Kyarazen posts a more or less monthly digest of informative articles, covering everything from fine tea to fine agarwood. I found this months to be most informative and timely, covering the two obvious lines of soil agarwoods on the market, as well as in depth information and pictures of what you should be looking for when you put large amounts of money out for wood which in many cases is coming from 1000’s of miles away with a “no return” policy. The article clearly points out how to tell the difference between what used to be traded as opposed to what is being sold in the last few years as meager copies. While many incense users only notice this as a decline in the quality of the incense stick they used to love, it was most noticeable in the quality of wood being sold out of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and today, even from Japan as the last of the old logs are consumed. While I got to see only a sampling of this decline during my 25+ years of trading in the wood, it is hard to beat Kyarazen’s view from Ground 0, so to speak, in Singapore, as well as the vast amount of research that he has done over the years. I really appreciated seeing the pictures of what is no longer possible to obtain (barring a lottery win, inheritance, etc.), as well as concise and easy to understand information. The article can be read here http://www.kyarazen.com/soil-agarwoods/
Sea of Clouds
The unlit sticks of Sea of Clouds smell dry, bitter and woody with a hint of borneol that adds its customary energetic uplift. I think I smell a sprinkle of dry white pepper and a hefty amount of sandalwood. The burning stick initially smells vanillic sweet. Then creamy sandalwood waltzes in, smooth and wavy and very light on its feet, smelling of mellow woods and coconut. It’s so strange that I can’t smell the camphor at all. I imagine it’s the invisible charioteer, content to drive the gently drifting and weightless wood skyward without contributing a scent of its own.
When I smell sweet agarwood incense I’m always charmed and feel as though I’ve rediscovered something very wonderful, however the bitter sticks are the ones I come back to again and again and again. Sea of Cloud’s bitterness is tempered by age-earned ease and gossamer grace, a welcome, unburdened bitterness that makes me feel determined and secure as I enjoy it’s meditative flight.
Sea of Clouds is an agarwood kiss, a breath of wood spirit, a floating puff of sylvan stillness. It takes me away, not on a wild adventure or a child’s fanciful daydream, but on an intent, silent pilgrimage made in earnest joy.
Song of Rain
As soon as I removed Song of Rain from its plastic sleeve I was really surprised! I wasn’t expecting to smell such strong, thick, sweet spiciness! The unlit sticks smell very ambery- lots of caramel (is that benzoin?) – accompanied by cumin, turmeric and cassia. A bittersweet chocolate makes me wonder if patchouli is the source of the herbal element. Before it’s lit, Song of Rain reminds me of a gourmand-smelling zukoh, but while it’s burning the sweet and spicy notes recede and woody and subtly animalic notes become much more prominent.
This is not the song of a suburban Spring shower. I smell the rainforest after a stampeding downpour, the sweet loaminess of sodden earth, the sour bitterness of fungus-laden bark and the damp thickness of heavy air. It’s easy to imagine green crested lizards scurrying beneath sinking rocks, birds of paradise seeking shelter under the spreading canopy and the drenched gray coats of squirrel monkeys glistening silver with sun-warmed droplets. While many amber incenses are way too sweet for my personal taste, Song of Rain balances sweet spiciness with herbal, earthy and plum skin agarwood notes. It’s a rain I’d happily sing in and a song I’d happily sing!
Kyarazen has spent the last two months creating a trio of luxury incenses. Each embodies a unique character and personality and creates a different mood and atmosphere. That an artist can compose olfactory poetry, using nature’s raw materials, is truly amazing and inspirational! Thank you, Kyarazen, for sharing your painstakingly crafted reflections. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to try them.
Kyarazen’s Enko is a larger than life scent- one that unabashedly fills a room with its hypnotic presence. It immediately reminds me of the interior of a traditional Chinese medicine shop where the mysterious scents of roots, barks, herbs and fungus, seashells and mineral extracts, and animal and insect components, are compounded into remedies that have been used for over 2000 years.
Enko has a rustic vigor that settles on my shoulders and burrows into my clothes with confident persistence. It is primarily a bitter scent, whose liveliness and energy are enhanced by warm herbs (turmeric, spikenard), woods (sandalwood), spices (pepper?) and salty mineral notes (shells).
Rather than unfolding note by note, the elements fuse to create a very dynamic and dense scent. This combination of vibrant buoyancy and weighty substance is unexpected and intriguing. I find myself inhaling it’s unfamiliar, medicinal aroma more and more deeply, and feeling invigorated by its penetrating presence.
To me it is very much an earth toned scent- russets, ochers and ambers; the scent of rugged escarpments and expansive plains. Although it is a quintessentially Chinese scent, Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man celebrates the same strength and openness that Enko, more humbly but not any less passionately, encapsulates.
Old Sage is an exceptional sandalwood incense that continues to perfume the air with the sweet scent of Santalum album long after it has finished burning.
Held breaths of silence punctuate this milky, opalescent fragrance that wraps its user in a haze of tranquility and mellowness. The fragrance is so intoxicating that I long for its reappearance during those vacant, scentless intervals.
Old Sage is more restrained than Kogado’s Hoshinohayashi, and its creamy notes are tempered with a hint of dry bitterness and salty mineral odorants. Inhaling the smoke has a strong physical effect: lured into a complacent daze, I’m happy to drift away, my chin nodding to my chest, my shoulders limp, my mind a puddle of blurred and melting images. Perhaps this smooth, undulating incense has already become an addiction? If so, it is one I willingly and wholly embrace.
Mutton jade; an anniversary pearl; a carnelian snuff bottle with sloped shoulders. Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais. Golden mercury.
Zen Moon is delicately transparent. It is luminous, ethereal and elegant yet it radiates dignity and calm. The scent drifts in and out of my consciousness, dry and aloofly bitter, a cool, crescent moon sickling crystal waters. Intermittent surges of resinous sweetness, wavy lines of lactones and wisps of earthy herbs add complexity, dimension and depth to the scent, but the composition is, above all, a reverent homage to the stately and austere woody scent of agarwood.
Unlike Enko, a sustained note that never vacillates, Zen Moon is a fugue, its shadows and overtones embellished adornments of Aquilaria’s meandering melody.
Silver solitudes, a wooden box embossed with almost forgotten memories, the permanence of impermanence, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor.
Kyarazen wrote “What I had wanted to achieve with Zen Moon is to create a special space, a hollow, omnipresent clear quietness, and the incense presenting itself in that background, weaving through the air, allowing the perceiver to experience wafts of scent like the clouds that drift slowly past the full moon in stainless light.“
He has certainly succeeded.
For more information about these incenses please see: