When I record voice, I open to pages randomly, whether from books I’ve written or books written by others. I only do one or two takes with voice, picking words from those books like I would to make a spontaneous, wild bouquet of flowers […]
I use a lot of cut-ups in that way. Playing with found language allows me to isolate words as if they were little stones or marbles and make them roll in strange directions.
Félicia Atkinson interviewed
Félicia Atkinson is a Paris-born sound artist, poet and publisher sharing her time between Rennes, Brittany, the French Alps and Brussels and whose vast body of work is constantly drawing from a vast array of literary and audio visual sources. Blending poetry, sound sculpture, visual art, deep listening ambient music, avant-garde, post rock, minimalism, classical music and electronica, The Flower and the Vessel is a fascinating, multifaceted and multi-layered record delivering a complete immersive experience for the senses. The album was released on 5 July 2019 last as a CD and double LP last via Shelter Press, the publishing platform and record label she set up in 2012 with publisher Bartolomé Sanson.
Félicia Atkinson is often introduced as an ASMR artist. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a cultural phenomenon that has gradually emerged over the last decade on the internet. It describes the tingling sensation from the scalp down to the upper spine experienced by some people and often stimulated by the sound of whispering voices, of hair brushed, of book pages turning or of any repetitive low pitched sound. The huge popularity of hundreds of ASMR YouTube channels is a testament to the growing appeal of the genre. The videos are used as triggers for sleep, meditation or relaxation.
All the spoken word French and English lyrics on The Flower and the Vessel are whispered, starting with “L’Après-Midi”. But the hushed vocals are only one element of the overall sensory listening experience. The entire record slowly evolves into a mesmerising sound collage of cut up poems, ambient noises, electronics, delays, field recordings and a vast range of textured or manipulated instruments – gong, cymbals, vibraphone, marimba, piano, Rhodes and Wurlitzer, gamelan and electric guitar all orbiting around the artist’s spoken word poetry.
The Flower and the Vessel is steeped in musique concrete, in the pioneering electronic music of musicians like Delia Derbyshire or Robert Ashley as well as in 20th century French classical music with the musician citing Maurice Ravel’s opera “L’enfant et les Sortilèges”, Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” and Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies” as major childhood influences which resurfaced in the making of the record. The floating piano or Fender Rhodes on tracks like “Moderato Cantabile”, “L’enfant et le Poulpe” or “Joan” conjures the spirit of Erik Satie, whose deep-rooted impact on modern classical music continues to be heard and experienced on contemporary records. The marimba, percussive gongs and field recordings on “Lush” also evoke Midori Takada’s ambient and percussive minimalism.
Like on many of her previous releases – The Flower and the Vessel is Félicia Atkinson’s tenth album – several tracks find their origin in different literary sources, poetry, interviews, books, magazines and manuals. “Moderato Cantabile” shares its title with a 1958 novel by French author Marguerite Duras. The track “Shirley to Shirley” originates from a 2004 interview between American abstract painters Shirley Jaffe and Shirley Kaneda discussing the difficulty of verbalising art, of articulating ideas about creativity or the changing nature of ideas over time.
The words on “Joan” come from A Forest Petrifies, a novel by Félicia Atkinson published by Shelter Press in October 2019 last and “inspired by the Petrified Forest in Arizona and its ability to change over time from an organic to a mineral state.”
A passage from La Lecture des Pierres (The Reading of Stones) forms the basis of “Des Pierres”. On this particular track, Félicia Atkinson is accompanied by Seattle-born and Paris-based metal drone Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O’Malley.
La Lecture des Pierres is an anthology comprised of three essays by French writer and philosopher Roger Caillois (1913 – 1978) – “Pierres” (Stones – 1966), “L’écriture des Pierres” (The Writing of Stones – 1970) and “Agates Paradoxales” (1977) – which was published in 2014. The anthology is accompanied by 150 photographs of some of the nicest stones the writer collected over his lifetime and which he eventually donated to the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Roger Caillois was fascinated by the inner beauty of gemstones, minerals and rocks such as agate, jasper, quartz or onyx. Polished sections of the stones reveal unexpected and kaleidoscopic patterns which led the writer to meditate on the human consciousness and the presence of art in nature. The majestic and slow-burning 19mn track “Des Pierres” spans the entire Side D and concludes the LP.
The idea of slow transformation – the change from an organic to a mineral state / the change of emotional state over time as induced by long drones / the changing of creative ideas over time – magically underpins The Flower and the Vessel as it was crafted while the musician was pregnant on tour. It is “a record made with pregnancy” says Félicia Atkinson. “Welcome to the world, Ivanhoé” read the conclusion to the LP liner notes.
How does the act of creation connect us, not only to history, but to the cosmic? It’s a process of taking, and then giving back. It makes us belong to the world.
As the Ikebana-like Japanese flower arrangements on the LP cover and inner sleeves, the record plays like a spine-tingling sound sculpture. The centuries-old art form rooted in Zen Buddhism is both a spiritual process associated with silence or meditation and a visual practice concerned with aesthetics, shapes, balance, colour and beauty. The Flower and the Vessel relies on a synaesthetic panoply of sensory triggers to collapse barriers between art forms and create a unique ambient sound object whose inner beauty reveals itself further with each new deep listening.