Bart Plantenga and the gnosis of yodeling

Bart Plantenga, left, with the late yodeling cowboy Kenny Roberts.

Bart Plantenga, left, with the late yodeling cowboy Kenny Roberts.

One of these fine days, when the thrashing grounds are free and clear, it must be thrashed out whether the yodeler is an artist or a freak.
— from Closing the Gap, by Chandler Brossard

It’s safe to say that Bart Plantenga — writer, editor, translator, deejay for pirate radio stations, beer mystic, flaneur, and taker of photographs with an unloaded camera — is, like most of the yodelers he admires, both an artist and a freak. No, he doesn’t practice the art himself, but you won’t find a person on the planet more knowledgeable in the history, lore, and vocal poetry of yodeling.

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“I no longer deny that yodeling — not religion, not money — is what makes the world go round,” says Plantenga, an expatriate who lives and works in Amsterdam. “I careen through life, from yodel to yodel. Call it research, audio hallucination, hypersensitivity, or looniness (that’s OK, loons yodel), because I hear everything — pop music, politics, sex, sirens, ‘bee-ah-hee-ah’ vendors at Yankee Stadium — through the ears of a media-declared ‘yodel expert,’” he adds, tongue firmly in epiglottis.

Cover of Bart Plantenga’s new book.

Cover of Bart Plantenga’s new book.

On Saturday, August 3, Plantenga will read from his second book on the subject, Yodel in Hi-Fi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica, at The Golden Notebook in Woodstock at 3 p.m. Following his presentation, attendees will mosey over to Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast, where Plantenga will do another short reading as part of Passero’s Cookbook Concert Series No. 2, featuring Passero, a Hudson Valley band that alchemizes almost every strain of world music and also plays exhilarating original material. Joining the festivities at one or both of the events will be a bevy of special guests, including Woodstock’s poet laureate Ed Sanders, who introduced yodeling to proto-punk performance poetry, and Joziah Longo of Gandalf Murphy and His Slambovian Circus — with time in between acts for food, drink, and carousing until 9 p.m.

As a cross-cultural ambassador for a vocal practice that, historically, has been maligned, misunderstood, and marginalized by the Western musical mainstream, Plantenga sees one of his primary missions as the dispelling of clichés and myths about yodeling — for instance, the widespread supposition that it originated with pink-fleshed, liederhosen-clad bergsteigers of the Swiss and German Alps.

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