Music by VICE

Félicia Atkinson's New Ambient Piece Is Lovely and Lonely

"Moderato Cantabile" is a piano-led excerpt from the French composer's stunning new album 'The Flower & The Vessel.'

by Colin Joyce
May 29 2019, 4:13pm

Photo courtesy of the artist

Over the last few years, the French composer Félicia Atkinson’s work has softened a bit. The records she’s made over the last decade have often been jagged assemblages of abstract sound—jigsaw puzzles with edges as sharp as knives—but she’s slowly changed her approach to favor more gentle moments, more melody, and soothing whispered poetry. This shift, she told me back in 2017, is by design. As the world has become a more chaotic place, she felt less of a need to add to the din. “I felt collapsed by the terrorist attacks, by the election of Trump, by Syria, by all this sadness,” she said. “I wanted to make a record that was more calm, I couldn't bear more violence in a way.”

Since then, she’s largely continued along that track. Her 2018 cassette Coyotes drew on the fluid placidity of Japanese environmental music, and leaned heavily on the peaceful tones of the Fender Rhodes. On July 8, Atkinson will release a new album called The Flower & The Vessel, which adds new dimensions to her interest in bliss. Recorded, per a press release, in “impersonal hotel rooms” while on tour, the record is a movement of slow movements and subtle gestures befitting the bubble-like existence of that life. On tour, you sort of never really adjust to being in one place or another, living for days, weeks, or months in this strange purgatory of in-between spaces. The dreary piano lines and synth drones evoke those long, lonely distances, evoking both the anxiety and the solitude of the road.

Today, Atkinson is sharing the eight-minute piece “Moderato Cantabile,” which illustrates some of the new emotional places she’s exploring on the record. It’s largely built around these meandering piano lines, which swell occasionally out of a sea of chittering electronics and manipulated found sounds that feel like crying livestock. There’s not a lot of melodic movement, but the mood is evocative. It’s calm, sure, but in this somber and sparse way. There’s yearning and desperation baked into it, despite the fact that its one of the few tracks on the record that doesn’t feature Atkinson’s voice. The feelings are all implied, but they’re there.

Elsewhere, the record has its moments of disorientation and disjunct. Atkinson will likely never fully abandon the stress of her earliest work, but this side of her work lands easier now when its surrounded by moments of stillness. It makes sense, because that’s how the world works right? Even when you’re able to create an oasis for yourself, sometimes the chaos creeps in.

Félicia Atkinson's new album The Flower & The Vessel is out July 8 on Shelter Press. It's available for pre-order now.