Always walking a fine line between alternative and electro, the 25-year-old musician Atka sonically interweaves the folklore of her native village in the woods of Brandenburg with the industrial, electronic sounds of London and Berlin to create a unique, mystical-atmospheric sound that resembles a mixture of Thom Yorke and Phoebe Bridgers, Feist and Jon Hopkins, Tomberlin and Damon Albarn. Atka, whose real name is Sarah Neumann, wrote her Debut-EP
The Eye Against The Ashen Sky last year in London parallel to completing her master’s degree in philosophy, in which she intensively studied the French philosopher’s, Jean-Paul Sartre’s, theory of the gaze. On the EP, the musician now processes this academic debate through storytelling in a close, tangible manner. Here, intellectual interests and personal experiences blur into an autobiographical work about shame and paranoia. Track after track, The Eye Against The Ashen Sky meanders deeper and deeper through various manifestations of these emotional worlds to their origin in the overwhelming gaze of the Other. The tracks were produced primarily with modular and analogue synthesizers and guitars in the South-London home studio of Jung Kim, the lead guitarist of the band Gang of Youths. For the mix, none other than Stephen Sedgwick, the trusted mixer/sound engineer of the Gorillaz, Damon Albarn and Blur, was at work.
Inspired by Nabokov’s novel “The Eye”, the single “Eye in The Sky” kicks things off by dealing with the social construction of identity in the reactions and opinions of others. It describes a kind of social paranoia, as we already find it in Philip K Dick’s science fiction novel “The Eye in the Sky”, after which the song is named, or Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, one of Atka’s favourite novels. Blending her love for science fiction with philosophical enquiries, Atka asks how one can assert one’s own identity under the gaze of others and the surveillance society, when “Big Brother is watching”. In a mediation of subjectivity and objectivity “The Eye In the Sky” explores the loss of self, determined by the mere fact that an essential part of our identity is always determined outside of us by the people around us.
The single “Desiring Machines”, a clear reference to the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari’s books “Anti Oedipus” and “A Thousand Plateaus”, explores how one’s own body is experienced as an object under the (male) gaze. Here Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the rhizome is explored musically with a soundscape that grows and grows like the root-system that the two philosophers describe. A rhizome does not start from anywhere or end anywhere; it grows from everywhere and is the same at any point. As such, a rhizome has no center, which makes it difficult to uproot or destroy. Atka understands herself in that way.
Also referred to as the ‘body without organs’, Atka sings about this constant state of “meaningless” non-linear, unstructured, non-hierarchical flux of forming, deforming and reforming. In this understanding of the self, desire is not lack, which suggests negativity. It is affirmative in its state of movement and change – desire here, is always a desire of becoming. Inspired by the sculptures and installations of the French American artist Louise Bourgeois, Atka also describesthe rhizomatic structure of the self as one that carries trauma experienced in the domestic realm. Lyricslike “There was a woven child spinning threads around the room”
directly speak of Luis Bourgeois’ horrifying but eerie portrayal of domestic abuse and try to make sense of the female experience in the domestic realm and beyond. This is a story of her own experience and that of the women in her life.
In the second single “Lenny” the gaze of the other appears as a perversion – namely as a seemingly necessary means to experience oneself fully. Atka questionsif it is only through the eyes of another person, that we can uncover our deepest faults and overcome them. Taking on that inquiry however leads to a loss of trust in her own judgement in replacement of the judgment of another. Drowned in endless repetition this upbeat track is paradoxically a song of exhaustion and torturous emptiness. Referencing H.G Wells utopian novel “Men Like Gods”, which propagates ideas of a possible better future, also “Lenny” tells the story of a man desperately fighting for a better tomorrow. It’s the tale of male aggression, described by Atka as the pathetic act of “throwing rocks around the room”, just for the sake of it. It’s also a tale of the female urge to pick up the pieces. And ultimately it is about fighting for something for so long, that it appears to be for nothing. But as torment and exhaustion spread in this quest for meaning they can’t be without it anymore: torment for torments sake. In the end “Lenny fights a cause for no one”. Or is it “Lenny fights a cause for you”? Maybe both ultimately and sadly have become the same thing.
The last track of the EP “Child of Rage” traces the themes of the EP back to their very beginning, ultimately to the stage of shame and its consequential responses of denial and avoidance. Atka looks back at her childhood self, walking through thick clouds of smoke and confusion in the swamps behind her childhood home, where she would spend a big part of her younger years. Still directionless “Child Of Rage” closes the EP in a contemplation of the origin of it all – a difficult quest within a rhizomatic structure that knows no beginning and no end.
The EP explores the gaze of the other as a perverse self-reflection, a necessity, a prison and ultimately the means of blurring the boundaries between the self and others, individuals and society. The EP, however, is less a concept album than the result and documentation of a deep self-reflexive practice that translates academic interests into tangible individual experience – or maybe these two always belonged together…