TRACK: Steph Richards – ‘Underbelly’: marvellous free jazz trails LP – with accompanying scents …

Steph Richards, photographed by Chris Weiss

STEPH RICHARDS – the composer, free jazz trumpeter and bandleader who’s worked with artists as diverse as St Vincent, Yoko Ono and Anthony Braxton, knows a thing or two about how to envelop the senses. 

But for her new album, Supersense, she’s taking a step further into the multi-sensory, even the synaesthesic – working alongside multimedia artist Sean Raspet, her new album contains scent creations that are presented on a scratch and sniff card with the physical copies so listeners can get the full experience, taking in the smells as they hear each track.

Have a listen to our YouTube embed of “Underbelly” below – je suis désolé, no scent accompaniment with this one; and hear her fly forth into sound with her ensemble, fellow all-star improvisers Jason Moran, Stomu Takeishi and Kenny Wolleson. It’s exploratory, inventive, marvellous.

“I was thinking about how much information you get from a live performance that you just can’t get by listening to something digitally,” Steph says. 

“What if I could create an experience where listeners felt even closer to the music by involving their other senses?” 

She’s no stranger to pushing the boundaries of sonic experimentation, but scent offered a potential new pathway, which was where Sean Raspet came in.

With his help, she crafted the album’s scents and compositions simultaneously, writing his concoctions into her score: as they played, the musicians would be directed to open numbered boxes containing scents that they would then respond to with improvisation.   

“They’re not necessarily beautiful,” she continues; one of her own favourite smells being cricket exoskeletons. 

“They’re weird, complex things you can’t put your finger on — some of them make you feel a little uneasy, some make you feel clean, some make you feel dirty.” 

And her ensemble more than rose to the occasion. Jason Moran contributed prepared piano; Kenny Wolleson brought a vanful of homemade percussion; Steph herself employed mutes and even played underwater. 

Raspet then listened to the record, and tweaked the scents to better accompany the music. 

Steph obviously had planned had to present the full multisensory experience live; but still hopes that by playing to more than one sense, listeners will be drawn into the music more fully. 

“It’s really mean to live in abstract, wordless space,” she concludes. 

“One where we’re not exactly able to define where we’re traveling and what we’re feeling, but where we can just be swept away by sensation.”

Steph Richards’ Supersense will be released by Northern Spy Records on digital, CD, trad back and limited transparent red vinyl pressings on October 23rd. You can pre-order your copy at the Northern Spy store or at Steph’s Bandcamp page.

For more information on Steph’s work and her oeuvre, visit her website; and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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