Echoes Of Home

*****

Reviewed by: Caro Ness

If I had been told before I switched on my DVD player that I was about to watch a film about yodelling I am afraid I would have told my editor to get lost. And the fact is I would have missed out because this extraordinary film by Stefan Schwietert taught me that yodelling as an art form is about so much more than you might imagine.

Most cultural references to yodelling lead us to the Goatherd scene in The Sound Of Music and that is about it. But this film shows us that far from dismissing the yodel as an obsolete musical oddity we should embrace it as an entirely new musical and cultural art form.

This documentary paints a truly loving picture of yodelling, a musical form still prevalent in Switzerland, Austria and Germany and, to a lesser degree, in North America. By profiling three masters of this craft, diverse in age, lifestyle and background, he explores not only the shared strands that connect these people but also how they have adapted the tradition to suit their own individual preferences and cultural references.

These musicians take this traditional Swiss folk music and combine it with all kinds of music, often experimental. It sometimes might remind us of the chanting of monks or jazz scat but then a sudden impulse to include sounds from the mountainous environment heralds a change in tempo that renders this music-making unique.

All three musicians see yodelling as a kind of echo chamber - born from the mountains of Switzerland - that throws up ideas about art, identity, landscape and history which have evolved over the passage of time. They borrow from anything that sparks their interest, so it might be the sound of a distant train or the cows in the byre for the winter, and this adds to the quite unexpected yet joyful spontaneity of this film. In paying homage to yodelling, Schwietert reveals to the viewer a world in which the voice and its raw power and energy can extend far beyond our simplistic notion of what singing symbolises.

What is different and great about this documentary is that it does not give us a narrator who tells us what we should think of this. Instead, it presents three different artists who tell us their stories – what drove them to yodel, what inspires them, and the telling is so compelling you forget your innate prejudices and just enjoy the strangeness and wonder of this art form.

This documentary has won two awards deservedly. It explodes the myth that yodelling is an outworn musical tradition, and shows us instead that it has a bright and innovative future. It is a film that I didn’t expect to enjoy or find gripping, intriguing and wondrous, yet I did. I urge you, too, to experience 82 minutes of the most extraordinary and unlikely entertainment you are likely to encounter this year.

Reviewed on: 17 Jan 2010
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All you ever wanted to know about Swiss yodelling but never dared ask.
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Director: Stefan Schwietert

Writer: Stefan Schwietert

Starring: Erika Stucky, Noldi Alder, Christian Zehnder

Year: 2007

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Switzerland, Germany

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