Janet Feder


THISCLOSE is an album that I was happy to find in my mailbox, for two reasons. The first one is that it's a very fine album, a "sound object" that can offer listeners many interesting aspects that they will be quite glad to investigate: "more bang for your buck", as the saying goes. Then, because the album made it possible for me to answer the question "What happened to Janet Feder?", an artist I heard nothing about after (what I believe to be) her first album: Speak Puppet, released in 2000 on RèR.

At the time I wrote about Speak Puppet as being "the 'user-friendly' side of the avant-garde". And while her contiguity with the big world of the "prepared guitar" realm - we all know the names: Frith, Kaiser, Bailey, and so on - was not too difficult to perceive, it was also easy to notice her right-hand arpeggio technique, which told of deep classical studies, with a pinch of "folk simplicity" added here and there. In the end, I could only speculate about what this "young artist" would release later.

So now I know that Janet Feder released two more full-length albums: Ironic Universe and Songs With Words, the latter released in 2012. An album that in many ways proved to be a turning point for the artist, who in her liner notes to THISCLOSE so writes: "THISCLOSE is what happened when Joe, Mike and I decided to make another album, a following to Songs With Words, which filled us with surprise and delight in 2012. This proves that wasn't a fluke."

So let's have a look at the album credits, which are especially important, given the fact that the new album appears to be the fruit of a collective effort: from a rich, mysterious patina that "illuminates" with appropriate shadings all vocal and instrumental sounds, to an instrumental palette that always sounds fresh and appropriate.

The album was produced by Joe Shepard with Mike Yach and Janet Feder. Recorded and mixed by Mike Yach (who's also featured as an instrumentalist, mainly on guitar) at Immersive Studios. Stereo mastering by Dominick Maita at Airshow Mastering. Surround Mastering by Gus Skinas at Super Audio Center. From what I understand, the music was recorded in DSD on a 32 channel Sonoma system.

The recording technique on this album makes the music sound quite spacious and 3D. The album is available as high-resolution digital files, also as a double layer Super Audio CD (which is what I listened to - CD layer only, since here at Clouds and Clocks HQs there's no hardware to read the Super Audio layer). For those who claim that "vinyl is the only way to go" there's also a 180gr. edition, which I've never seen, nor listened to.

What one immediately notices is a "dry" sense of economy, both in the three songs and the six instrumentals. There's a strong "trance" feel that's really "immersive", something which really necessitates a quiet listening room.

I have to admit that at first I tried adding a bit more top end on my amplifier, so as to make the sound emanating from my loudspeakers a bit less dark-sounding. (I know that hi-fi purists will be horrified to know this, but yes, my amplifier does indeed have tone controls. There, I said it!) But on second thoughts, after a few listening sessions, I had to agree that the producers' choice to highlight the lower mid frequencies had been the right one, going hand-in-hand with Janet Feder's arpeggios on the baritone guitar she favours.

At first, the sound of the opening track - effected vocals, "larger-than-life" drums, those "ambiguous-electronic" sounds that later reveal themselves as emanating from an electric guitar - made me think of Tchad Blake's work on albums such as Lisa Germano's Slide.

Later, with a clearer "focus", I was reminded here and there of Colorado-based collective, Biota. But the "ambiguity" of sounds featured on this album has for the most part a "timbral" value within the larger framework of the organization of the music, which is a lot less "open-ended" - and hence, quite less difficult to get - than the music by Biota.

Let's have a look at the nine tracks.

Crows is calm and meditative, with a circular attitude. A track in ¾ with multiple, effected vocals, placid arpeggios, big-sounding drums and cymbals with lazy decay (Marc Dalio), then a mysterious-sounding electric guitar - maybe played with an e-bow? (Mike Yach).

Ticking Time Bomb opens with an arpeggio on an high-sounding instrument with no sustain - maybe a banjo played with capo? - that is intelligently coupled with two instruments with great sustain: a bass clarinet (Mark Harris) and an accordion (Kal Cahoone). Naked vocals by Janet Feder.

Happy Everyday, Me has a fine arpeggio, a fresh melody, and a piano (Paul Fowler).

No Apology has the arpeggio and the melody up front, playing just a few notes, coupled with fat toms (Todd Bilsborough) and a guitar with effects placed in the background (Mike Yach). "Almost like a preamble with no resolution", maybe.

Happy Everyday, You offers listeners a sunny arpeggio, with a restrained piano played on the higher part of the keyboard (if I read the liner notes correctly, here the piano is played by Janet Feder).

You As Part Of A Whole features the guitar in solitude, naked arpeggios, cymbals with phasing playing tempo (Todd Bilsborough), an "answering" piano (Paul Fowler), drums, percussion.

Angles & Exits starts with arpeggio guitar, then a sad-sounding vocal melody, which is paired with Elaine DiFalco's accordion, precise and restrained, which also has a fine, brief solo moment.

She Sleeps With The Sky sounds like an étude in three parts. It starts with an arpeggio played on the low strings, then a light-, melancholy-sounding melody appears, played on the high strings, sounding almost like a mandolin. Again, an arpeggio on the low strings, and it's time for crickets to appear in the background, here acting as the real "glue" of the composition. There's a new melody, male vocals in the background, then a fast arpeggio, "allegro con brio", starting at about 5'.

THISCLOSE is a long track that takes the aesthetic of this work to the limit. It starts with "particles"-sounding high notes, acting as an "ostinato", as a background.

Slow, repeated arpeggios followed by a halo, like guitar harmonics, made me think of a multiple mics recording. The arpeggio at about 5' 10" appears to "switch off" the performance. What follows is about 5' of "mysterious" sounds which appear in the background at a very low volume. There's something bell-like, like sounds filtered through a ring modulator, sometimes one hears cymbals played with mallets. There's a "fast" echo moving right to left, the "wind", something that sounds like a tape slowing (best I can do), a few more seconds, and it's over.

Here I was reminded of a track, La Chambre, which appears on a CD titled La Pièce which was released about fifteen years ago - and that I haven't listened to since then - as the fruit of a collaboration between the electro-acoustic music duo Kristoff K. Roll and clarinet player Xavier Charles. On that track, the music slowly disappears, so highlighting the sounds of the place where the listener is located - hence, the title.

Both the meaning and the organization are quite different, but the goal - to me! - appears to be the same: let's focus our listening.

Happy listening!

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2015

CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 29, 2015