WTM #947: There’s Nothing Amiss with the Swiss Except the Way They Kiss

wReck thiS meSS ~ Radio Patapoe 88.3 ~ Amsterdam
6 November 2006

Switzerland is simply a large, lumpy, solid rock with a thin skin of grass stretched over it.
• Mark Twain

Switzerland, on a high mountain, not far from Lucerne, there is a lake they call Pilate’s Pond, which the Devil has fixed upon as one of the chief residences of his evil spirits
• Martin Luther
ìIn Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock!
• Simone Weil AND Orson Welles

The first time I passed through the country (Switzerland) I had the impression it was swept down with a broom from one end to the other every morning by housewives who dumped all the dirt in Italy.
• Ernesto S’bato

Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built on the cuckoo style of architecture.
• Ernest Hemingway

Morgeluft > Cyril Schlaepfer [1]
Wreck Up Version > Prince Jammy & the Agrgrovators [1a]
Herz > Doppelbock [2]
What Shakes > Sainkho Namchylak & Ned Rothenberg [3]
Tyz / Summertag / Ledoj Express > Christine Lauterburg [4]
Le Sirena > Demetrios Stratos & Lucien Fabbri [5]
Echo-Jodel > Peter Hinnen [6]
Long Way Home > Sainkho [3]
Ledoj Express > Christine Lauterburg [4]
Bettag > Christine Lauterburg [4]
Swiss Maiden’s Dance > Edelweiss Stars [7]
Planalp > Christine Lauterburg [4]
Sylvesterchlaus 2 > Buel-Bänkli Schuppel [8]
Yokomata ’06 > Christine Lauterburg [4]
Bergli im Treub > Doppelbock [2]
Quatember > Sait’n’Sang [9]
Geissbuebeliedli > Sonja Aebi [10]
Annegreth / Pfaffewalzer > Doppelbock [2]
Piraten > Gilbert Paeffgen Plus [9]
Alpstein [exc] > Christine Lauterburg [4]
Guggisberlied > Heimatflimmern [9]
D’r Münsterbärgler Natuurjodel > Jodlergruppe Swissair [11]
Rentrer > EAM [12]
One More Tequila > Pascal Schaer Quartet [13]
Oberbärgler und Stümpeli > Nadja Räss [14]
Wänns Winteret > Doppelbock [13]
Schäpfer Jodel > Älpler-Jodlergruppe Zihlmann [15]
Musflueh-Juitz > Jodlerklub Wisenberg [16]
Information Channel  EAM [12]
Ciumbararillalla > Christina Zurbrügg [13]
Piano Song > Planzplätz [17]
Z’Stückish > Erika Stucky [12]
Woschnuhi > Stimmhorn & Kold Electronics [12]

[1] “Morgeluft” on CSR is another in this series of incredibly enchanting soundscape CDs which are intoxicatingly representative sonic portraits of certain aspects of Swiss [vanshing] culture. “True Tone” volumes 1-5 including: [‘s Glüüt vols. 1-2], [ ‘s Fahr Glüüt], [Les Sonailles] [CD 91522, 91532, 91482, 91492] is a series of ambient recordings of, yes, the pastoral / past-aural Swiss scenery.
[2] “Obio” on Narrenschiff . Exquisite tightrope walk between traditional and modern renovating music in Switzerland. With Lauterberg on vocals/yodels. Saw them in Brugg, Switz. In early November. I am constantly amazed at the pervasive musicianship in Switzerland at the quality of it and that there are so many [free] performances. Switzerland is jammin’.
[3] Amazing Tuvan avant gardist who works with traditional material to make it at once her own and everyone’s.
[4] “Alles Bleibt Anders” on Dewil Music . One of my tops for 2006.
[5] Amazingly avant and retro singer who verges into yodeling, histrionics, vocal tectonics, and falsetto like no man before him and that goes for Freddy Mercury, Tiny Tim or Klaus Nomi. Some very interesting cross-cultural forays into throat-singing, other-worldly scat all set in a 70s prog rock setting. Courtesy of Giorgia and Massimo.
[6] Probably one of my/the mysteries or tragedies of pop music. One of the biggest stars in the pop music scene in Switzerland and I think Germany in the 60s he all but withdrew and became a male nurse only to return half-heartedly some 30 years later. One of the most gifted of the speed and pyrotechnic yodelers.
[7] The Edelweiss Stars were a Swiss-American group of hell-raisers in the 50s and 60s, who poured on the neo-trad good time music in America’s Midwest where traditions were preserved in a way that suited the people there best.
[8]  ” Um Alte Silveschter z’Urnaäsch” on CSR . These field recordings by Cyrill Schäpler record the strange Appenzeller pagan holiday in January when men dress as strange evil or good spirits. The masks remind you of something from the Middle Ages or mid-Africa. Incredibly haunting material.
[9] “Alpentöne 05” on Muysques Suisses. Highlights froma festival theat captures the ongoing tempest in a schnapps glass in Switzerland. But some fury does fly between the various camps: the traditionalists, the neo-trads, the official trads of the National Jodel organisation, the pop purveyors, the avant gardists who abuse/misuse/reuse [take your pick]traditional sounds, themes, instruments, vocals. It’s a robust but oft cantankerous row between someone guarding the old guard and someone who has blasted away some more of prized and treasured tradition [that is all cooked up in a simulacrum for consumption by tourists anyway]. But tradition lives most in those who are busy doing something with it as the musicians in this festival show. Liner notes: “Sait’Sang plays with bass notes and the voice in combination with theatrical expression, humour and sensuality. Howling strings meet bubbling voices.”
[10] “Dur z’Seeland Uf!” on Philips vinyl. Yodeling and all the other stuff done in a polite manner for the consumption of tourists who spent a week in Switzerland and a need a jolt of that old jägermeister, edelweiss, and jodeling.
[11] “Schweizer Heimatabend” on Tell Records vinyl.
[12] “EAM: Electro Acoustic Meeting” on EAM . An amazingly beautiful meeting of electro and acoustic that creates an ambience that reminds me of the romantic post-Rapahelite kind of folk-rock of 1960s UK… but also of mid-90s ambient and jazz and amazing landscapes. This could have easily been in my Top 2006 had it not been for the fact that I forgot it.
[13] “Alpine Music: Made in Switzerland” on Suisa. Compiled by one of the most knowledgeable of contemporary music, Urban Frye . A vast broad array of sounds that ultimately does have a very “Swiss” sound. Something for everyone and some things that everyone will hate. I love Stimmhorn but wonder what happened on their collaboration with Kold Electronics. I love odd meetings of disparate musical strategies but this one did not click. Also includes the inimitable Erika Stucky, Doppelbock and the fresh new [to me] voice of Nadja Räss.
[14] “Stimmreise.ch” on Tell Music. Räss is another one of ‘my’ recent discoveries. Not by me but for me. An amazingly clear-voiced yodeling researcher, teacher, composer and preserver of traditions in a way that you can get around. She doesn’t put the sons in some scratched and dusty glass museum case. No, she pulls them out, hangs them on a line and lets the yodel songs flutter and shimmer in the breeze.
[15] “Alpler-Jodlergruppe Zihlmann: De Schratteschäfer” on CSR. Amazingly interesting yodels from more than 40 years ago that have been revived by Cyrill Schlaepfer. The group is comprised of young and old and family members and friends and can only be described as the real thing, somewhat outside the rarefied/sterile realm of official traditional yodeling as espoused by the National Jodeler Organisation.  They are as I claim something equivalent to the Carter Family and would be something Allan Lomax would have salivated over for days.
[16] “Mey Freyd” on Phonoplay . Another group considered by many to cut through all the contrivance and hoopla of the regenerated real and actual to just plainly sing and yodel for REAL. Featured in a recent film, these farming yodelers have voices that cut through all the built up fat and cholesterol around a heart too readily coddled. Shake it up.
There is no country more enhanced and encumbered by the myths and misunderstandings that people hold on to with all their touristic might. Cuckoo clocks, for instance, altho famous for their watches they ARE NOT known for their cuckoo clocks – not like Bavaria, for instance – but that does not stop me from searching for one and finding one and along the way having everyone there tell me it is NOT really a Swiss thing… And yet, we continue to follow a manufactured image of this nation. I guess the Netherlands also profits [and loses some of its depth and identity] by latching itself to romantic images that tourists want to see and hear – wooden shoes, Van Gogh, coffeeshops… We give the tourists what they want, profit from it but feel somewhat emptier afterward – like a discount warehouse cleared to the walls after a sale.
There is also no nation more different than the Netherlands although when you are there as a Dutch speaker a strange audio-hallucinatory effect takes hold – after day 4 or 5 wandering around the city streets you begin to think you are hearing things, you begin to believe you understand Switzer Deutsch – you look at people, the way their mouths move, smirk, and swear you are understanding everything they are saying. There is something about the intonation of their German that seems to catch your eardrums the same way Dutch does. I thought I was going crazy until someone from Switzerland who had visited Amsterdam had almost the same exact experience except in reverse.
I have been in Switzerland a number of times and have been there twice for research purposes. The last times, 4 years ago while writing my yodel book I spent my last full day there unwinding [after 6 days of yodel intensity] I climbed a mountain, got high on the sun, the scents, the view, the thin air but most of all from the sounds, the atmospheric ambient orchestral sounds of cowbells in the foreground, passing from consciousness to unconscious, in the distance, on other mountains…
The Swiss seem to wrestle or engage or be annoyed with one another or find it stimulating to be in the age-old and yet hugely contemporary issue of identity and nation, of folk culture and who we are in that glom of conflicting stimuli. The Americans long for a royal, regal, mythical history and thus have Hollywood and the cult of fame, the British have their history [which of course simultaneously empowers and sarcastically laughs at its citizenry] while the Swiss are constantly dealing with issues of the real vs the image, illusion vs roots culture, commerce vs complexity, culture by political decree, wild outsider culture… The good thing is that despite some flared tempers and some indignant denunciations by the one side or the other that one is real and the other fake or whatever, there is live music everywhere and that liveness brings people to the fore – in these smoky cafes and bars, you encounter rosy-cheeked people listening, dreaming, contemplating, scheming, dancing, singing, yodeling and arguing about who is upholding the Swissness of Switzerland: the official preservers of culture [conservative preservatives?], the playful ad hoc traditionals [they like to play with traditional music and improvise], the pop trads [ remunerative and surfacy play with tradition], the rockers [hating everything to do with embarrassing Swissness], the mature musicians [they take from everywhere and mix anything and everything to create an international Swissness that is certainly more savory than Switzerland’s secretive international banking sleaze]…
While in Switzerland we met BBC reporter, grad student, musician and sometime yodeler, Serena Dankwa who is from Ghana but just as much from Switzerland. She is Swiss. Being black that creates awkward cultural moments and constant explanation that one of her parents is African the other European [Swiss]. She could yodel based on her interest stimulated by the avant gardists but brought back from her childhood learning yodels and songs taught to her by her mom. We met, interviewed, filmed and drank schnaps with some of the Zihlmann clan in the Entlebuch region of small villages and farms. There we met a traditional roots family who has continued to yodel on site and in a jodel group and even became somewhat renowned in the 1960s because of Alan Lomax-like recordings made of their songs. Sitting here and understanding little but feeling a lot [and hearing NO yodeling today] I realized how engrained certain practices like singing in and with a family is as far as identity [family, region, canton, national] and see how they deal with that balance between traditional and modern [they have modern tractors, TVs, mobile phones and yet therir lifestyles still clings to many habits, manners that keeps them in touch with who they are through what they do [they yodel, sing, make their own cheese, raise cattle, make their own schnapps]. We also visited yet another person straddling the tradition vs modern divide. Nadja Räss, the young effervescent rage in song and research is that ideal lovely ambassador and negotiator who can make both traditionalists and modernists put away their arsenal of grumpy preconceptions. She is inspired by tradition, lives and yodels with a view of amazingly breathtaking [for a Dutchman whose experience with hills are dirt mounds – Paloma upon passing a huge dirt mound at a building site said ‘Hey, daddy, look a mountain in Amsterdam] mountains in the backdrop where outside you hear the lingering time delay echoes of bells and children playing far off in the distance… And, yes, Nadja has a voice, temper, soulful investment that makes her real without being stuffy or encumbered by the frills and handcuffs of tradition. Then we met the amazing vocalist, Christine Lauterberg who has always had a very open and constructive antagonism with pre-heated tradition and sings like someone with roots in the earth and roots in the sky and yet, she, as everyone else mentioned and not has to deal with issues of the acceptable, the transgressive, the sentimental, the profiteering, the satirical and many of these people, musicians and yodelers embrace a wide and varied approach to culture, folk music and tradition. This was best exemplified by the ‘farmer’ ‘herder’ guys we met in the Muotathal valley where people still live traditionally and yet have all the creature comforts of modern society. Christian and Bernard, both who sing/yodel a lovely natuurjodel juutz that is dug right out of a mountainside with a shovel made of soul and yet Bernard is in a rock band where he does NO yodeling and his favorite music is rock and metal, with his fave being Creedence Clearwater. Meanwhile, Bernard also sang and yodeled in a family yodel group where the official traditions of strict guidelines and rules of what is ‘folk’ are maintained by judges who keep these strict guidelines to preserve folk music to death… [To Be Continued]


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