusted in advertorial-style fingerprints. 

Fragrance is a craft. Olfactory cultural heritage inclusive of non-Western scent traditions deserves attention—especially those that have been ignored, usurped or escaped commodification. We need to look into other traditions for a more balanced perspective.

Garland magazine produces an annual compendium. Each compendium is named after a flower found in a garland. The 2023 "Rose" compendium will be available next year and include 2023's taste, smell, hearing and touch issues. Quarterly subscription information is available here.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Smell & Tell Event | AI, Machine Learning and Smells!

Spock smells "the spores" and sees the future.

Smell & Tell | AI, Machine Learning and Smells! 
Date: Wednesday, September 20, 2023 
Time: 5:30PM-7:30PM 
Location: Ann Arbor District Library (Downtown) 
Address: 343 S 5th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 
Phone: 734-327-4200

You really need to think like a Vulcan when it comes to prognostication and AI. The future is unknown and as such is subject to fantasy, ideology and cow pies. This is especially true of the intersection of smell, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. 

Machines that analyze smells aren't new. The pairing of Gas Chromatography with Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) was demonstrated in 1955-56 by Dow scientists in Midland, Michigan. The technology, which is used to analyze individual components of complex mixtures in analytical chemistry labs, continues to evolve. 

We'll explore eclectic smell terrain and collectively follow our nose to get a better understanding of how humans evaluate smells against the capacity of machines that analyze complex mixtures and their components. 

The Smell and Tell series of art+science programming is led by Michelle Krell Kydd, a trained nose in flavors and fragrance who shares her passion for gastronomy, sensory evaluation and the perfume arts on Glass Petal Smoke. Smell & Tell builds community through interactions with flavor, fragrance and storytelling. 

Nose-forward reading for this Smell & Tell program:

Gas Chromatography - Mass Spectrometry via Dow, Inc. and the American Chemical Society.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Smell & Tell Event | Inside the Olfactory Mind of Steffen Arctander

Mark your calendars! Steffen Arctander is
the focus of an upcoming Smell & Tell 
at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Inside the Olfactory Mind of Steffen Arctander 
Date: Wednesday, October 18, 2023 
Time: 5:30PM -7:30PM 
Location: Ann Arbor District Library (Downtown) 
Address: 343 S 5th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 
Phone: 734-327-4200

Steffen Arctander was a renowned chemist, perfumer and flavorist. He is best known for authoring Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin (1960). The encyclopedic book contains more than 500 monographs on natural materials inclusive of aromatic descriptions and classifications to help the user evaluate sensory impressions. 

Arctander’s legacy reaches beyond the pages of his book. He participated in the Danish Resistance when he was a student and worked for British Intelligence during WWII, narrowly escaping capture by the Gestapo. Steffen Arctander appeared on To Tell The Truth in 1964, a gutsy and taboo move for someone in a famously secretive industry.  

The fragrance flight for this program includes novel natural materials. We’ll use Arctander’s descriptors for guidance after blind smelling each one to get a better understanding of ourselves, and Arctander’s enduring legacy as the author of a magnificent “dictionary of smells”. 

The Smell and Tell series of art+science programming is led by Michelle Krell Kydd, a trained nose in flavors and fragrance who shares her passion for gastronomy, sensory evaluation and the perfume arts on Glass Petal Smoke. Smell & Tell builds community through interactions with flavor, fragrance and storytelling. 


Locating the footage from To Tell The Truth featuring Steffen Arctander was complicated by the fact that his name is misspelled in the YouTube video as "Contestant #3: Stefan Octander (Perfume expert)". Google search started directing traffic to Arctander's television appearance after I posted a story about it on February 17, 2021.  The transcription on YouTube was worth correcting for posterity. I provided a proper transcription in the article

The image that accompanies this post is Spring Garden by Omoda Seiju (1917).