As part of the Brooklyn, NY-based experimental ensemble Aa (“Big A little a”), I've released three albums and toured the US, EU, and Australia/NZ. Hailed by Pitchfork for creating a “spectacular, expertly sculpted 3-D sound world,” our DIY maximalism unites multi-drummer rhythms and dense layers of noise, psychedelia, and song.
As a solo artist, my work explores digital transmutations of the real - and, by extension, the way that "nature" has become inextricable from the manmade in the era of climate change. Working with field recordings, acoustic instruments, and voice, I sculpt soundscapes that are organic yet intensely artificial, seeking to embody the complex ecologies of the 21st century.
Solo Works and Collaborations
"The soundscape of NYC is as distinctive as the skyline, swirling together a thousand effervescent sonic agendas of communication, construction, and co-motion into a rich cacophony. The first year of the pandemic was an eerily "quiet" time by New York standards, but the relative absence of people just intensified my awareness of the incessant "background" sounds of life in the city - mechanical equipment, energy systems, and other infrastructure of everyday life.
These tracks are the first in an open-ended series of explorations into this undersound, spinning out field recordings I made over the past year into ambient soundscapes tuned to the frequencies of the city.
This first batch of tracks was premiered at the All-Day Music Meditation at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University on September 20, 2021.
"Ned sent John cassette recordings of Maine-born chimes; sounds that were raised on the front porch. John fed the chimes into his laptop, altering and editing them before sending them back. In this way, Call Me When You Can took on a life of its own, sliding between the two states and retaining a strong fluidity and balance in spite of the distance. John improvised over the top of Ned’s sounds, using the original source to add subtle colourings and gentle tweaks to the call-and-response process."
"The combination of birds, chimes and improvisations produces a feeling of timelessness, akin to a daydream. Past, present and future swirl together, memories and hopes intertwined." - A Closer Listen
"The premise is simple - Ned chimes things whilst John does the processing and post-production. The result is an intimate and evocative recording - like listening to the distant tinkle of some windchimes behind a factory late at night." - Norman Records
"Quattro Terre is an uncanny work of field recording-based acoustic ecologies that evoke our climate-weirded world. These four soundscapes are hewn from sounds recorded while hiking through the Cinque Terre area of Italy, summoning heat-warped spring blooms, the preternatural stillness of summer, a cold plunge into the unsettled sea, and, on side-length "Billy's," the nostalgic relief of an evening breeze."
"Thus is JA’s nuance-dedicated craft, a mastery of culling and curating textured accents to break up and/or add depth to those rolling drone-swells and glowing, moody fogs he churns out for his sonic base. Both lyrical and absolutely transportive, “Quattro Terre” is one dramatic, distilled sound-tour that’s well worth having repeatedly, under differing volumes and times of day." - Cassette Gods
"Atkinson's pieces are understated, but there's a definite artfulness to his handling of the materials used in these settings." - Textura
"A quartet of glimmering, weightless pieces that unfold and envelope at their own pace. Anchoring the album is the side-long “Chillien”, a delicate, harmonic bloom punctuated by the whirs and clicks of Cooper’s guitar and voice. Atkinson, taking control of the processed elements of composition, allows the b-side sequence to grow more expansive and dynamic with each track, maintaining an unmistakably warm glow. This is ambient music with an appreciable sense of landscape and scale."
"With field recordings by Federico González Jordán from Colorado's San Luis Valley included, Cooper (guitars, vocals) and Atkinson (processing) conjure restful oases of widescreen entrancement. The A-side's “Chillien” is the album's peaceful centerpiece, a side-long foray into gently flickering drones whose bright glistenings at times suggest the sounds of a calliope. Accented by whirring guitar fragments and firefly-like punctuations, the setting advances at its own stately, slow-motion pace, indifferent to the chaotic tempo by which so much of the world operates. The music's effect is somewhat like a country pool whose placid surfaces are continuously disrupted by the rapid movements of water bugs." - Textura
Scoring and Sound Design
"Gorgeous, ominous and ridiculous, Two Plains & a Fancy is a “Spa Western” comedy that only Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn (L for Leisure) could make. Their 16mm slacker absurdism clashes against the grandeur of American History, the myths of The West, and Deep Time. The intimacy and directness of their filmmaking grounds the film in everyday reality, creating a vision of the late 19th century that is both eerily familiar and totally absurd."
"Between moments of surreality and buffoonery, cinematographer Horn and composers John Atkinson and Talya Cooper create a creeping, occasionally overwhelming sense of dread. These landscapes aren’t the stunning expanses of the Great Unknown typical to the western film." - RogerEbert.com
"It's also a film in which whimsy is frequently supplanted by an overpowering sense of dread, much of it courtesy of an unearthly score by John Atkinson and Talya Cooper that turns on a dime between ebullient and ill-omened." - Hollywood Reporter
"Debuting on Romanian and Moldovan national TV in November 2014, Asasin în Lege (Killers Inc.) investigates the assassination of an influential Russian businessman, tracing a barely-underground war between Kremlin-connected businessmen and bankers fought with brigades of assassins for hire. The soundtrack's eight instrumental compositions combine field recordings with dense digital textures to establish an atmosphere that is alternately luminous and menacing, giving the sinister proceedings an otherworldly air."
“With heavily processed field recordings gathered from natural and industrial environments wedded to digital textures and instrument sounds (organ, guitar), the eight settings on Asasin în Lege conjure an underground society infested with assassins-for-hire in soundsculpted material that's variously menacing, disturbing, and even claustrophobic.” - Textura
"John Atkinson’s soundtrack for the Romanian investigative documentary Asasin În Lege is full of angelic drones which collapse continental distances, and harmonies which are both dense and clear, complex networks unfold in front of our eyes, and the path through them is revealed, to the truth." - 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Aa (Big A little a)
"ZebrAa was written and recorded with a lineup of drummers that spans the band’s decade-long history. Mike Colin, a percussionist, played in the band’s earliest incarnations from 2002 to 2005 and on its first LP, 2007’s gAame; Hank Shteamer first performed with Aa from 2005 to 2006 and appeared on 2014’s LP voyAager; and Julian Bennett-Holmes has played in Aa since 2013, in addition to being a member of Fiasco and Zulus . The fresh rhythmic chemistry of this trio is paired with vibrant electronic sounds and vocals courtesy of John Atkinson and Aron Wahl, the constants in the group throughout all of their full-length releases."
"Aa's inspired rhythmic gymnastics are in fine form on ZebrAa, a record built on jagged drums that shift time (and space) with a stuttering brilliance. The pounding beats create a dense landscape, thick like the forest and bustling with activity between the trees. Aa have a knack for manipulating polyrhythmic force and their onslaught of multi-drummer experimentation lends itself perfectly to their thundering brand of psych... It's quintessential Aa, a dangerous and delightful mix of hypnotic wonder and dissonance." - Post-Trash
"The just-dropped ZebrAa —featuring nearly every drummer who’s ever played in Aa—explores the ecstatic polyrhythms, the sonic layers of plush textures and patterns, dreamy chants and synth splatter they sublimely built on comeback LP, VoyAager." - NY Observer
"With “VoyAager,” Aa (“Big A little a”) - one of the quintessential house bands of Brooklyn’s mid-aughts loft party/DIY scene - have returned with their first US release since 2007. The heady new album, out on Northern Spy Records, expands dramatically on the band’s primordial polyrhythms + noise palette to embrace lush electronic psychedelia, enveloping vocal textures, and even unexpected, glittering explosions of pop melodicism. The thunderous orchestra of live drums that has always been Aa’s hallmark is still very much foregrounded, but frequently hybridized with digital beats and concussive blasts of electronic percussion."
"The crater-stomping clatter is harnessed into more controlled outbursts, the jagged edges buffed by more omnipresent synths, the post-hardcore vocalizations tempered into more upbeat exhortations... VoyAager is spectacular, its expertly sculpted 3-D sound world situated somewhere between the grandiose digi-symphonies of Fuck Buttons and the industrialized, technicolor throttle of early Nine Inch Nails." - Pitchfork
"Percussive rhythms remain central to Aa’s sonic harvesting, but VoyAager marks the first time where the project has gotten away from hard-edge beats and primitive shouts, moving instead onto a digital plane of glittery synths, samples and wall-scaling vox." - Recommended Listen