on félicia atkinson’s hand in hand

Félicia Atkinson – Hand In Hand (2017)

When peering from afar into the lives of Félicia Atkinson and Bartolomé Sanson – the duo behind Shelter Press, it’s difficult to avoid envy. For those of us who were not so lucky, to curse not having been born French. Within a relentless flurry of activity, theirs is a world of creativity, beauty, community, and support.

I’ve been a fan of Shelter since it began in 2011. Issuing a steady stream of beautifully curated objects, over the last six years, the imprint has risen as an unavoidable presence in publishing – a catalog of books spanning music, fine art, and poetry, as well as remarkable series of LPs addressing some of the most ambitious contemporary efforts in experimental music. While Sanson focuses most of his energies on the imprint, Atkinson is another story all together. A fine artists as much as she is an adventurer in sound, it’s almost impossible to stay abreast of the relentlessly prolific pace of her output – drawings, paintings, sculptures, performances, books, and records. For those who missed it, I highly recommend checking out Audio Book (2017). It ties elegant threads through these worlds.

I’ve followed Atkinson’s work for years, and have looked for the opportunity to write about it since beginning The Hum. Her latest LP – Hand In Hand, presented the perfect chance. Mirrored by larger body of her practice, Atkinson’s sonic efforts are the product of hybridity – a meeting point for divergent worlds. Drawing on a more optimistic period in history – one more creatively ambitious, where the plastic arts fused with movement, poetry, and sound, she levies her challenge to the ear, sculpting a more ideal vision of futures that may come. Though entirely of her moment, there is almost no one Atkinson in the contemporary landscape. She picks up from fertile grounds long lost – those initially charted by Henri Chopin, Kurt Schwitters, and Hugo Ball. A world where Rauschenberg wore roller skates and Cunningham danced to Cage, where figures like Pierre Henry, Joan La Barbara, John Giorno, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka, Jerome Rothenberg, Gordon Mumma, David Behrman, and Robert Ashley, issued their sounds. While only one of its crucial elements, the unavoidable imprint, threading across this work, is the radical presence of her voice.

Hand In Hand, like much of Atkinson’s sound work, isn’t done justice by the word music – at least as it colloquially understood. Though beginning with ambient washes of melody, those ideas are a foil – becoming clearer as the album unfolds. It is better understood as a gesture in the organization of meaning through sound – a total world, which digests the unattended to elements of our everyday lives – the poetic interactions of speech and discrete noise. Formed largely of the spoken word, the textures, pulses, and tones of electronic synthesis, and fragmented acoustic instrumentation, Hand In Hand presents a realm of intrigue and beauty which is decidedly challenging, experimental, exploratory, and avant-garde, in a that few things bearing those descriptions rarely are.

For the challenges it thrusts upon the ear, within Hand In Hand, Atkinson has manged to construct a remarkably open world – one where dimensions continue to unfold. The album is a defiance of the contemporary expectations on the temporality of sound – where we might presume to grasp a totality in a single go. These are works to be lived with – to be allowed to evolve. Though frozen and concrete in the grooves of an LP, they are changing and in flux. Over the time I’ve been lucky enough to spend with it, the album has brought endless joy into my life – making me smile and wonder – giving me hope for the future, by taking up the abandoned challenges of the past. Highly recommended! You can check it out below, and pick it up from Shelter or a record shop near you.

-Bradford Bailey










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