Thursday, October 4, 2012
My interest in olfactory synesthesia began when I banged my head against a wall—metaphorically. As a newly hired sensory scientist at Roure one of my tasks was to find better ways to understand how consumers respond to scent. I wasn’t getting anywhere with verbal description: people are generally crummy at describing smells, and as for the professionals—well, there were impressive arguments between the French and American perfumers over the company’s “official” vocabulary (“It’s green!” “Non, c’est agrestic!”).
I turned instead to nonverbal ways of describing odor, by reference to color, musical pitch, and so on. There was lots of research on synesthesia—the crossing over between the senses—but almost none of it involved the sense of smell. The field was wide open and I plunged in.
Today, thanks in part to research I published with Sarah Kemp, Robyn Martin, and Kira Belkin, olfactory synesthesia is a lively scientific topic. It has also become a key element of product design and scent marketing. These scientific applications throw a new light on the centuries old artistic use of synesthesia in music, painting, poetry and literature.
If this intrigues you, consider joining one of my upcoming interactive workshops on The Art & Science of Synesthesia. We will sniff blotters and learn how to represent smells in color and shape. The workshops are being hosted by Chad Murawczyk and Mindy Yang at MiN New York, their fragrance clubhouse/atelier in SoHo. The events run from 7:00 p.m. to 9 p.m. There are three dates: October 10, October 17, and November 20. Tickets are available online.
I hope to see you there!