Felicia Atkinson A Readymade Ceremony

[Shelter Press; 2015]

Styles: ASMR, EAI, noise, poetry, humor
Others: Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, Kaffe Matthews, Nurse With Wound

Felicia Atkinson’s music brings an avant-garde compositional practice to the phenomenological aspects of sound: its process of recording, its playback, and the listener’s perception of space. A Readymade Ceremony is breathy, scratchy, and intimately placed music, a suite of rough hewn distortions and musique concrète that perform for their lyrics, near-theatrically so at times and in intimate nearness to the listener. A Readymade Ceremony is a deft manipulation of the medium of sound — a “readymade” of sampled objects, found sounds, and lyrics errantly selected — all adding up to a displacing but beautiful whole.

A harsh pop makes the first line of “Against Archives” sound like the words “no sisterp.” It comes off both a little coy and strangely sad, a glitchy false start alerting us to Felicia’s meta proclivities. The song meanders through a dense jungle of sub-bass like a system in standby and halts on a jittery rhythm, shaking in place and foreboding. On “The Book And The Territory,” battered synths teeter on piercing feedback but never go over; as soft strings consume them, the song gets pulled in different directions, with a collage of reverbs defining different spaces, some safe-sounding, some hollow and eerie. A bleak little keyboard plinks a melody out sometimes, distant and eroded, until “Carve The Concept And The Artichoke” makes spotty, jarring musical shapes out of some real-life piano keys and a snare. It echoes, hollow, against an absent accompanist, impatiently, until “Recherche De La Base Et Du Sommet” joins it to a bellowing, metallic chorus of wind, creaky doors, and factory drone.

Not only does the music present a suitable companion to Felicia’s bizarre, often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking poetry (which is taken from a variety of sources, including her own work, Rene Char’s poetry, and Italian art publication Mousse), it is linked directly to it through her intentional mixing choices. The decision to work with low-budget recording software has given Atkinson’s music a caustic modernity, with uniquely scattered and bit-crushed compositions working as dialogues, internally logical and contoured artfully. Every degree of noise, each level of fidelity is contrasted, set in a high-fidelity plane (usually indicated by Felicia’s crisp vocals) so that the clipping happens inside a frame.

Most noticeably on “L’Oeil,” the album’s centerpiece, the songs present rough edges and binaural headspaces that appear to be an accident, only to fall in just the right spots: as Atkinson coughs out “I used to be crucial,” it pops hard on the microphone, in keeping with the song’s themes of decay and loss. Her paranoid, half-whispered delivery mirrors the narrative, which appears to detail the neglect of some once-treasured object from its perspective as it falls into disrepair. The song’s quasi-mantra of “hang by the shower curtain’s rod” gets more and more incomprehensible against the noisy grain of burning rocket engines and becomes something of a rhythm itself, a riff of verbal intonation, like a talking drum, articulated in a rhythmic jaunt that isn’t exactly musical but has a deliberate end each time. Semantic satiation sets in as other dialogue joins this bit, and it becomes clear how Atkinson’s visual artistry informs her sound work, from the way she obfuscates parts or joins them together, methodically, to shift layers of meaning.

In fact, nothing is wasted or superfluous. Noises like puffs of wind, clipping, and digital distortion are activated, becoming pivotal elements of a song rather than just atmosphere or decor. Through careful form and composition, these strange noises have gained human qualities. The music is conversant, passing focus from voice to hiss and click to tone and back in a fluid sonic poem, intimate and bracing, all of it interwoven stupendously between the literal, the abstract, the sad, and the humorous. This is what gives A Readymade Ceremony such a lasting impression: it speaks to you continuously. Felicia articulates meaning through the smallest glitch like a period at the end of a sentence. Atkinson plays against type and in type, aloof parody and serious auteur, sculptor and prankster rolled together into one marble sugar cube.

Links: Felicia Atkinson - Shelter Press

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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