Whispers, crackles, and other sounds recorded in a way that implies proximity – Félicia Atkinson’s music could easily be taken as ASMR-informed. ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, refers to the pleasurable tingling or buzzing in the scalp, neck, and upper body caused by certain sounds or sensations. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many artists incorporating it into their work to create a sense of intimacy and connection with their audience. However, Atkinson, a French musician, writer, and visual artist, claims to never really listen to ASMR; in fact, she learned about the term by reading a review of one of her records.
In a listicle published as a part of our focus theme “Immediacy,” Atkinson gathers a selection of recordings dealing with voices, spaces, and narratives that play a role in her everyday life and in her work. To Atkinson each of these pieces is a world in itself, full of questions, hesitations, statements, fragility, strangeness, wonder, and risk.
1. Marguerite Duras’ Les Mains Negatives with Music by Ami Flammer (1978)
I can listen to Marguerite Duras talking about the first cave paintings and Ami Flammer’s accompanying music with or without the image, one evoking the other. It is like an open heart speaking; a prayer; an indulgence about love, humanity, and language. When I feel lost and don’t know what to do, I listen to this – it gives me courage.
2. Morton Feldman (feat. Joan La Barbara) – “Only” (1946)
This is such a short track, and each time it stops I feel like listening to it again. The simplicity crafted by Morton Feldman and Joan La Barbara makes the listening experience incredibly pure. It’s never complete and at the same time nothing is missing. This “song” is a metaphor of life itself.
3. Robert Ashley – Automatic Writing (1979)
This is such an uncanny, violent, powerful, and disturbing album featuring three pieces. It shows that quiet tones can be as sharp as a knife and that making a record is sometimes like discovering an unknown and strange little planet. In “Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon,” which was recorded in 1968, Cynthia Liddell’s voice hovers in the air like a ghost. This is something that fascinates me about voice and its power: how it can linger after it has ceased being uttered. Throughout the whole record I feel like I am walking on a thread around a void, like a funambulist – and this is also something that I find interesting as a listener: that a recording can be a trail or line that requires awareness and engagement.
4. Kat Onoma – “La Chambre” (1995)
I heard this song when it was first released. I was 14 years old, and I loved the relationship between the words spoken and the guitar. It seemed so simple and melancholic. The lyrics are great, too. They remind me of a domestic scene in an underground comic book from the 90s, something Daniel Clowes or Adriand Tomine could have created in their books.
5. Nearly God (feat. Martina Topley-Bird, Terry Hall, and Tricky) – “Poems” (1996)
Again, a teenage memory – and the revelation of a potential path…sort of. The fact that three voices appear in sequence almost makes the song a tiny pocket opera or musical. I love songs that feature stories, even if they are very abstract, and the sentence, “You promised me poems,” is beautiful and haunting, as are the syncopations and the guitar. Last February I played at Strange Brew in Bristol. It was fantastic to visit the city 25 years after this song was composed there. Bristol and the music that emerged there were incredibly important to me back in the 90s. I really enjoyed playing there.
6. Sonic Youth – “Beauty Lies in The Eye” (1987)
I love the sound of this song and its shortness. It’s a shower of rain: it falls on you and then it’s gone. It’s heartbreaking. When composing music, there is always something attached to the anticipation of its ending. The same holds true for live music: somehow it is about bringing the audience to the end of a show, telling them: “it’s ok.”
7. Pygmées Bibayak – Gabon: Musique Des Pygmées Bibayak. Chantres De L’épopée. (1989)
My dad used to play this record to me when it came out. I was ten years old, and I was picturing the singers. It was like suddenly music was more than music, voice more than voice. It was an enlightenment, sort of: the fact that you can carry a voice with you; that it can create community; also a sense of space, like picturing a forest. I forgot about this record but came back to it recently. It still sounds so strong.
8. Pierre Henry – “Séquence 9: Il Y Eut Dans Le Ciel Un Silence” (1969)
This is also a record my dad used to play to me when I was a kid. It was terrifying, but at the same time I was fascinated by it. The voice of Jean Negroni is so powerful throughout the entire record, but it also reveals that it is from another era. I mean, it’s about the apocalypse; it’s not an easy piece. Sometimes it bothers me, and then I can’t listen to it at all. These days it’s not always possible to process or accept such a text, but this is also what interests me here: the tension between the music and the text, how the two are saying different things. As a whole, I love how the piece engages and challenges the feelings of the listeners, their thinking, their beliefs. I like the idea of contradiction in music. It’s something to think about and discuss and not necessarily something that you just listen to in acceptance.