PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Félicia Atkinson's 'The Flower and the Vessel' Focuses on Small Gestures​

Photo: Shelter Press

Experimental composer and French poet Félicia Atkinson creates The Flower and the Vessel "with pregnancy", using small gestures to explore questions of ontology and becoming.

The Flower and the Vessel
Félicia Atkinson

Shelter Press

5 July 2019

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts theorizes pregnancy as a becoming that which is intimate, transformative, and perhaps even queer. Ultimately, these thoughts take after the Deleuzian concept of becoming, that is the ever-dynamic process of being anew by influence, as opposed to the fallacy of being static and fixed by resemblance and categories. Or, as Nelson references Description Roland Barthes' metaphor, "Just as the Argo's parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo."

Similarly, the journey of pregnancy became a project of ontology for the experimental composer and French poet Félicia Atkinson. She describes her latest full-length The Flower and the Vessel as "a record not about being pregnant but a record made with pregnancy". This intimate process uncovered the many possibilities of the vessel that holds the flower's growth or the Argo that holds the changing parts. For her, it brought forth the questions of "what am I doing here? How can I connect myself to the world?"

Atkinson composed The Flower and the Vessel "with small gestures: recording my voice, recording birds, a simple melody", as she describes. Each song applies an intense focus on the moments and sounds that are otherwise unnoticed. This fascination with negative space finds materials in what is seemingly silent or empty. On the opener "L'Après-Midi", Atkinson softly murmurs a spoken word piece in French, but the background is as much a part of the performance as her voice. Amplified to capture her whispers, every scrape and breeze is magnified. Such media is typically known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), but Atkinson is not whispering simply to entice sensory pleasure. Rather, aware of the grand consequences of small gestures, such intense focus uncovers the interconnected becoming of microcosms and macrocosms.

Atkinson explains that her approach to negative space was inspired by Erik Satie's Gymnopédies. As such, on many pieces, instruments and field recordings do not build melodies but rather dissipate. Much like Gymnopédies, "Moderato Cantabile" is sparse in notes, intricately exhausting each piano stroke for its entire worth. Waning open chords leave space for static to fly about, highlighting the subtle beauty of negative space. Similarly, on "Joan", a minimal key progression begins, but only to be enveloped by distant gongs, flourishing birdsongs, and Atkinson's careful articulations. On these pieces, the Satie-esque piano progressions act as the vessel for which we can notice and appreciate the surrounding flutters.

And so, while songs like "Linguistics of Atoms" build scarce or no melodies, its encompassing noises become the most enrapturing layers. The abstract piece opens with ringing bells, somehow both shimmering and desolate. Midway, short piano strokes join with polyphonic, dissonance, while piercing frequencies cut through the negative space. To close, Atkinson comes in and out, right to left, with stretched whispers. These disjointed streams sift through porous surfaces until they meet again for another journey on the following song "Lush". The bells, piano, and voices become and become again. Or, as Nelson might say, this interplay reflects "a becoming in which one never becomes".

The Flower and the Vessel closes with the nearly 19-minute epic "Des Pierres". Atkinson recites closing words over layers of discordant guitar drones from SUNN O))) guitarist Stephen O'Malley. Truly, this is a collaboration of becoming, building, and unfolding, patiently and freely. Clouds of guitars form and scatter unfettered over rumbles of buried key progressions. Atkinson's voice remains pronounced and sharp as always, coming and going throughout. Each evolution comes unforeseen, a product of the moment. The flower and the vessel ensue an intricate process of becoming, unencumbered by structures and welcoming all possibilities.

Atkinson tells Tiny Mix Tapes, "I am porous… the voices go and go out, and we are in flux." Just as the Argo trades parts but maintains itself, Atkinson becomes the vessel, willing and permeable to her surroundings but maintains herself. Or rather, perhaps it's not a matter of maintaining a singular self but rather recognizing the many possibilities of an ever-becoming self. Thus, as a whole, The Flower And The Vessel moves and evolves with every moment. Voices signify then confuse, while signals come and go. Each small gesture acts as an interconnected movement of a larger body, flourishing and unattached to any fixed meanings. Each song becomes a layer of what it means to become and become again, recognizing the interconnected process of the microcosms and macrocosms. As Atkinson explains, "even the quietest creative act ripples outward in unforeseen ways, a whisper with no fixed meaning." Or, as Nelson concludes but also begins, "I know we're still here, who knows for how long, ablaze with care, its ongoing song."

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.