When’s the last time you saw somebody break out an acoustic guitar with beads, rings, roach clips, and all kinds of other doodads attached to it, and then proceed to play a variety of melodic, ambient, complex, and at times quite beautiful tunes?
“In fact,” you say, “I’ve never seen that.” Well, neither have I. Which is why we should all turn out to see Janet Feder when she and her “prepared guitar” come to perform in Missoula.
A classically-trained guitarist, Feder tired of the region of the larger musical world that found her and many other talented musicians essentially competing to win recognition as the guitarist best able to perform other people’s classical compositions.
“It’s a crazy way to make a living,” Feder said in a recent interview. “It started to feel like another one of those exclusive clubs under which you’re crushed with scrutiny.”
So Feder gave up that life in favor of another exclusive club—that of guitarists who affix all sorts of wacky objects to their instruments to produce a variety of sounds that are not commonly experienced. The shift from classical music to playing prepared guitar was accompanied by a transition from a very serious musical form to an experience of music that is liberating and creative.
“When I’m exploring for a cool sound that I can write a piece around, I’m playing like I used to play when I was a kid,” explains Feder. “I’m really, actually playing, you know. Like making mud pies.”
Often when musicians start tinkering with attaching different knick-knacks to their instruments or other such innovations, the result is a performance that is interesting for at least five minutes, and musically tedious for the rest of the show.
What sets Feder apart, as evidenced on her recent album Speak Puppet, is that her songs don’t sound at all industrial.
“Even though my records find their way in to the Avant Garde bin—and that’s kind of where they go—pieces that I write are melodic, rhythmic, highly listenable, songlike music, because I write from a songlike perspective,” explains Feder. “I can’t help it. I’m an American girl who grew up on folk music and rock music and classical music, and I write songs.”
All but one of Feder’s songs on Speak Puppet are entirely instrumental, and Feder’s voice doesn’t even appear on the song which does contain vocals. And while the album does feature a little bit of bass and some drum machine, the focus of the work is Feder’s fantastic guitar playing.
Equal to Feder’s guitar virtuosity are her compositions, which incorporate aspects of slide blues, the best of Windham Hill-style ambient melody, and a touch of country and western guitar.
It will sure be interesting to see how Janet Feder can pull all of that off without the rings and roach clips getting in the way.
Janet Feder performs Friday evening Aug. 17 at 7:30 at Unity Church, 546 South Avenue West. Tickets are $5 at the door and the door opens at 7. Call 721-0328 for more info.