Transmissions Vol. 1 | Varyer

Transmissions, Vol 1

Se Young Au bridges worlds by exploring the through-lines and intersections of multi-sensory experiences.

Amid the collective grief the world is now confronting due to the pandemic, I have been working through the personal and unexpected loss of my brother. I’ve looked to the senses in an attempt to reorient and ground myself and have found that multi-sensory engagement has been extremely helpful. Be it through scent or sonic means, they help us to distill our experiences and inform our larger perspective. The stillness of this time has allowed for intentional exploration of the world and embracing all of its vividness in saturation.

By connecting throughlines and specific articulations, I’ve found interrelations help forge a new perception and contextualization post loss. I believe that if we can hone in on the power of our sensory input, we can use what we let in to (re) build our worlds by accessing memories to construct the space we need to move fully embodied through our grief.

I.

During this marked period, people have had to wade through many layers of deficit en masse. Loss of smell has been identified as a key symptom of the COVID-19 virus, the least understood sense (and certainly of undermost value) has come into the spotlight with new considerations. A sense associated with superfluousness and pleasure suddenly appears more vital to us than previously imagined.

Many people have indicated that their general quality of life decreased significantly due to losing their sense of smell, even temporarily. Some studies have shown that people with anosmia (permanent loss of smell) can suffer from bouts of depression or general malaise. Smell is connected with taste, but it also links us to our memories. It helps us decipher subtleties within our environment and better understand the world.

I’ve been fortunate to explore this lesser appreciated sense more in depth and take perfumery classes here in Los Angeles (pre-pandemic) at the Institute of Art and Olfaction. My teacher, Ashley Eden Kessler, expertly guided students through an index of categorized (i.e. florals, fruity, citrus) raw materials and we would share our individual reflections and reactions to said ingredients. No one was chided for providing “wrong” answers as everyone’s unique perspective is valid due to the subjective nature of scent. It was immensely informative and gave me language to elucidate the ephemerality and complexities of scent.

Since we all contain different libraries of scent memories or associations due to our life experiences, this archive is extremely personal. Sometimes a specific smell can elicit a reaction so electric with accessing a memory it can instantly hurl you through space and time. Perhaps there is a particular reference that carries you immediately back to a childhood home. An embrace from your favorite aunt. A past lover.


I’ve loved Mondo Mondo’s fragrance, Cowboy, since I first smelled it during New York market week years ago. It was developed by LA-based, Natasha Ghosn, an artist who is fluent in both scent and jewelry as creative expressions. It’s composed of wet earth and grassy bass notes which fold beautifully into a woody cedar that opens up into an airy honeysuckle bouquet imbued with faint tobacco. Make no mistake— beyond its playful name, it’s an incredibly complex but fresh scent that is distinct in its ability to encompass entire worlds. It’s even a remarkable shade of green situated between beryl and chartreuse, which builds upon environmental associations.

II.

I lost almost all ability to listen to music with lyrics after losing my brother. Almost three years in, I’d say the vast majority of the music I listen to is instrumental. Sometimes, I wonder if this is commonplace for those who have endured a loss.My capacity to absorb words in this way has just evaporated. I’m more interested in shapes, colors and textures a song can evoke without the employment of words and take comfort in allowing my mind to fill in the rest.

During this insular period, I discovered the discography of Canadian composer/saxophonist Joseph Shabason. He creates unusually emotional landscapes making use of both electronic and reed instruments. The listener becomes immersed in his textured world, cocooned in atmospheric tones.

One single, in particular, has emerged as a favorite. “Broken Hearted Koda” is built on a soft, syncopated electric drum beat. The pattern mimics rain droplets as warm synth chords roll out slowly and fill the space between. Soft rhythmic guitar riffs emerge and interplay with airy saxophone lines in a recurring harmonic motif oscillating between minor and major chord changes. As the song gains momentum, a guitar line enhanced by a soft wah-pedal effect meanders with dissonant purpose. This texture paired with the player lingering on melodic tensions elevates the emotionality of this seemingly benign piece. At different points, each instrument repeats a cascading pattern that conjures falling water. The piece feels bittersweet even in its conclusion holding space for the full spectrum of human sentiment.

☁ cocooned in ☁ atmospheric ☁ tones ☁ cocooned in ☁ atmospheric ☁ tones

Most recently, I repurchased Cowboy, subconsciously wanting to place myself back to a time before all this loss. The moment it made contact with my skin, I had built an escape hatch into a mixed reality using the senses to bend time into a space of possibility. Coupled with “Broken Hearted Koda,” I am immediately immersed in an integrated alternative world. I pull from the recesses of my childhood memories and conjure up images of my brother and I: wading together through knee-high wild grasses and chasing one another around the damp tree-lined forest floor. The syncopated rhythms mirror our roving young heartbeats under star-filled skies. The warm, dusty saxophone lines tease out remnants of waning long summer nights. And throughout the duration of each beat and between each breath and all that is encompassed, I am reminded that our distillation of the world can be our only transmutable solace.