We have a gong on our wall, but can’t remember where it is from. I quite like it though, just hanging there.
Unlike Marc Bolan, we rarely bang our gong. I think D may have used it once in an onstage performance, but in the grunging lounge lizard classic glam rock sing along sleazefest that is T Rex’s Get It On, the louche, long-haired singer is seemingly quite the opposite:
“Well you’re dirty and sweet
Clad in black, don’t look back and I love you…
You’ve got the teeth of the hydra upon you.
Get it on. Bang a gong. Get it on.
Get it on. Bang a gong (repeat to fade out)’.
What is being referred to here is unclear ( and at parties I always preferred Twentieth Century Boy), but perfumer John Biebel, for his January Scent Project, perhaps not coincidentally, also bangs a lot of gongs on his latest release. Literally. The multi-talented artist – perfumer, painter, musician – actually produced a spontaneously decided on ‘soundtrack’ for his perfume – Gong – that I received out of the blue on vinyl the other day in the mail from Canada. Delighted to open the cardboard box, and welcoming the unexpected interruption to the day, I listened to the record in its entirety the bath, marvelling at the fact that he could just rustle up a record like that to go with the scent.
January perfumes are often experimental and ‘weird’ – as is much of this music (these are not ditties you will be whistling to the bus stop). Like the ‘dirty girl’ in the T-Rex song, in perfumes John usually tends to plumb the pitch, bitumen, oils and and embers of the sylvan perfume spectrum with leathers, resins, herbs and wood notes often prominent; woodland sacrifices and tar-like smoke (have you smelled Smolderose? It is quite something). I somehow imagine him wallowing about naked in rum, sodomy and the lash levels of essential oils while splattering paint on canvases, trombone in hand, his tattooed arms covered in never-before combinations of prime essences, making sounds of keen approval as he guffaws to himself while blasting out Dead Can Dance albums on speakers around his elegantly appointed Rhode island abode (his paintings are impressive, and all the company’s artwork is also self-designed).
Presumably, then, the first track on the album, Smoke and Banners, is an ode to his favoured charredness – which is (gratefully for me), toned down in Gong: actually an uplifting, very fruity, zesty, multicoloured smelling ‘green musk’, but still there, present in the rainforest undergrowth from the sandalwood, musk and ‘amber’ that resides beneath – (such a couched word now it could mean almost anything) : the familiar, forested murk that anchors the blend, portrayed musically by the first piece of music. This is dissonant, foreboding, dense, and could easily be the theme used for a film by Lars Von Trier, with its layered, Bjȫrk Volta era brass —- and indeed, lashes of gong, with that instrument’s naturally sonorous vibrations.
(“For some reason this particular fragrance suggested so many sonic elements that I felt it needed this side project to go along with it……and before I knew it, I was out in the garden recording birdsong at 4am. ..
I went back and bought a slide trombone.
I used to play in a jazz band YEARS ago when I was young. The intro piece is primarily electronic, but there are bits of trombone embedded throughout the record, along with santur (Iranian dulcimer) that I play ”
John told me in an email this morning, and the portentous opening of Gong (the music), which I take to represent the base notes of the perfume, soon brightens and funks on up into a more Bill Laswell like dub n bass instrumental (the mid notes), before the lush gorgeousness of my immediate favourite track Bamboo Temple, which put me in quite a spell as I lay drifting in the water, and reminded me of the ambient atmospherica of my youth : the b-side instrumentals of China Crisis, my beloved Japan/ David Sylvian, and the inimitable oddness of Dalis Car. This, Ferns and Twilight Taipei, eventually point the way musically more precisely to the main olfactive theme of Gong the perfume: essentially a very tart fruity scent, almost tropical, with a jungly, dour musked zing.
The green top accord of Gong is forceful and fresh, with an unusual combination of green pepper, Japanese daikon radish, lime, bergamot and Thai galangal and ginger compressing a blueberry heart that makes an immediate brain impression, with the contrasting, almost chypric bite of the leather and the more cold-hearted wood notes in the base creating an anti-intuitive harmony that works . I am the kind of galbanum bitch who can take a lot of green – I could have taken even more – I want my green almost piercing and chlorophylled as a trepanation to the frontal lobe – though this will, in truth, already be verdant enough for many. The overall effect, though, is immediate and memorable; modern, young, but with nods to the Grès and Balmain past in the top/base paradox.