Across her body of work, Felicia Atkinson has explored the gap between experience and its capture. She creates spacious electroacoustic soundscapes drenched in landscape and imagery, fusing a variety of sonic genres from spoken word to sound collage. Through the setting of her gentle, suggestive voice amidst a constellation of perpetually shifting sonic textures, rhythms, and harmonies, Atkinson crafts mutable forms which capture the bittersweet ache of connection, its palpability as well as its slipperiness. On her most recent release, Image Langage, Atkinson continues to explore how the voice can relate to music and sound, and how sound can relate to space and nature, while exploring environments as varied as nature, home, even painting.
The album’s first track, “La Brume,” opens with a set of horns soloing high above spacious, gentle droning. The French word brume translates to mist in English, a perfect image for a track which, like much of Atkinson’s music, embodies a sense of pensiveness. The song is full of hesitation, unfinished ideas, and space, structures which recur throughout the album.
On many of the tracks that follow, Atkinson’s voice joins the album’s chorus of electro-acoustic sound and melody, interruptions of electronic signal, and other ambient sound. Her work is intimate, attentive to the full environment of a sound, not hesitant to retain the rustling of paper or the ambience of room sound, which interrupts and then disappears as a microphone is switched on or off.
It is tempting to listen to Atkinson’s work with an ear towards signification, and her language and delivery are enchanting, but it is the space between the voice and the other elements of the soundscape which seems like the more important focal point here. The voice is unreliable, shifting between languages, variously indiscernible, abruptly cut off, and often absent entirely. On the album’s second track “The Lake is Speaking,” the layering of sustained sound threatens to overtake the voice and its deep echo entirely.
The artwork for Image Langage features three figures, frozen in various stages of movement. The figures trade off speaking the words “maybe if I just keep…” capturing in a drawing the uncertain yet resolute atmosphere the album’s soundscapes choreograph. Although a sense of play or improvisation flows beneath the tracks on the album, their forward motion feels vital. There is the driven but ultimately destination-less piano of “Our Tides” which, like many of the album’s tracks, fades to silence rather than reach a more satisfying conclusion; the persistent staccato rhythm which emerges in “Becoming a Stone” and “The House that Agnes Built;” the mantra-like repetition of vulnerable phrases and the accumulation of objects and images in “The House that Agnes Built; the overlapping, looped voices in “Image Langage.”
Image Langage is an ambiguous label for an album, gesturing as it does to different modes of knowledge and the overlap between seeing, saying, and hearing. Atkinson’s multimodal soundscapes are documents of the paradox of encounter; that one can experience both the intimacy of connection to the world around us, to nature, art, and home, while still remaining at an unbridgeable distance. (Jennifer Smart)