Yodelling is one of those “always wanted to know but were afraid to ask” topics. While deejaying at the independent New Jersey radio station WFMU, music writer Bart Plantenga stumbled upon a staggering variety of people engaging in yodelling. He discovered that the technique had pervaded the globe as a traditional way of singing in tribal communities, especially in the different permutations of cow-herder prototypes—be they Swiss or Norwegian or American (movie) cowboys, but also in jazz and avant-garde scenes. To his own surprise, Plantenga enjoyed it.
Yodel in Hi-Fi is Plantenga’s second book on the topic, covering ground he had left unexplored in the first. Using written sources and informants, he gets into the nuts-and-bolts of yodelling, and discusses theories of its possible (rather than plausible) origins and subsequent spread over the globe, and elucidates the physical technicalities—how the body emits a yodel. Like a turn-of-the-millennium Alan Lomax, he describes encounters with yodellers he has tracked down. He delights in lists: chronologies of African, American, and Afro-American yodellers; yodelling worldwide; composers and works that use yodelling; movies that contain yodelling, including a separate list of Disney films.
Books about music tend to be informative; few are entertaining as well; Yodel in Hi-Fi accomplishes both. Plantenga approaches the subject with earnestness and lighthearted humour, staying true to yodelling’s nature and the way it is generally perceived. He is the first to acknowledge that, and this attitude shines through the book. The fact that he actually likes and enjoys yodelling surprises him afresh time and again. Yes, he’ll admit, the music can be wacky, of questionable taste sometimes, but there is no such thing as a coy yodeller. You can only go at it full-tilt: Yodel-ay-hee-hoo!