Although some of New York City's best-known aromas originate in the subway system in the summer, automotive exhaust, and even a fenugreek processing plant in North Bergen, N.J., of all places, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum aims to add some new ones to this pantheon.
On May 31, the museum's Works & Process initiative will present the world premiere of Green Aria, which its creator, Stewart Matthew, has dubbed a ScentOpera. A musical program performed in the dark, it will feature entertainment provided by scents and a composition by Nico Muhly -- who has worked with Philip Glass and Benjamin Millepied, and written the score for The Reader and other films -- and by Valgeir Sigurdsson, an Icelandic composer and producer who worked for many years with countrywoman Bjork.
The audience at the Guggenheim will sit in seats outfitted with what Matthew, a writer and one-time Chase investment banker, describes as a "scent microphone." This device will direct scents at each audience member; the music in turn will support the scents and help them "sound." Matthew's collaborator and official perfumer is Christophe Laudamiel, a former senior perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances.
Muhly said his music "describes the procession of scents through time. There is a constant back and forth between industrial and organic smells. Some smells are aggressive, strong and intense, while others are synthesized, a weird mix of things."
Muhly compared writing the ScentOpera's music -- which was composed for acoustic and electronic instruments and will be heard at the Guggenheim on a recording -- to "writing a film score, with a narrative written by another person. In this case, I'm following his path, not composing my own piece of music."
Following five sold-out performances of Green Aria at the Guggenheim May 31 and June 1, Matthew said there are "plans to take it to equally prestigious venues worldwide"
Asked his personal favorite scent, Matthew said "anything designed by my partner, Christophe Laudamiel," while Muhly said he preferred the aroma of roast chicken.