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Midwife is the moniker of multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston. She lives and works in San Miguel, New Mexico by way of Denver, Colorado, where she spent the better half of the past decade developing her experimental pop project. As a self taught guitarist and recording engineer, Midwife explores dark subject matter in her anthemic, soft-gaze hits. Self-described as "Heaven Metal," or emotive music about devastation - catharsis.
When 2020 began, Johnston had several national and international tours planned, but the pandemic shifted her focus back to recording, and back to her internal landscape. Midwife’s third full length record, Luminol, was written and produced during quarantine.
Luminol is a chemical used by forensic investigators to reveal trace amounts of blood left at a crime scene. When it reacts with blood, luminol emits a chemiluminescent blue glow that can be seen in a darkened room. In the same way this chemical reveals evidence at a scene, Midwife is interested in profound truth - turning trial and tribulation into sources of light.
Luminol navigates themes of incarceration, locus of control, clarity, self harm, confinement, agency, and truth-seeking, all erupting in a bioluminescent Rothko color-field of blue.
The Luminol album cover shows a dark figure standing at the edge of a body of water. It symbolizes the way humanity had been on a precipice throughout 2020, to later find out they had been there all along. Being one of Midwife’s most personal records, Luminol's cover artwork is a picture of Madeline Johnston's mother taken in the 1980s, when she was the same age as Madeline at the time of recording. By redacting the figure, Johnston hopes that anyone could see themselves there, by the water, as a form leftover when all the elements of their lives are stripped away and what is left is a host.
Out July 16, 2021 on The Flenser.
Jeremy Hurewitz's intuitively original, transcendental work as rootless initially crossed our path through cosmic-yet-earthbound instrumental acoustic guitar tapes on two of our favorite labels, Cabin Floor Esoterica and Aural Canyon. Sensing a kinship in sound, we connected online and linked up for a joint rootless & Starbirthed tour across the northeastern US in summer 2019. It was between soundcheck and set on the second day of our tour together that Jeremy recounted to us the fascinating details of the rootless album he worked on before his recent move from Los Angeles to New York.
Recorded April 2019 in the LA studio of sculptor Michael Todd, the two-day session found Jeremy's double-tracked guitar compositions and improvisations meeting the inspired multi-instrumental expression of Mexican musician and folklorist Luís Pérez Ixoneztli. Overseer of a collection of priceless, one-of-a-kind, indigenous instruments from Mesoamerica (many of them pre-Colombian), Luís Pérez’s deep understanding and reverence for these instruments is apparent in his approach to the music. The recording process for each track began with Jeremy's stunningly evocative widescreen fingerstyle acoustic guitar, after which Luís Pérez would listen, consider, and then visit his treasure trove of instruments, returning with several (or many) to contribute to the track. From ocarinas and small whistles that can resemble forest sounds ("peculiar travel suggestions") to dried cocoon shells strung together and used as shakers, to clay flutes that are possibly over a thousand years old ("silence has a sound"), Luís Pérez’s contributions were as spiritual as they were grounded in musical technique. Befitting Jeremy's own experimental, avant-garde approach, some of these contributions moved beyond ancient folk instruments, such as simply pouring water in a tub (on "shared consciousness") or Shamanic breathing ("gorillas in the zoo").
Naturally, upon hearing Jeremy's account of the session we couldn't wait to hear the results. Still, pressing play on the private stream a few weeks later, we could hardly believe the songs and sounds that emerged - existing in form far beyond what our imaginations could conjure. Jeremy's instrumentals create entire worlds, lucid visualizations and emotions colored in perfect detail by the singular presence of Luís Pérez Ixoneztli. Here, rootless has produced an album in perfect harmony with the spiritual and sonic blueprint that Flower Room has articulated across 18+ releases, and this represents a monumental moment for an imprint created solely as a private press label for our own in-house work. For the first time, we welcome a new voice, vision, and source of expression to the Flower Room family, and are proud and ecstatic to present the wholly original melding music of this most high collaboration: rootless' vinyl debut, docile cobras.
More information can be found here.
"Fantas" is the epic opening track on Caterina Barbieri’s acclaimed 2019 release Ecstatic Computation. The original "Fantas" laid out a magical path of patterns leading the listener on a journey into the sound itself. Fantas Variations maps out eight new potentials sprung from this initial path as constructed by a diverse mix of artists lending to a wide spectrum of new works extrapolated from the original work. For this project Barbieri invited friends and long time collaborators from a variety of musical backgrounds to create a more sustainable and inclusive landscape in terms of stylistic, geographical, gender and generational balance. The results are a diverse array of approaches and instrumentation which blur the boundaries between the acoustic and electronic.
Fantas Variations embraces a platform for mutual exchange and support between like-minded artists, where active and collective re-imagination is prioritized over the traditional model of remixes, which is often strategic, functional and more passive.
Longtime friend and collaborator Kali Malone rearranged "Fantas" to a slowed-down, austere and eerie version for two organs. Evelyn Saylor created a piece for a vocal ensemble consisting of her, Lyra Pramuk, Stine Janvin and Annie Garlid, joining forces to express the choral, psychedelic and vitalistic nature of the piece. Barbieri's former guitar professor at the Conservatory in Bologna, Walter Zanetti, composes "Fantas" for electric guitar, by translating every single gesture of the original electronic piece into a personal, nuanced and detailed interpretation. Bendik Giske's reinterpretation for saxophone and voice captures the atmospheric essence of "Fantas" and its psychic meteorology. Longtime collaborator and along with Barbieri the other half of the outfit Punctum, Carlo Maria, resynthesizes "Fantas" for TR808 and MC202, bringing a more club-oriented dimension of the piece to life whilst unveiling the sonic continuum between rhythm and pitch through a sensitive timbral approach. Jay Mitta's Singeli reinterpretation of "Fantas" transpires with pitched-up percussion and turbo-fast poly-rhythmic patterns unleashing the frenetic, shifting, transformative matter within the piece to a higher plain of euphoric dance. Baseck's variation is a rave fantasia, where the prismatic trance of the original is channeled into fierce, uncompromising hardcore, whilst Kara-Lis Coverdale's take is a phantasmagoria for piano that gently, yet inexorably, captures the relentlessness chimerical qualities of the original, unveiling its spectral backbone.
More information can be found here.
Colleen is an aboundingly inventive composer and artist. For two decades, Cécile Schott as Colleen has crafted welcoming, enchanting, and bewildering music. The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist’s timeless compositions make use of carefully selected tools to mold memories into transcendent splendor. The Tunnel and the Clearing finds Schott at her most vulnerable and confident, invoking contemplative and swirling organ processed through analog electronics, steady drum machine syncopations and her distinctive voice to embody breaking through the nexus of compounding transitions. On an album centered on processing the complicated washes of emotion through tribulations and revelations Colleen presents a vision of breathless clarity.
The Tunnel and the Clearing was developed over a period of transformative change. Colleen began work on the album in 2018 only to be met with extreme fatigue from a previously undiagnosed illness that all but halted her work. The following months and years of treatment and adjustment eventually led to relocating to a new home and studio in Barcelona, which was soon followed by lockdowns and ultimately the dissolution of her longtime partnership. The impact of deep reflecting on these cumulative experiences found Schott completely reimagining her compositional practices through her enduring gift for reinvention. Schott spent months in near complete silence apart from composing and ruminating on her newfound perspective through her music. Says Schott, "Never before had I felt so profoundly the power that music has, through harmony, melody, rhythm and sound itself, to express the whole range of human emotions." The resulting seven pieces investigate the complex, at times contradictory relationship between excitement and fear, anger and understanding, struggle and triumph, all focused on a reconstruction of the self.
Colleen's albums are unified by their employment of distinct and personal instrumentation to tell their story. From albums built around music boxes or viola da gamba to albums built around electronics, her music remarkably shares a dreamlike modern quality. From the early stages of working on The Tunnel and the Clearing, Schott restricted herself to using analog electronic instruments like the Elka Drummer One, the Roland RE-201 Space Echo and Moog Grandmother synth, coupled with Yamaha organ keyboard and select Moog effects. This limited instrument selection was inspired by years of listening to Jamaican and African recordings where musicians were pushed to maximize their creativity with minimal tools. A magnitude of atmospheres are summoned from deceptively simple combinations, from the meditative pulse of "The Crossing" to the frothy cascades of title track "The Tunnel and the Clearing." Pieces like "Revelation," or the brisk-paced "Implosion-Explosion" respectively showcase the most diverse use of harmony and the most incisive application of production technique in all of Colleen's catalog. Stunningly, Colleen achieves the rich emotional intricacy and the lush density of textures on The Tunnel and the Clearing through almost entirely live performance and processing.
The detailed and affecting compositions of The Tunnel and the Clearing mirror Colleen's grappling with her own psyche. Schott elaborates "I found direct correspondences between my internal discourse, its obsessive, frantic attempts at making sense of what I could not understand, and the music I was making, with motifs functioning as questions and answers, doubts and assertions." Clicks, hums, warbles and throbs emulating our evolving internal worlds, an "emotional noise." A musical journey through the tunnel toward the clearing at its end. An ending which is also a beginning. "The clearing is what is always out there: a vast expanse of space, light and possibilities," says Schott. The Tunnel and the Clearing is a work of lucid reverence, a constellation of marvels suspended in air.
More information can be found here.
The follow-up to Johnson’s acclaimed Balsams LP, The Cinder Grove delves further into the compositional possibilities of the pedal steel guitar. This halcyon collection of tracks draws on a wider pallette of sounds, adding strings and piano, to dive deeper into the sound bath of Johnson’s meditative music.
The Cinder Grove is a profound, affecting statement on the nature of loss and irreplaceability as well as a major addition to the canon of Johnson’s work. It's a suite of requiems for lost places. Many of the spaces that once fostered affordable living and creative work now only exist in sonic memory, like the echoes of ghosts. Like much of the California landscape in recent years, some of these spaces having succumbed to fire. Others, to the equally inexorable forces of gentrification. While his 2017 LP Balsams was intended to provide the listener with a space for respite and calm—even healing—The Cinder Grove seeks to remember what has been lost while celebrating the resilience of the human spirit and the natural world.
In making The Cinder Grove, Johnson dug through archival recordings from Oakland DIY performance spaces to digitally extract their reverb and echo qualities. He then applied these effects—as well as the digitally modeled reverberation of a redwood forest—to the tracks on The Cinder Grove, allowing the pieces to bask in the lush virtual spaces, and in the process realized that these sonic re-constructions can only ever be approximations. We try to make spaces what we want them to be, whether in memory or in the material present.
More information can be found here.