Perception & Paranoia: Atka’s Haunting Debut EP ‘The Eye Against the Ashen Sky’ Exposes Our Innermost Depths & Dichotomies

Atka © Anh Le
Atka © Anh Le
A singular, shiver-inducing new voice in the indie music scene, Atka’s Sarah Neumann takes us track-by-track through her soul-stirring, sonically and emotionally charged debut EP ‘The Eye Against the Ashen Sky,’ a vulnerable, visceral, and hair-raising release.
for fans of Radiohead, Daughter, Sky Ferreira
Stream: “Desiring Machines” – Atka




There’s a raw, unabating turbulence lying at the core of Atka’s debut EP.

It’s the unseen tempest that can either drive us forward, or drive us mad; all those pervasive thoughts, questions, and fears that keep us up at night, consuming our quiet moments and eating at us from the inside out. Urgent and aching, visceral and vulnerable, The Eye Against the Ashen Sky is a churning, emotionally charged fever dream. Atka weaves together electronic, industrial, and alternative influences into one soul-stirring, hair-raising cathartic release.

The Eye Against The Ashen Sky - Atka
The Eye Against the Ashen Sky – Atka
There was a woven child
Spinning threads all around the room
Getting tangled in the nets
Of laughter and then doom
It’s my fault, I am just a husk
They’ve got my body, let me go
It’s my fault, I am just a husk
They’ve got my body, let me go
And I wanna scream ‘til my shame gives in
The woven child taken by desiring machines
– “Desiring Machines,” Atka

Independently released November 3, 2023, The Eye Against the Ashen Sky is a breathtaking introduction. The project of London and Berlin-based singer, songwriter, and producer Sarah Neumann, Atka defies genre. You might call her indie folk in one breath and dream pop in the next, but what’s indisputable is that her songwriting is a direct reflection of her own unfiltered humanity. Her four-track debut EP immediately establishes her as an enthralling, unique, and formidable presence on the indie scene – one whose art provokes, while inspiring us to think deeper about ourselves and our lives.

Atka © JSD
Atka © JSD



As Atka unravels her own humanity through song, we, too, are pushed to dive inward into ourselves.

“I wrote this record while studying for my Philosophy MA at King’s College London, particularly when I was finishing up my master’s thesis on Jean Paul Sartre’s theory of the gaze, which informed the content of the record to a large extent,” Neumann tells Atwood Magazine. “In the music, I am documenting my experience of being under the gaze of an overwhelming otherness and finding out along the way what other people’s perception means to me. On the one hand these perceptions are life-affirming in a way that they confirm that I indeed exist. Sometimes they are even able to reveal things about myself that I couldn’t see before, particularly in intimate relationships, as I am touching on in “Lenny.” On the other hand, being perceived by others or being under the gaze is life-denying, for in the perception of the other I am always becoming an object – a static thing in the world. That dichotomy fascinated, confused, and horrified me all at the same time. The record is tracing the lines of both dimensions and finding out how one could potentially exist in the middle. At times on the record the gaze swallows me whole, at others it spits me out and sometimes I am just gazing back at it.”

“At the time I lived in Northwest-London and spent a lot of time in solitude pondering about these things because I didn’t know many people in the city. I spend most of my time alone, as I have moved around a fair bit. I just moved to London from Germany via Canada. Then after finishing my degree, I struggled finding a job in London, so I instead decided to take things into my own hands. I took up waitressing and started recording these songs that I’ve written over the past year, and this is how this EP came along.”

“I don’t really have a specific vision for my work as a musician or writer,” she continues. “To me it’s less about creating things in a desired image, style, or fashion and more about being and becoming as much of myself as possible. It’s a practice of paying attention to what makes me, me, drawing distinctions between me and the world around me and eventually knowing myself so much that everything I do and touch is naturally an expression of me – I guess you could call that the vision. While academia gives me a framework to understand my lived experiences, music allows me to express it. So this record is pure expression. And yes, sometimes you get distracted, thinking ‘this is not ambitious enough,’ or ‘not mature enough,’ but then I just take a step back and listen to myself without all the outside noise and most of the time I then know where to go from there.”

Atka © JSD
Atka © JSD



The EP’s title takes its name from a line in Turkish poet and novelist Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s “The Time Regulation Institute,” published in 1961.

“Next to “Brave New World” and Nabokov’s “The Eye,” it’s another “Big Brother is watching” novel that I read at the time,” Neumann explains. “‘The Eye Against the Ashen Sky’ can be understood in two ways, which I think is the most wonderful thing about this title. The Eye that is pressed against the ashen sky looking down at you, this never-escapable god-like perceiver that watches your every step and traces all honour and sin. Or the eye that is my eye staring back at this wide, grey horizon. Again, it is the dichotomy that fascinated me.”

Whether she’s reckoning with the world around her processing the one within, Atka holds nothing back from these four intense and unapologetic songs.

“I think the record captures me at my most innocent,” she says. “I just went for it without any agenda and plan, no label, no manager, not even a single out in the world. That’s a great place to create from – completely fresh, no standard to uphold and no previously established sound to follow. This is my first stamp into wet soil, and I waited a long time to take this step, always listening to music and developing my sound and songwriting in private for at least 15 years. These four tracks are little samples of the different sounds and styles I am interested in creating, but they all come from the same artistic place that I talked about earlier, so there is a cohesion in them. From here onwards I will develop these samples further.”

Atka © Anh Le
Atka © Anh Le



While Neumann’s songwriting is inherently intimate and fragile, the sound she cultivates is utterly cinematic: From the second “Eye in the Sky” begins, to the moment “Child of Rage” concludes, The Eye Against the Ashen Sky roars with a fiery relentlessness. That electric current, Neumann says, is inspired by everything from the German Krautrock she grew up with, to 1980s post-punk and the indie rock and pop she listens to today.

“It’s always hard to say where these things have their origin, but I reckon it comes from my long bus-rides and car-drives growing up in the countryside in East Germany,” she muses. “My family didn’t listen to much music at home. Music was primarily listened to in the car on our way to school, to the doctors, to Berlin, while driving along long country roads and vast open fields, like watching a movie. I guess I just started connecting ears and eyes and making these associations. It’s interesting how these things happen. I lived on a hill in the forest, often dipped in fog and spent a lot of my time walking through the woods. It’s a very mystical and dark place, particularly in autumn and winter. Muted colours, dimmed light, spiderwebs between the trees and a silver shimmer over the leaves. I listened to the sound of nature a lot. More than music. Maybe I am trying to channel nature’s logic into music. But I am just speculating.”

“German Krautrock had a massive influence on me and how I listen to music in general,” she smiles. “So NEU! and Kraftwerk mostly, the very early Kraftwerk 1 & 2 though. Growing up I listened to folk, which probably influenced the lyrical side of my music, but the Motorik beat opened up a whole new world for me haha. Now it’s Broadcast, Phew and Joy Division I listen to, but also The National, Perfume Genius, Boy Harsher. Literally so so many different things. I love music.”

Atka © Anh Le
Atka © Anh Le



The best way to experience The Eye Against the Ashen Sky is in its full, unabridged 18-minute entirety.

Listening to “Eye in the Sky,” “Desiring Machines,” “Lenny,” and “Child of Rage” back-to-back evokes the full weight and depth of Atka’s burgeoning artistry, taking listeners on a transportive journey as she embarks on the same.

Fans of softer, ethereal music (think Daughter and Bon Iver) will instantly fall for opening track “Eye in the Sky,” whereas fans of more caustic, hard-hitting indie and alternative rock (from Radiohead to The Smashing Pumpkins) are sure to find favor in “Lenny.”

“This is a song about how one man’s tunnel-visioned obsession with finding meaning turns everything around him into a swamp of meaninglessness that also sucks in everyone around him,” Neumann says of “Lenny.” “It’s witnessing empty repetition right in front of your eyes and the helplessness and all-limbs-dropping-to-the-floor exhaustion felt as a result, when caring for someone who is depressed. And ultimately, it’s about the absence of being perceived by that person and one’s drift into a ghost-like state. When no one is watching or sees me – do I even exist? ‘Lenny’ is about “reverse-paranoia” if you want it.”




The EP’s second track, “Desiring Machines” – also Atka’s debut single – is an instant highlight. Pressure builds for five beautiful minutes as Atka delivers an utterly breathtaking, shiver-inducing eruption from her innermost depths. A reckoning with identity and emotion, who we are to ourselves and who others perceive us to be, it’s the kind of song that breaks us apart only to build us back up again, stronger than we were at the start.

For Neumann, this is both her reckoning and redemption all in one: A cathartic release of seismic proportions. As Neumann sings an enchantingly heartfelt confessional, the drums around her rise slowly and steadily to thunderous levels, eventually overwhelming us and joining the surrounding synths to create a cinematic wall of sound.

They say he is angry ‘cause he cares
Bodies bruised, tell me is that an act of love
In Hyde Park the swans are floating
And today my best friend nearly drowned
It’s not my fault, I’m not a husk
They’ve got my body, let me go
It’s not my fault, I’m not a husk
They’ve got my body, let me go
And I wanna scream ‘til my lungs give in
Now void of organs, desiring machines

“’Desiring Machines’ is a clear reference to the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari’s books ‘Anti Oedipus’ and ‘A Thousand Plateaus,’ and explores how one’s own body is experienced as an object under the (male) gaze,” Neumann says. “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.”




Sonically and emotionally charged, “Desiring Machines” aches in all directions at once. But for Neumann, the true star of this EP is the record’s opening track, “Eye in the Sky.”

“The song came about very organically and it’s also the last one I wrote, so I feel like it’s me at my most developed and consistent,” she beams. “Building the soundscape with piano, modular, and analogue synths came about quite quickly. At the time I was listening to Tomberlin a lot, which you can maybe hear in the synth bass that carries the whole track. I also love the video that I shot with my boyfriend, on a random evening in London. The song and the video are products of not thinking too much about it, just feeling it out and letting it take you somewhere. I love where it all ended up.”

In fact, Neumann’s favorite moment comes in the little bridge in “Eye in the Sky”: “‘I’ve seen the days fold up like paper towns. Twirl my dress in his frown. Just drifting away.’ It is the ultimate unity of content and form, of words and soundscape. They just melt together. I wrote it in a sort of trance just strumming on my guitar, not thinking much about it, but once the words came out I repeated it over and over, because it was so comforting. Like staring into a flame. It transports me somewhere else every time I sing it.”




The EP concludes with the beautifully cinematic “Child of Rage,” a spellbinding, transformative work that evolves from a soft whisper into an epic and impassioned explosion. While anyone would be hard-pressed to tie together all the visceral, sonic and emotional aspects of this record, “Child of Rage” does it effortlessly and with grace – giving Atka and The Eye Against The Ashen Sky the closure this record deserves.

Two decades late
And I still run from self-inflicted pain
Clouds drift away
But it shakes my knees and Sisyphus remains
And if people change
What happens to their husks
Call me shadow hunter
Painter of the past

Can’t you remain the past
To forgive you, strains the soul

“The biggest compliment would be for people to hear some things that are in the music for the first time – that I can offer something new, something different, that someone feels inspired by, to create something in their own way,” Neumann shares. “That’s at least what makes a good piece of art to me. The moment when I hear something … sometimes it’s a weird bass line, a beat that’s just so simple it’s brilliant or a distorted harpsichord, that I can not sit still in my chair, but midway through the song have to grab my guitar and start making stuff. It’s like a blinding feeling of hope. For someone to feel that way would honestly make me so happy.”

“What I have learned more than anything in this process is to trust my gut. Really listen to it, it’s usually right. Things will work out if you know who you are and trust that good and better things will always come your way,”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Atka’s The Eye Against the Ashen Sky with Atwood Magazine as Sarah Neumann takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her debut EP!

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:: stream/purchase The Eye Against The Ashen Sky here ::
:: connect with Atka here ::
‘The Eye Against The Ashen Sky’ – Atka



:: Inside The Eye Against The Ashen Sky ::

The Eye Against The Ashen Sky - Atka

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Eye In the Sky

I wrote “Eye in the Sky” two years ago after a late night walk around Primrose Hill in London. On the walk I felt as if everything was gazing down at me – the trees, the gates and the windows – watching every step I take. I felt them so close it was as if their look was creeping into my bones, as if I was becoming the look itself. When I got home I immediately grabbed my guitar and the lyrics spilled out.



Desiring Machines

I was reading Deleuze and Guattaris “Anti-Oedipus” at the time of writing “Desiring Machines,” and was fascinated by the concept of the rhizome, as it relates to a lot of things I had previously studied in relation to Luhmanns systems theory. A rhizome is a root-system that does not start from anywhere or end anywhere; it grows from everywhere and is the same at any point. Desiring Machines also has such a structure. Here desire is not lack, which suggests negativity. It is affirmative in its state of movement and change – desire here, is a desire of becoming.



Lenny

This track is completely out of my comfort zone and I am so surprised about how well it is doing. The percussive elements in the track are produced primarily with modular synthesiser alone – I have no idea how we did it but once we got going we just collected loads of different weird sounds. Then later I sat down with them and started layering them, building different parts of the song. This served as the instrumental structure. Later on Jung (from Gang of Youths) added a guitar part he had written long before and it worked perfectly on the track. The last bit was recording drums, which the wonderful Louis Giannamore put down.



Child of Rage

“Child of Rage” is the only track I didn’t write on guitar, but directly on my computer with a tiny midi keyboard in Logic, which you can hear as it is the most electronic one of them. It was the first track I wrote for the record and the most difficult one to bring to live, because I had the different parts all figured out, but no idea how to connect them. It was all a bit of a nightmare, we sat around the studio trying out so many different things until we found this clarinet sound that just swirls around and ties everything together in a very strange way – like a snake. Later my good friend James Larter added percussion, well basically a whole orchestra, to it. I’m very happy I could make it work, cause I love how weird the instrumentation is and it might also be the best one to perform live. It becomes a whole Perfume Genius number – very intense and so much fun!

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:: stream/purchase The Eye Against The Ashen Sky here ::
:: connect with Atka here ::



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The Eye Against The Ashen Sky - Atka

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