Janet Feder Speak Puppet Review

Album. Released 5 June 2001.  

BBC Review

...Feder fits into the maverick folk-guitar revivalist camp inhabited by Americans...

Bill Tilland 2002

"Prepared" instruments are customarily associated with cerebral and difficult listening experiences, often with problematic rewards. However, the acoustic guitar is a folk instrument par excellence, and the folk have never been shy about subjecting their guitars to creative abuse. Happily, Janet Feder is part of that tradition, and while her various devices -- bra fasteners, wires, beads, alligator clips, etc. -- produce some rather peculiar buzzing and chiming timbres, the results are no less "normal" than the sound of a Delta bluesman applying a jackknife or bottleneck to guitar strings. And like the Delta bluesman (or the Appalachian hillbilly who comes up with eccentric tunings or finger-picking techniques), Feder's experiments always have a solid musical context.

Stylistically, Feder fits into the maverick folk-guitar revivalist camp inhabited by Americans John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho and Gary Lucas, and Brits Bert Jansch and John Redbourn (among others). But her penchant for experimentation also aligns her with madcap guitar improviser Fred Frith, even though Feder composes rather than improvises, and is certainly a more restrained performer than Frith. Feder's formal training and prior concert career as a classical guitarist gives her music still another dimension. Overall, it's a very attractive mixture, as displayed on this CD - ten original compositions which reveal Feder's classical chops and occasional echoes of the Spanish classical guitar repertoire, plus a touch of rural blues, some traditional folk motifs and progressions, occasional modal tunings hinting at ethnic influences, and the added feature of unusual resonances and timbres throughout.

If there are any reservations attached to Speak Puppet, they would probably not relate to Feder's mechanical manipulations, but rather to her use of electronics. Several remix experiments are included, most notably a long, ten-minute excursion, "Leaving Light (remix)," that constitutes the CD's second-to-last track. To my ear, the remixes are fine examples of ambient dub, but the distinctive sound of the acoustic guitar is pushed and pulled into other soundshapes, and it competes with electronic percussion and what sounds like a string bass. The influences here would be Durutti Column's Vini Reilly, perhaps -- and certainly Steve Tibbbets. However guitar aficionados might consider the remixes a bit of a letdown after all the nimble plucking, strumming and fingering which precedes them. Ultimately, it's a matter of taste, but like everything else on the CD, the remixes are well executed, and they are further evidence of Feder's commendable desire to breathe new life into the acoustic guitar repertoire.

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