Roses: Obsession & Creation


Rose Petal Jam

The great thing about making rose petal jam, is the way the roses perfume the air as they heat up, steam, steep, and boil. A single rose can give off complex aromatic notes, from floral, to citrus, to cloves, to honey, to tea. The result is an enveloping sensation that causes one to pause and breathe deeply for a moment and acknowledge something special is transpiring.


Rito-ito + Chris Kallmyer

In collaboration with artist, Chris Kallmyer, Rito-ito created a rose installation at San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox. It consisted of 3 parts: a rose petal jam tableau (for a live recording of the sounds of jam making), a large arrangement to accompany the violinist, and a small arrangement to anchor the space.



The recent show, titled, Obsession & Creation produced by LA group Chromatic, provided an evening to explore art, sound, performance, video and flowers. Kallmyer envisioned an installation as an homage to experimental composer and musician Harry Partch. The installation would highlight one of Partch’s loves: gardening and rose petal jam at his home in Petaluma and one of his hates: Bach. He asked if Rito-ito would participate and I jumped at the chance to create something with roses in an unexpected arena.


Rose Harvest

Kallmyer and I harvested 3 types of roses for the performance. 2 grocery bags full of rose heads and petals. We arrived at the farm at 6AM, the morning dew still on every petal, the fog lifting off the Sonoma Valley in Healdsburg. We had to be there early because roses retain their most fragrance when cold, after a long night of low temperatures. As they warm up they give off their scent. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by roses on a cold morning and smell nothing, only later to be blown away by their scent as they rise in temperature.


The first rose, a soft magenta color, flat in shape and ruffled with petals was the Kazanlik, from Bulgaria. The rose is prized for its floral, woodsy scent that makes much of the world’s rose water and rose oil when distilled.

The second rose, a deeper redder pink, and a large specimen was the Souvenir de Claudius Denoyel. A rose from France and cultivated in the 1800s known for its sweet citrusy smell.


The third rose, a variety that greeted us in the dirt parking lot, called Gertrude Jekyll is an English variety known for its old rose fragrance.

As we drove away and the sun warmed the car, the smell of the three roses started to emerge. We would later find it was a fraction of what we’d experience in the orchestra pit of the SoundBox. A space seemingly devoid of smell, its massive concrete beams and pillars, the sterile but highly technical sound equipment ready to delight the crowd – its vacuous space would later be filled with the sweetest, romantic, heady scent of roses.


The 2 bags of petals we harvested would amount to 2 drops of rose oil if we were distilling it. Rose oil is worth more than gold per ounce. And for the performance those two bags of rose petals amplified an experience of delight and intrigue that perfumed and set the stage for an unexpected special evening.

Obsession & Creation: Show credits
Obsession & Creation: Notes on music