Sunday, August 19, 2012

Janet Feder's Songs with Words on LP

"Can you play my record?"

As an exhibitor, I'm used to hearing that at trade shows. Show attendees bring their favorite CDs along and hope they'll have a familiar recording played so they can accurately judge a specific audio system. I've discovered a lot of great music this way, and I've heard some strange stuff as well. This was the first time, however, that the person in question meant "Can you play my record?" as in, you know, the one that I actually recorded, featuring me?

Janet Feder, a singer-songwriter based in Boulder, Colorado, quietly entered our room at the California Audio Show and made the request. In one arm she carried the SACD of her new album, Songs with Words, and in the other she carried the LP. She was game to let us play either format, but I opted for the SACD because the turntable in the room, a Clearaudio Ovation, wasn't quite dialed in yet. (Also, to be perfectly pragmatic, the SACD would require that we used our Unison Research CD player as opposed to someone else's analog rig.)

She played the first track, "Heater," which started off with a collection of seemingly disjointed sounds, beautifully recorded, presented in a huge space between the speakers. Slowly and deliberately these sounds, which were made by a prepared acoustic guitar and a toy piano, congealed into a melody and gained momentum. While I think the other attendees in the room had more mainstream tastes and didn't quite get what she was trying to achieve, they did give her an enthusiastic ovation after the song was over and she graciously grabbed her little disc and went on to the next room. Personally, I was intrigued and wanted to hear the entire album. I made a note to track her down and buy the LP, which I did.

Songs with Words sounds like an ordinary title for an album, but it's far more unusual than that. The sound quality is immense; the album was recorded by 15 microphones that were placed completely around Janet as she performed. Her prepared guitar, which will remind you of Arvo Part's prepared piano works with their slightly alien, percussive tones, was recorded live along with her vocals and piano. She achieves these otherwordly sounds by placing small metal rings--the same as you'd find on a key ring--on the strings as she plays. Other additional effects were added later using "analog plates, reverbs and tape-based manipulations." The liner notes state, in bold type, that "There are no digital effects in this recording." Everything was recorded on the largest SONOMA system in the world--32 tracks of surround sound. That's why Songs with Words sounds so huge and intimate at the same time.

Janet's songs are so unique because they exist in a singular logic that eschews normal melodies, song structures and sounds. Even when she performs a cover, such as "Blowin' in the Wind", or steals a few verses from Nirvana's "Come As You Are" on "Plan to Live," you'll be hard-pressed to identify it until you hear those familiar lyrics. The melodies, keys and tempos come from her and her alone.

You can get Songs with Words directly from Janet's website--the LP is only $20 and includes a DVD with hi-rez files, and the SACD is only $15. I'm definitely happy that Janet Feder walked into my room and asked me to play her record.

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