Free-floating explorations of timbre and tone from the French avant-garde artist.
"L'Après-Midi," the first track on The Flower And The Vessel, is a 56-second recording of Félicia Atkinson speaking quietly in French, recorded at extremely close range without any musical accompaniment. For a non-French speaker, the ear is drawn to the textures of her voice, the hesitancy of her speech as it rises from a whisper, the pop of her lips as she forms words. Atkinson's voice is a central element of her recordings, and using it to draw listeners in is an ideal way to introduce the ensuing 70 minutes of immersive sound environments.
Atkinson, who runs the Shelter Press label and publishing house with her partner Bartolomé Sanson, has developed a unique kind of spectral drift. Her whispered words feel like a reminder that with the ecstasy of intimacy also comes uneasiness. A fascination with the effects of pure texture connects her work with ASMR and ambient music, though her music is too ambiguous to easily be described as either. She is a master of free-floating explorations of timbre and tone, juxtaposing electronic and acoustic elements in ways that highlight the unique properties, and sometimes surprising similarities, of each. This is especially true on The Flower And The Vessel, which creates a sense of immersion both through multi-layered sonic expanses and sparse passages that let small, quiet sounds express themselves fully.
"Moderato Cantabile" is a good example of how Atkinson builds her more complex, multivalent sound worlds. The piece progresses like a cloud being blown by the wind, imperceptibly morphing into different shapes and never returning to any single, solid form. "The Linguistics Of Atoms" shows how Atkinson uses silence and space to achieve a similar effect. The second half of the piece is especially stripped down, but creates a sense of immense unease through the use of short, dissonant plinks of piano and marimba, juxtaposed with a high-pitched ringing that feels just at the edge of the audible range. In this context, her voice, when it appears, feels alien and unnerving. Still, the listener is drawn into the most minute details of the composition.
Atkinson's music reflects a multidisciplinary approach to art. From poetry and literature she draws a sense of wonder at the beauty of words, and from visual art her music gains its textural depth and a tendency towards abstraction. "Joan" is a reference to the author Joan Didion, who Atkinson said has a "strange eloquence and gesture while she is speaking, like she is erasing with her hands the words she is pronouncing." At several points throughout the album, Atkinson incorporates texts from BOMB Magazine interviews with visual artists, including the painter Shirley Jaffe and the sculptor/folk artist St. EOM. In Jaffe's interview, the painter says, "I am interested in non-centrality, coexistence, constant invention-making movements that are not repetitious but function together as a whole... One could say I want to capture an unborn reality."
There is a lot to unpack in that statement, but the underlying sentiment resonates throughout The Flower And The Vessel. The album reflects a fascination with the act of creation through the exploration of other artistic mediums and the nature of the music itself. Atkinson is able to represent these complex webs of ideas in ways that feel infinitely deep by embracing the enigmatic nature of sound and art.
02. Moderato Cantabile
03. Shirley To Shirley
04. Un Ovale Vert
05. You Have To Have Eyes
06. Linguistics Of Atoms
09. Open - Ouvre
10. L'Enfant Et Le Poulpe
11. Des Pierres