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Yodel in Hi-Fi

From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica

Bart Plantenga

Publication Year: 2013

Yodel in Hi-Fi explores the vibrant and varied traditions of yodelers around the world. Far from being a quaint and dying art, yodel is a thriving vocal technique that has been perennially renewed by singers from Switzerland to Korea, from Colorado to Iran. Bart Plantenga offers a lively and surprising tour of yodeling in genres from opera to hip-hop and in venues from cowboy campfires and Oktoberfests to film soundtracks and yogurt commercials. Displaying an extraordinary versatility, yodeling crosses all borders and circumvents all language barriers to assume its rightful place in the world of music.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

With Yodel in Hi-Fi, Bart Plantenga continues the ex - traordinary in-depth exploration begun in his earlier volume, Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World. The first volume had already been described (in the UTNE Reader) as “one of the most complete studies of any subject ever,” so why a second? Is yodeling really all that important, or is Plantenga only another nostalgia freak hot in trivial pursuit? Well, as I...

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Preface: Drive-By Yodel

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pp. xiii-xviii

Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling around the World had been out not even a day when a woman acquaintance approached me on a train platform overlooking the Hudson River. She’d heard me on NPR discussing the book and asked: “Did you include Olivio Santoro?” No. “Oh, you should’ve . . .” And despite the UTNE Reader declaring Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo “one of the most complete studies of any subject ever” I knew my completism had not been completed and every subsequent day brought me a new yodeler, shoving me toward...


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pp. xix-2

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An Introduction to the Insane Logic of Yodeling

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pp. 3-6

Probably the weirdest yodel story ever involves jazz vocalist Leon Thomas, who literally fell upon yodeling. Picture this robust, renowned jazz vocalist at home, in a yoga headstand, when suddenly he remembers some guy he’s lent money to. From a headstand, he walks on his hands to the phone to dial this guy’s number. Thomas enters the bedroom doorway upside down; he notes that he suddenly “transcended. I was one place and my body was another. I dropped to the floor right...

The Yodel Climbs Out Through the Roof

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In the Beginning Was the Holler

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pp. 9-19

Last Tango in Paris opens with Marlon Brando standing under an elevated Paris Metro. As a train passes overhead he holds his ears and yells: “FUCKING GAAAHD!” Minus the urban setting, transported to some tropical jungle perhaps, this could have been mankind’s first utterance (or at least its meaning), even if God had not yet been invented. Brando’s cry into a postmodern wilderness, where vast unknowns have been internalized and...

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The Black Voice Heard Blue around the World

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pp. 20-31

The yodel goes back to the dawn of man, whenever that was. And indeed it should. The yodel early on revealed its effective projection over long distances, and was heard by neighbors, fellow toilers, or herds.1 It was originally launched as an expression of necessity, joy, or the existential dread that no matter how hard you yell, you’ll never truly get close to others. This notion of a cry into the dark helping define the contours of the unknown isn’t that farfetched; yodeling serves as a kind...

The Black Line

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pp. 32-48

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Yodel-Spotting in the Big-Small World

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pp. 49-74

I don’t know whether yodels seek me out or whether my brain has programmed my ears to scan everything from sirens to dog moans for yodeling. Perspective is the struggle. As a media-declared “yodel expert,” I siphon life’s ex periences through the search criterion: yodel yes or no, a simple, binary, computational filter that colors all experience—and equal dabs of serendipity and synchronicity. The mere fact that I (grumpy, black-humored...

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The Great Leap from Low to High Culture

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pp. 75-95

The voiceprint of a yodel looks something like a topographical sketch of an Alpine panorama. This graphic representation of how sound—the yodel’s dramatically ascendant voice out of the chest into the head and breathtakingly back down—mirrors mountainous topography was the theory of Swiss yodeler-composer A. L. Gass - mann in the 1950s. The idea that humans were inspired to imitate their surroundings captures the general imagination...

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Ego versus Echo

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pp. 96-115

We named our daughter Paloma Jet having no idea it would elicit so much . . . joy. Paloma is linked to two popular songs, “La Paloma” and “Paloma Blanca,” that many people can sing. So, merely pronouncing her name elicits nostalgic glee or “Paloma? That’s Spanish for dove, how nice.” ...

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The Yodel That Ate Celluloid

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pp. 116-146

Mars Attacks, Tim Burton’s 1996 film about menacing Martians conquering a globe of naïve earthlings, features yodeling as the equivalent of a secret PsyOps weapon that ultimately saves planet Earth from Martian domination. At a climactic instant, the headphones of the eccentric grandma who’s been listening to her favorite yodeler, Slim Whitman, throughout the film, suddenly slip off her head, exposing the Martians to Whitman’s...

The Lands of Yo

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pp. 149-170

That yodeling happens everywhere is best illustrated by profiling the rest of the world’s many cradles of yodelinglike vocalizations. We commence with Switzerland and its Alpine neighbors, Germany and Austria, renowned locations of much yodeling. But as we move away from the Alps the delight and astonishment will only grow the farther we find ourselves—Korea, Taiwan!—from the clichéd and presumed locations of yodeling...

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Germany’s Buffer against Taking Itself Too Seriously

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pp. 171-176

Maybe Germany thought it could be liberated from its militaristic reputation by indulging in music that can never be recuperated as serious or symbolic. World War II was the devastating consequence of unbridled nationalism, and every nation has had its nationalistic missteps and excessively sappy pop culture, where half of society is singing along while the other half is barfing up their bratwurst...

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Austria’s Infectious Yodeling History

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pp. 177-185

A yodeler from Graz, Styria, was fined in November 2010 for disturbing a Muslim prayer service while mowing his lawn. In a strange case of cultural confrontation, sixty-three-year-old Helmut G.’s Muslim neighbors complained to police that his yodeling mocked their muezzin who was leading the adhan (call to prayer), which, as is common, was also being broadcast outside into their yard via a loudspeaker...

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Scan-Da-NAY-Veee-AAAH and Siiigh-ber-EEE-ah

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pp. 186-193

In September 2010, Norwegian filmmaker Eivind Tolås1 and his cameraman passed by to document my radio show in a dingy, underground studio that usually smells of questionable bodily fluids and wet dog fur, somewhere in the clandestine heart of Amsterdam. I decided to spin only yodeling songs and presciently—or just coincidentally— played “Ku-Ku Jodel” by the comical and talented Norwegian duo PolkaBjørn and Kleine Heine. They’re bursting with leg-pulling talent, but, for “real” Swedish joddla, I vote for the inimitable Alice Babs...

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The Brits Oddly Deny Their Yodel Talent

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pp. 194-204

They do; mention British yodeling and Brits quickly change the subject, sweeping all evidence of dubious taste from their shores. Is it modesty, begrudging fascination, or association with a questionable cultural artifact that keeps them always looking elsewhere? Whatever the case, they prefer to partake of yodeling with the breadth of the English Channel between them and it. They readily admit to fascination with the crazy ways of Teutons and Aryans and cover the subject with a certain...

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The Belgian and Dutch Escape from Sobriety

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pp. 205-212

If the world becomes too sober, too Calvinist, then there’s always Dutch yodeling, which may be partly responsible for ushering in the liberating 1960s with its ability to unhinge us from the ballast of dominant cultures. In the 1950s, as the Netherlands strove to recover from WWII, yodeling emerged as an agent for change with yodelers like Olga Lowina injecting a healthy dose of ululating levity. The Lowlands have ever since been host to an exotic, polyethnic outburst of anomalous yodeling...

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La Vie Tyrolienne à Paris

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pp. 213-220

Incongruous moments in life offer insight into how we think about our world and our place in it. They are tricks of the mind like instants of Zen satori that force us out of conventional patterns and routines.
To illustrate: In 2005, artist friend Foto Sifichi, a displaced Scotsman from New York City living in Paris, during my annual visit left a cassette, Peter Rowan’s T for Texas (Waterfront, 1984), behind in my arranged lodgings...

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Spain’s Revolutionary Yodels

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pp. 221-224

During the Spanish Civil War, women in the coastal town of Bermeo managed to spook Mussolini’s Fascist troops by banging on pots and pans and screaming their high-pitched irrintzinas, effectively sending the troops into retreat.
Irrintzinas served as an aggressive battle cry among warriors defending Roncevaux when the Basques routed Charlemagne’s army in the eighth century.1 The cry has...

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pp. 225-228

Italy, like other industrial nations, continues to find national(istic) value in projecting pastoral images of itself. It spends millions maintaining this façade of a nation of noble farmers defined by the rolling sweep of sylvan splendor. This fosters pride of place, rootedness, which sometimes spills over into patriotism or regionalism. The maintenance of traditions already basically forgotten is an essential governmental, tourist-related task...

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Eastern Europe

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pp. 229-238

They have discreetly pointed out killers still living within shouting distance, still working their fields and tending their flocks, still smiling as they stroll by the house on their way home. . . . Zvijezda [is covered with] forests of beech, oak, and pine as well as rolling pasturelands, meadows . . . the aroma of manure, pine resin, and wood fires along with the . . . the screech of birds of prey, the tinkle of cowbells, and the “Yeoooo! Yeoooo” of peasant men and women summoning one another as they tend their flocks or work their fields. Life . . . has made these...

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Arab Yodeling: Between Yelp and Ululation

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pp. 239-242

The zaghareed1 is a yodel-like ululation performed almost exclusively by women across Africa, the Middle East, and Spain. It sounds like a keening trill punctuated by rapid voice breaks and oscillations—a shrill call to attention. When performed in unison by a group of women, it can have a powerful ambience-altering effect on any (often tense) situation and resembles the irrintzina and various American Indian war yelps. Algerians spooked...

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Yodel Asia

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pp. 243-267

Indian yodeling is out of this Western world but, oddly, very much a replica of it. Everything in Bollywood is not what it seems. Fantasy here is an intimate, undeniable aspect of reality, while reality must consist of a certain helping of absurd fantasy—silken veils, rickety sets portraying idyllic nature, characters conversing in elegant body language, breathtaking smiles, eroticism brimming, insinuating. Bollywood reality is told through the fantastic...

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Yodeling Outback and Down Under

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pp. 268-277

“With beautiful, beautiful Queensland / Out where the wild flowers grow / We’re proud of our beautiful climate / Where we never see ice or snow.”
Tex Morton rewrote W. Lee O’Daniel’s “Beautiful Texas” and called it “Beautiful Queensland,” revealing the charm and peril of Australia’s country yodeling past— imitative and vital, unique even, but never totally able to gallop out from under the shadow cast by real American...

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pp. 278-280

Hawaii is an ululator’s paradise in part because Hawaiians have a natural falsetto, which tends toward ornamentation and effortless voice-breaks and is everywhere to be heard. Hawaiian falsetto (leo ki’eki’e), or stretching the voice an octave beyond the normal range and then emphasizing the break, is an essential emotional-technical aspect of this vocalization. Falsetto was very likely an indigenous element of Hawaiian chanting...

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Yodelers in the Great White North

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pp. 281-290

Canada plays second fiddle to the United States in almost everything, but they’ve certainly produced their share of great yodelers—Wilf Carter and Hank Snow come immediately to mind. But it’s not all hand-medown Swiss or cowboy stuff.
Eskimo (Esquimaux) is the collective name for the indigenous Arctic Circle groups: the Yupik, Inuit, and Aleut. They inhabit a cold swath covering Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland and yodel for fun...

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Latin America—Ay Yaie Yaie EEEE OOOoo

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pp. 291-298

Latin America—from Mexico, through the Caribbean, and into Central and South America—despite my efforts, remains a difficult research terrain. There’s more yodeling here than meets the ear, essentially having existed, entertained, and reverberated across this region for centuries.
The fame of Colombia-born Shakira with her natural voice-break adding extra embellishment to an already rich voice has not really helped matters. Although, as...


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pp. 299-320

Illustration Credits

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pp. 321-322


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pp. 323-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780299290535
E-ISBN-10: 0299290530
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299290542
Print-ISBN-10: 0299290549

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 47 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2013