The Scent Of My Monsoon

Petrichor the term used for the scent of rain was coined by Bear and Thomas, two Australian researchers in 1964. Petros in Greek means “stone” + ichor was “the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology”. The monsoon is a very important season in India. My most memorable aspect of the monsoon is the onset. Everyone is very excited as the summer’s heat is replaced by these humid winds carrying moisture from the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The smell. Oh! The smell. The smell of the monsoon when the dry earth’s thirst is quenched by the first fall of rain is exhilarating. This experience is represented in a gallery installation using sound, light and rain. The scent and sound of the monsoon is an integral part of the piece.

The Scent of my Monsoon is an art installation which is an abstract reconstruction of my experience of the monsoon through involuntary recollection. It consists of a set of mirrors mounted on windows onto which raindrops are allowed to fall and light is projected. The event is accompanied by spatial sound and most importantly the scent of rainfall when it hits dry earth.

Speakers in the space play stereo sounds of a compilation of field recordings of rain such that this experience matches my memories. The setup involves many senses in the form of sound, light and shadows, touch and smell. The sense of touch is represented by the feel of the thunder beneath the feet along with the sensation of the droplets. The sense of smell is simulated using an earthly scent which is dispersed in the gallery.

When the viewer enters the space, they encounter simulated rain drops falling on window panes and sounds of the monsoon along with reflections of the droplets on the wall. Most importantly, they perceive the scent emanating from the water, completing the experience and the reconstruction of the indelible memory of the smell of rain and earth.

The setup consists of
1. 6 acrylic mirrors placed on 6 glass windows
2. A pump/hose system that recycles water and drips rain droplets on the mirrors
3. A projector/laptop setup that throws amber light on the windows
4. The reflection on the wall caused by the above setup with shadows of the droplets
5. A stereo sound system playing field recordings of the rain
6. The beetroot perfume which closely matches the earthly smell is mixed in the water

The laptop controls the sound and the visuals for the piece. The projection of the light of required color and shape onto the mirrored windows that have droplets coming down on them created the reflections on the wall with the droplets as dynamic physical shadows. This color was chosen to mimic the memory of the onset, when the sky is amber, the land is dry and the clouds break the silence with their downpour. It is a nice marriage of the physical and the virtual spaces in the right amounts creating a subtle but powerful experience.

Visitors who experienced the work had varied levels of responses and feedback. Many could relate to the multidimensional recreation of natural rainfall as a phenomenon exhibited within the gallery context. For some it was a meditative and tranquil space where they could lie down and relive their memories of the coming of rain. Some visitors from India could share the same nostalgic thoughts of being shielded from the torrential downpours at home by overprotective parents as a child, watching the rainfall and experiencing it indoors. The feeling of being engulfed in the mist-laden atmosphere as it surrounds us is so mystical and earthly at the same time. Doing justice to that sense of longing was a very refreshing and satisfying endeavor.

Regarding the sense of smell, there were various levels of responses. Some could sense the smell of rain as they walked into the gallery, others felt it only when they got closer to the droplets on the windows and some others could not recognize the smell or could not attach it to their memory of rain. The sound was very present and was the primary aspect of the piece which brought the viewers to this other so familiar space albeit virtually. Having moisture and rain droplets in the space was essential for the piece as well. It served as a vehicle for the scent to permeate, a tool to control the humidity and a way to include the sense of touch wherein one could feel the moisture on the skin. It added the feeling of being near water which was so important to the experience of rainfall.