Sunday, January 27, 2008

Scent and memory

It's strange that sometimes when we smell something, we can't find the right words to describe what it is. We have the feeling that we should know what it is, because it smells familiar, but if we search in our brain to find the answer the answer comes slowly or not at all. I guess we all have experienced this once, I experience this a lot of times, because I work with a lot of scents. Sometimes I smell a material and the only thing that my mind tells me about it is that it smells earthy, floral or fruity. But it takes more time to search in my mind for a memory where I smelled this scent before to finally get the 'aha' moment. I once had this experience when I smelled the fragrance material: Butyl Quinoline Secondary, I recognized the smell of soil and earth, but I knew that I smelled a more specific scent. It took a while before I recognized the smell of red beets which also smells like soil and earth but was a more specific description of what the materials smells like.

Smell for the most part aggravates the lymbic system and the right side of our brain, where Episodic connections are received. Our right hemisphere is associated with memory of events, times, places and emotions. It looks at wholes not at parts of certain things. It's subjective, uses feeling and it's creative.

We use our left hemisphere of our brain to recognize and rationalize things Here are the Semantic connections received. We use it for meaning, analyzing, understanding, knowledge and language. It sub-divides and reconnect things. It looks at parts and it's objective. It uses logic.

Of course it's not as simple as this, there are grey areas in this field, but it's a rough explanation of how our right and left side of the brain works.

These two parts of our brains communicate with each other. Our right hemisphere send information to our left hemisphere, where the received information will be 'labeled', 'packaged' and analyzed. If we mostly use our right hemisphere if we smell something, then it's logical that it's hard to describe in words what it is, we need our left hemisphere to help us with it.

For example, if we are in traffic. Our right side of the brain tells us that an object which is going fast, that it is coming close to us. It doesn't tell us what exactly is coming close to us, but it's something that is going fast. Our left side of the brain however, recognize the object and tells us that it's a car and explains to us that we have to be careful. The same with scent, our right side of the brain 'looks' at things as a whole. So it will provide us with rough information such as; it smells floral, earthy, fruity. The left side of our brain will look at it as in parts such as; it smells like jasmine or it smells like peach.

A perfumer needs to recognize scents and needs to train his or her brain to do so. Using words to give a name to a certain scent is very useful. If something is named, it will be more recognizable. If people have to distinguish different nuances of colors for example, it will help if they know the names of the colors, to concentrate more on these colors, to distinguish them from the other colors. If they are confronted with these color nuances and their names a couple of times, their recognition of these nuances are getting better and better over time. The same with scents. It helps the brain to receive more than one 'code', in this case smell. The trick is to give your memory more than one way of remembering. You can do this by using more than one sense, (touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell).

Perfumers do not only have to recognize the scent of one single component, they sometimes need to recognize this single component in a blend as well. Some perfumers can, if they smell a perfume, recognize many of the components of this fragrance. A trick to recognize some of the components is called 'smelling in patterns'. Let me first give another example to explain it a bit more:

Most people can only remember 7 numbers in a random order, for example the numbers:


It's getting more difficult to remember 14 numbers in a random order like:


But if we would group the numbers in meaningful groups like important dates of events like:

12.6.1941 (bombing on Pearl Harbor) or
7.21.1969 (the first landing on the moon)

We remember the numbers a lot easier. The same with recognizing components in fragrances. If the perfumer can group some single components and recognize these groups, it will be much easier to recognize the different components. The perfumer can group these components if he or she knows how certain combinations of single components do smell. For example, if the perfumer recognize a Fougere note (perfume family) in the fragrance, he or she knows that the Fougere has to have Amyl Salicylate, Coumarin, Lavender and Oakmoss. Once this group of components is recognized, the perfumer can put this group 'aside' in his mind, and smell around this group.

It's said that the right side of the brain is dominant with creative people, here is a test to find how creative you are.

I found something incredible at YouTube. Some people see the girl turn clockwise and some see her turn counter-clockwise, some people even don't see her turn but see her swing from left to right. I had to try it a couple of times before I could 'make' the girl turn every way around and let her swing from left to right. They say that if you see the girl turn counter-clockwise you use more of your left brain(analytical) and if you see her turn clockwise you use more of your right brain(creative). The first time I watched the video, I saw the girl turn counter-clockwise and at the end of the video I saw her turn clockwise. Strange that I see her turn counter-clockwise what means that I use more of my left side of the brain, while I always am creative. I should have seen her turn clockwise, but I didn't. I wonder if it's because I watched it as an analytical experience and forced my left brain to give attention. I don't know how much this test proofs. Which direction do you see the girl move? If you like to know how to let her move all kinds of directions I will let you know.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Chypre, indolic flowers, fruit and spices

It's wonderful that I have more time for the creation of my perfumes again. The whole weekend I was busy with experimenting. I took a closer look at my new friends, some materials I didn't study yet. I mixed unexpectedly combinations of materials, some of these mixes turned out stinky combinations, and some of them were surprisingly nice. I smelled my Velvet Blossom again, and I love the result very much. A very satisfying feeling to have accomplish exactly what I had in mind for this fragrance. A tender, fresh, but oh so velvety floral fragrance, based on Magnolia and Lilly of the Valley. I also worked on my fruity/chypre again. A perfume based on a Chypre accord made of oakmoss, labdanum, pathouli, vetiver, cedar and a little bit of castoreum. I combined this accord with fruity notes of bergamot, lemon and lychee.

I added a herbal green note of basil, a material I love very much, it gives a fresh green and a bit minty note to the fragrance. I also used watercress which gives a wonderful green leafy and very fresh note. The perfume so far smelled of course like Chypre, but also fruity green and floral. One of the flowers I think I always will use in my fragrances is jasmine, so also in this fragrance....

I used a jasmine absolute from Egypt, a very high quality absolute which smells wonderful. I also used may rose and gardenia. There is no such thing as a gardenia absolute so I had to reconstruct the scent of this flower. The floral notes are real nice, but I wanted them to smell even more indolic, so I added some more indole, and after testing the fragrance, I added even more of it. I just love indolic perfumes. The perfume smelled very nice, but I wanted to add some spicy notes to give more character to the fragrance.

So I added coriander seed, which works real fine. But I wanted the fragrance to smell even more spicy. I started with adding a tiny bit of cumin, a note that overpowers a fragrance real easy. So I had to be careful. But it was safe, I could use more of it, so I did. I wanted the fragrance to have a more dry spicy note, so I added some black pepper as well. Yes, that was a good idea. The black pepper is really nice in combination with the lychee. I also added some cardamom to give an effect to the citrus notes. It gives a very fresh spicy dry citrusy and even a bit bitter green note to the bergamot and lemon. And finally I added a tiny bit of clove. So the list of spices that I added is rather long: coriander seed, cumin, black pepper, cardamom and clove, but a nice combination of spices, which works really nice with the fruity notes. I have to remember this combination of spices when I want to cook......