On Image Language, French sound-design artist Félicia Atkinson is reconsidering her relationship to her domestic surroundings. Characterised by signature soft-spoken vocals and midi-fuelled instrumentation, Atkinson, who refers to her latest project as “a fantasy of an orchestra that doesn’t exist”, is a master of building her own intricate fictions. Not only as an accomplished musician, but also as co-founder of Shelter Press, the label and publication she’s run with partner and collaborator Bartolomé Sanson for the past decade.
Recorded between Switzerland’s Lake Geneva and her home on the coast of Normandy, the album examines the dynamic between domesticity and wilderness. Fittingly, Image Language’s samples largely shift from the ebbing and flowing sounds of lakes to the coastline’s vast melancholy. On Our Tides, piano chords drift back and forth continuously like waves crashing on the shoreline. Like the living movement of the sea, Atkinson keeps in the glitches caused by dropping her recording device on Les Dunes, offering a glimpse into her improvisational creative approach.
Atkinson also draws from the stories of 20th century women artists whose own relationship to home informed their work. Pieces of Sylvia is an homage to the life and death of the famous poet that utilises sombre xylophones and piano chords to reflect Plath’s troubled confessions. The House That Agnes Built owes its name to Agnes Martin, the reclusive American painter who, after a bout of mental illness and artistic burnout, relocated from New York to New Mexico, living off-grid in her own desert home built from scratch. “She said it was a compulsion,” Atkinson says on Becoming a Stone, offering a concession moments later: “Maybe it was all worthwhile, though.” Building this house later reignited Martin’s creative inspiration, and according to writer Olivia Laing, the artist “had found a new language, a mode of expression in which she continued to communicate for 30 more years”.
You could also say that Image Language has given Atkinson a new form of expression too, if only spiritually. “I open my feet to fresh dirt and the wet grass/ I hold your hand, you hold his hand/ In the distance, without any distance,” she whispers on The Lake Is Speaking. Here, she interprets nature as a place of hope and possibility, rekindling a sense of wonder at the tantalising uncertainty of life outside of her four walls.