Being online stimulates many senses, except for our sense of smell. Together with artist Cesar Majorana and The Hmm community, we created Hmmosphere, a scent that encapsulates the smell of our internet. So how does The Hmm smell? Creative, experimental, critical, transparent, and weird—the world of The Hmm is translated into this diverse scent experience. Get Hmmosphere via our shop and transform any room into a The Hmm atmosphere. And while you wait to receive your very own bottle, you can continue reading to find out how Hmmosphere came into being.
Why did we want to develop a scent?
Dating back to at least 1868, ‘odour experiences’ have been integrated into entertainment performances. Created by Hans Laube in the 1960s, the wonderfully named Smell-O-Vision was a system that released scents during the projection of a film so that the viewer could “smell” what was happening in the movie. The process injected 30 different scents into the seats of the movie theatre when triggered by the film’s soundtrack. Fast-forward to today, what role does scent play in our very very online existence? This is the question that we wanted to explore as we developed and created Hmmosphere.
With The Hmm we don’t have our own physical space and our on-site events are always hosted by other organisations and locations. Since the start of the pandemic we’ve been organising online events that people can follow from home and we’ve been actively experimenting with hybrid events that bring together on-site and on-line audiences. In our belief, and based on our experiences so far, simply streaming your event does not make for the most exciting and interesting hybrid experience. Our goal is that the experience of the online audience is not inferior to the experience of the audience joining us on-site. Through our programming and research we’ve been investigating how to achieve this balance in experiences by trying out different forms, formats, and interventions. We’ve been exploring questions like: How do you connect a virtual audience and a physical audience? How can online visitors prepare themselves for the event? Should the experience be the same for both audiences?
During the lockdown we built our own privacy-friendly and open-source online platform to host our events, as a way to ensure that our online events feel like a physical The Hmm event and not like a business meeting (which is the risk of hosting events in Zoom). But building our own platform was not enough. We wanted to taking things one step further and create a special scent that can transform any room into a The Hmm atmosphere. Just like all Albert Heijn’s have a recognisable scent when walking through the aisles, our goal for The Hmm scent was to be recognisable at any of our event. Whether they take place in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, or people watch it from home. The scent can help people joining us remotely to re-create The Hmm atmosphere in their very own home.
Hmmosphere: encapsulating the smell of our internet
Of course, at least for a big part, The Hmm should smell like the internet. That’s why we went on a field trip to the Equinix AM3 data center in Amsterdam and visited the landing site of one of the deep sea cables that provides the physical infrastructure of the internet. At each of these locations Cesar and our team collected plants that grow around these places, as well as some of the water near the data center that is used to cool down the environment from the immense heat produced from all the servers.
After these site visits to some of the physical locations that make up the ecosystem of our internet, we held several surveys with our audience. We gathered information from our community and our audiences via an online form spread via our newsletter and social media channels, as well as via a small online event in our Discord server. We were interested in people’s olfactory associations with the internet. How does it smell to be online? What does the internet smell like for you? What is the odour of The Hmm?
One of the things that frequently came up was what people describe as “the smell of electricity.” This scent is actually produced by ozone and luckily Cesar was able to get his hands on some molecules of this gas. The smell of ozone permeated some of the earlier drafts of the scent, combining with a tincture from the plants that were collected at the data centre sites and Cesar’s own vast collection of scent molecules.
We wanted to copy some typical methodologies from the tech sector or habits of the internet into the making process of this scent:
Once Cesar finished some drafts, we held an A/B testing session at Mediamatic with our team and some invited guests from The Hmm community. Cesar brought three scents for us to try: a version called ‘Content moderation’; ‘Printing press to data centre’; and ‘Project 3’. Ancient computer dust, soft yellowing plastics, moss, wet dirt, strong cellar vibes. These are just some of the associations that came to mind for our guests when smelling the different scent combinations. As our guest Karl Moubarak noted, “The Hmm is about a muddy place, the muddiness of the internet”. Based on our feedback from the A/B test, Cesar tweaked and merged the versions into the scent of The Hmm: Hmmosphere.
Design from the internet
The internet celebrates the creative potential of amateur makers and internet users. To bring this back into our scent, we didn’t invite a professional designer to make the packaging design and bottle wrapper but we invited three different designers, from around the world, to create a design proposal. We used the designs as an inspiration for our final scent design.
An open source scent
In line with our ethos for The Hmm we wanted the scent to be open source. That’s why the scent comes with an ingredient list. You can fork it and change it to a new scent that suits you and the atmosphere that you want to create. And of course, if you just want to buy the one we made, you can order it now in our webshop.