The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Félicia Atkinson

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Interview with Félicia Atkinson.

“Twin Peaks and Neil Young are, like for many people, strong influences of course. In ‘Down By The River’ there is the dead body in the river, as in ‘Twin Peaks’ with Laura’s body, so there is kind of a reverberance here, for sure. I like when stories echoes each other, fictions enlightening another fiction, song remembering another song…”

—Félicia Atkinson

Words & Illustration: Craig Carry
Painting: Félicia Atkinson, Photograph: Nicolas Poillot


Félicia Atkinson is a French visual and sound artist currently living in the French Alps near Geneva, Swizerland. The first time I crossed paths with Félicia Atkinson was some six years ago. The setting, appropriately enough, was my local independent record store — Plugd Records — at it’s then location at Number 3 Washington Street, Cork City, Ireland. The intimate confines of this particular “sacred church” (as Frank Black has described the independent recordstore in the past) would on this fateful day emit the delicate, pure and formidable sounds of ‘Romain Anglais’, the 40-minute 4-track-length collaboration between the French artists Félicia Atkinson and Sylvain Chauveau, released in 2008 by UK-based independent label O’Rosa Records.

The heavenly sounds of both Atkinson and Chauveau would ripple gracefully around the store while filling the hearts of the music-dwellers looking for some temporary respite from the cold outside. The music found on ‘Roman Anglais’ (‘Aberdeen’, ‘How The Light’, ‘Dans La Lumière’ and ‘Roman Anglais’) would illicit a whole spectrum of textures, shapes, colours and images. Like an image on a ground glass coming into sharp focus or a blossoming sensitized photo paper emerging from developing solution in a darkroom, some kind of magical epiphany seemed to be happening. Sacred. Mysterious. Individual. Solitary. Magical. This is what “independent music” must really mean.

Opening track ‘Aberdeen’ begins with Chauveau’s unmistakable electric guitar strums which provides for the perfect opening to the collection (it’s the same particular echo and reverb that would augment pieces like ‘Fly Like A Horse’ from Chauveau’s later ‘Nuage’ LP). A subtle, hazy atmosphere sets the backdrop for the introduction of Félicia Atkinson’s spoken-word piece as she begins her magical journey; listing various cities and states from the US (Chicago, Louisville, Portland, Philadelphia, Providence, Illinois) then to the UK (Aberdeen, London, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Bath, Glasgow). The effect is startlingly meditative as we are transported to some parallel universe where the laws of space and time cease to exist. Then, while approaching the two-and-a-half minute mark, we hear the unmistakable lyric of Neil Young’s ‘Down By the River’ as Atkinson’s voice — accentuated by the magic that only the French accent can conjure — softly speaks: “Down by the river / I shot down my baby”. The soul-stirring and wholly-startling effect this has upon the listener is only augmented even further when Atkinson begins to repeat the words “twin peaks” (especially as the sibilance causes a delicate hiss with the microphone). The piece ends with Atkinson repeating Young’s famous couplet — this time in a mere whisper — while Chauveau’s artistry continues to ebb and flow in its midst.

‘How The Light’ opens with a more clearly defined, carefully-picked electric guitar passage while Atkinson’s voice can be heard singing: “how I enjoy the light”, this time with the extra addition of strings, adding further textures to proceedings. ‘Dans La Lumière’ begins with some field recordings (the distorted, mechanical beeps as found in a hospital emergency room) while a more abstract, minimalist musical backdrop is supplied by Chauveau on this occasion. What’s most impressive is we completely lose track of time in the process as the song gradually comes to a hushed close at just under the ten-minute mark. The quiet gem (and title-track) ‘Romain Anglais’ closes proceedings, the effect of Atkinson alternating between French and English on this occasion is a sensual delight.

The content of the spoken-word pieces are beautifully poetic (while remaining mystery-laden throughout) as Atkinson remarks: “The leaves are moving in silence / They are moving in silence / And she doesn’t watch alone / Because she can’t see / She’s out of the colours / And lack of shapes left her alone / Left her alone”. Pauses between spoken parts, the alteration of French and English, and repetition of words (particularly when colours are spoken) have an oddly moving and powerful effect on the listener while Atkinson proceeds to paint her spoken-word vignettes before our ears. The apparent serendipitous and improvisational manner of the lyrics call to mind Peter Broderick’s singing part to Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk’s ‘Pockets Of Light’, from last year’s ‘Corolloraries’ LP, or the fluid, personal poetry of Frank O’Hara. The album closes like darkness enveloping a city, spreading it’s thinly-veiled cloak unevenly across it’s sleepy inhabitants.

It seems perfect now (looking back) that this record would have been made by these two particular souls. For the pair of Félicia Atkinson (both a renowned visual and sound artist) and Sylvain Chauveau would in time form the basis for some of the most prized records in my own collection. My own little corner of the world would begin to be filled with such albums as Chauveau’s ‘Nuage’ (comprising music for Sébastien Betbeder’s films ‘Nuage’ and ‘Les Mains d’Andrea’), ‘S.’ and ‘The Black Book of Capitalism’ (Chauveau’s debut album from 2000), together with records under the faithful guise of both Félicia Atkinson as well as Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier, Atkinson’s alter-ego and other musical outlet.

It’s simply spellbinding to look at the forever-expanding discography of Félicia Atkinson. While we can become accustomed to collecting new material from a particular artist every two years or so (through the constant unrealistic cycle imposed on musical artists of: writing, recording, releasing, touring, promoting), with Atkinson, the process seems to simply consist solely of making. To date, Atkinson has made dozens of records (under both her own name and Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier), contributed numerous collaborative and commissioned works, and, all the while, pursued her own successful and individual path as a visual artist and publisher. Atkinson graduated with honors from Les Beaux Arts de Paris, and has since exhibited her paintings and installations across both Europe and the US, at the likes of: Artist Comes First Festival 2013 in Toulouse, MUCA ROMA in Mexico and CEACC, Strasbourg. She has also received both the Langui Prize For Painting and Young Belgium Art Prize in 2013.

Atkinson also runs Shelter Press, an independent publishing company (co-run with partner Bartolomé Sanson) which has, since 2011, been publishing a whole universe of enriching and beautifully-assembled artist books (as well as various records, writings and zines) for a whole myriad of artists (from various backgrounds, disciplines and geographical locations).

Last year, Atkinson released the divine double-album ‘Visions / Voices’ on Umor Rex Records, providing the perfect chance to capture the majestic talents of Atkinson in full, beautiful flight.


‘Visions/Voices’ is available now on Umor Rex Records.


‘Roman Anglais’ is available now on O’Rosa Records.


‘Those Vermillion Sands’ by Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier is available now on NNA Tapes.



‘Venice is Falling’, Félicia Atkinson, Painting (Size: 47.2 x 31.5″)


Interview with Félicia Atkinson.

My first introduction to your incredible music was in 2008 with the E.P you recorded with Sylvain Chauveau ‘Roman Anglais’. It’s a match made in heaven as it brings two very distinctive and extremely talented artists together. I would love to start by asking you how this E.P. came about and what was the background to the recording and writing process for record?

FA: Aha!…I don’t really remember, even if I love the record, it was such a long time ago and another time of my life! I released more than 20 albums since, under my name and Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier.

‘Roman Anglais’ was recorded in Montreal in a friend’s apartment, Patrick Lacharite, and in another friend’s apartment in Paris, Olivier Cavaillé. Then, the label, O’Rosa, didn’t wanted to mix it or master it, so we were a bit disappointed about that part and also the design was not very well done I think. I still love the record though, but I wish it was released on label that cared much more about the production and the artists themselves. If we have to release it again one day I would prefer that it was mixed and mastered for an LP, and with a proper design.


Staying on ‘Roman Anglais’, the first track ‘Aberdeen’ is one of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard: it’s so magical and one of those songs that completely stuns the listener every time they listen to it. I’m particularly fascinated by the lyrics (where you list various cities) and the decision to include Neil Young’s couplet from ‘Down By The River’ which creates such an incredible mood and atmosphere recalling David Lynch (and the ‘Twin Peaks’ mention — possibly not intentional — highlights this further even). I would love if you could talk about the construction of ‘Aberdeen’.

FA: Well, thank you! As I said, I love the record, but I see it more as a collaborative work than one of my own, since ‘Roman Anglais’ is actually the only record I’m not playing any music on, just using the voice. I wrote the lyrics in a week, I think, and then I just had to add my voice on the beautiful music by Sylvain Chauveau that was happening. It was very smooth and easy. I didn’t have that much to do!

What I can say is that ‘Twin Peaks’ and Neil Young are, like for many people, strong influences of course. In ‘Down By The River’ there is the dead body in the river, as in ‘Twin Peaks’ with Laura’s body, so there is kind of a reverberance here, for sure. I like when stories echoes each other, fictions enlightening another fiction, song remembering another song…


Like Sylvain Chauveau, you are such a consistent and prolific musician creating some of the most spellbinding music in independent music today. As you are obviously also a renowned painter and artist, how do you plan and write your music? Is it a case of spending a certain amount of time in the year to solely focus on music or is it very much a case of “making music all the time” and recording it as you go?

FA: Thank you. Yeah, I feel Sylvain is a very talented musician for sure. I feel that right now there is an amazing scene of independent music going on in Belgium, which is great. There is also Silvester Anfang, Ignatz, Urpfe Lanze, Helvette, Bear Bones Lay Low, Yannick Frank. Orphan Fairytale, Dolphins into the Future, TG, El G, Floris Vanhoof. And good labels too: Kraak but also, for example, Audio Mer or Smeraldina Rima. I am about to leave Brussels to move in the Alps, but I stayed there 5 years (I’m from Paris, France) and I can say I was pretty amazed by the number of various musicians there. Still, I feel there are not enough girls in the drone/experimental music scene…

Concerning the work, I never plan so much, but I need to organize a bit myself for sure, otherwise it would be a mess! I also co-run, with my partner, Bartolomé Sanson, a music label and independent publishing house called Shelter Press since 2011 (we are publishing this month our 29th release!) and I teach art in the Annecy school of the Arts in the French Alps. But, to be honest, I am very lazy person, I love sleeping, cooking, drinking coffee, daydream while listening to records. Those moments are actually crucial because they feed my inspiration.


Turning now to your current double LP, the gorgeous ‘Visions / Voices’ released by Umor Rex Records. I would love to gain an insight into the conception and realization of this record?

FA: Well, it’s a collection of songs I previously released on very limited editions (from amazing DIY labels such as, for example, Kaugummi, Unread Records, Fluid Audio, Cooper Cult, etc.) during 3 years.

I had the chance to be asked by Daniel Castejon to gather them on his label, Umor Rex, and make a double LP, which was very thrilling and I am so happy with the result! Very proud actually! It’s a combination of kind of abstract music pieces and songs. I made it, it was mastered by the great James Plotkin, and then Daniel invited me to make a music show and an exhibition in Mexico D.F. last June, it was wonderful. I love Mexico!


The pieces and arrangements are so beautiful, at times very abstract, but always so real and engaging. It’s obvious you wish to create much feeling and a rich experience for the listener in your records. How do you choose which instruments to best compliment the sound recordings you make?

FA: Instrument is very important, for sure. They are the base of the work, either it is guitar, harp or keyboards, the way you have to touch it (engaging or not, harmonies or not) is very crucial.
Most of my work is completely improvised, I record what I am improvising, even the voice is always improvised. Then I rework the tracks a bit, adding layers of electronics, for example, but always in this linear, time-based way.


There is such a range of options at your disposal that creates such a dynamic range of limitless textures: I imagine the process to complete a musical piece must be deeply personal and very challenging?

FA: Yes, for sure.



Photograph © Nicolas Poillot (b. 1978), one of the many artists featured in publications by Shelter Press.


You live between Paris — where you were born — and Brussels. It must be a wonderful way of keeping in touch with so much music and art that is going on. What are your favorite aspects about these cities? Where are your favorite places to visit in Paris or Brussels?

FA: My parents and best friends are in Paris, so I come there often since it’s so close to Brussels. But I don’t play there that much. The Parisian music scene doesn’t know me at all. Such are the art galleries, they don’t really care about me for now. They are very suspicious of artists who are also involved in the DIY scene, they find it weird. Especially if you are also a woman! Too many weird components, aha! So, I go to Paris; eat good chinese food, sit in parks, go to museums and hang out with people, but not really to work actually! 🙂

Brussels is the city that kind of accepted my art and music, giving the opportunity to show it and express it. Also, the rents are cheaper so it was easier to have a decent apartment and an art studio. This also where I created Shelter Press with Bartolomé. Brussels is a work city for me. But I also made new friends there, and found a tiny community of people interested in books, records…

But now we will move to the Alps. I will keep my art studio in Brussels, that is very affordable and that I like, for a while, and come back from time to time for preparing shows there.


Being such a diverse artist (with work encompassing sound art, music, paintings, installations etc.) it must be so challenging keeping store of ideas for future projects. Would you keep a sketchbook to keep stock of ideas that you find interesting? What would your work practice entail, would your paintings begin as sketches/drawings?

FA: I love sketchbooks. I used to use them more. Now that I work mostly in situ, let’s say the sketchbook is inherent to the art or music piece. It’s like a gigantic sketchbook, all the time.


I would love to know the painters and movements in art history that inspired you to paint and make art? And, indeed, which contemporary painters you admire the most?

FA: Well, I am influenced by many things: African and Native Australian art, for example, and their way to make art as a magical art, but also some folk artists and also avant garde movements such as the Arte Povera, Fluxus, The Black Mountain College, the minimalists, abstract expressionists also.

I love artists who did art as an act, and not only as illusionists, the builders of new reality rather than just an another image, who doesn’t separate life from art. I love how John Cage saw sound everywhere, and art connected to life and has a kind of ethic.

More recently, I love the works of Thea Djordjadze or Ulla Van Brandeburg, or the installations and films by Pierre Huygue, for example. His last piece at the Documenta 13 in Kassel in September 2012 was really moving, I feel. It was a garden made of ruins with two errant dogs and a statue covered by a beehive. You were entering a state of mind transformed into a garden.


What music have you been listening to lately? Who would your most beloved musicians/albums be?

FA: I love the Vestals album on Rootstrata that came up a year ago, and also the new Date Palms on Mexican Summer and the latest Lee Noble on Bathetic. But also Mohammad, Oren Ambarchi, Cleared, Simon Scott and also a lot of actual US west coast music: Ilya Ahmed, Yellow Swans, Grouper, Julia Holter, Comon Eider King Eider, Barn Owl, Ensemble Ecomonique.

I listened also to a lot of Mississippi Records compilations on tapes and their African Music Box, that is wonderful. And a lot of oldies such as Neil Young and Crazy Horse albums, Gordon Lightfoot, Townes Van Zandt, Bridget St John…I am also very into the records we released with Shelter Press for sure!


What has been the biggest sources of inspiration for you as an artist: books, authors, directors, films etc.?

FA: Well, it’s more questions through books, records, paintings rather than a medium in particular. It can be a novel by Joan Didion or Don Dellillo as much as an essay by Jacques Ranciere, a movie with the young Sissy Spacek such as ‘Badlands’ or ‘3 Women’, early Godard movies, a painting by Joan Mitchell or Peter Doig, an interview of Mike Kelley, a comic book by Daniel Clowes, a song by Fleetwood Mac…it’s very vast!

I am also inspired by landscapes, walks, cities. I love walking and taking trains, being in motion.


You co-run (alongside Bartolomé Sanson) the independent publishing company Shelter Press. Like publishers such as Steidl, Mack or Nazraeli Press, the art direction and aesthetics of all your books are so beautiful and unique. It is so obvious the publishing of books is such a labour of love and a passion for you. I’d love if you could share your account of the history and background to Shelter Press?

FA: Well, thanks a lot. Shelter Press is a nonprofit, independent publishing house and label we created with Bartolomé Sanson in 2011. He was running — for more than 5 years — Kaugummi books, an amazing DIY zine publishing house and he wanted to think of an evolution of it. The name Shelter Press is inspired by Shelter Publications, an actual DIY publishing house that was created in the 70’s by an visionary architect still alive and skateboarding called Lloyd Kahn who published back then two very important books: ‘The Dome Book’ and ‘Shelter’. Those 2 books were DIY guides on how to create your own shelter. It’s a metaphor of how we see the publishing act: creating a shelter, in motion, nomad, for uncommon projects. Bartolomé does all the graphic design of the books and records.

I used to work in an art bookstore for 2 years and we had the occasion there to observe many books, see how they live as objects of meaning and objects of esthetic, take the time to learn from them, it was very instructive I think. Each book or record finances the other one, it’s a slow process, we try to control every step of the making. The next books we’re going to publish is by the great French photographer Estelle Hannania, it’s going to be called “Glacial Jubile”. We are very proud of this book! I hope people will like it. She photographs pagan rites in Eastern Europe, she has a very accurate and sharp eye. I think it’s going to be a very beautiful book.

Concerning the music label, we do vinyls and tapes, and our schedule is already booked until the end of 2014! The latest record we put out is from Terence Hannum, a musician and visual artist living in Baltimore, playing also in the band Locrian. Then we’re going to release a cassette by High Wolf and an LP by Evan Caminitti from Barn Owl, and also one by the French musician Chicaloyoh. Autumn will be exciting I think!


It’s incredible that, with the advent of digital technologies and the internet, the demand and passion for tactile and physical books — especially true for the photobook (limited editions, special editions and so on) — that are beautifully produced remains as high as ever. How would you feel about digital technologies and it’s impact on publishing?

FA: I think both are very important. I am totally OK if people download free music, films, etc. Free education is necessary!

And blogs on the internet help a lot to sell records and books, so it is one helping the other, each time. The trick is to be realistic and publish runs of books or records that are in good enough number to be found in good places, but also conscious of not wasting any copies, and keep them kind of rare and accurate. And make them as beautiful as they can be!


For all information on the latest music and art projects by Félicia Atkinson, please visit:


For all information and latest publications by Shelter Press, please visit:


Written by admin

February 3, 2014 at 9:49 am

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