Fragmented Frequencies August 2010

Tex Morton

If you were glued to the TV during the World Cup you know the ad. It was repeated ad nauseam until it became part of our central nervous systems, part of our circuitry, firing the synapses around our brains. Apparently a split second decision is all that stands between Wayne Rooney being knighted by the queen or living in a trailer park. Yes it’s that Nike ad where they spent gazillions roping in all the stars, none of whom fired in the Cup. Aside from Nike’s desperation to paint themselves as the breakfast of champions, Fragmented Frequencies was left with a lingering feeling, there was something familiar here.

Restless after the tense Spain Vs. Portugal draw, (and the 734th viewing of the ad) it finally crystalized. It was the music, this bizarre inspired hyper energetic meld of rock riffage and, well, yodeling. We’d heard it before. Retreating to the vinyl there it was. 1971’s Moving Waves from Dutch prog dudes Focus. The song was Hocus Pocos and it’s the kind of ludicrous nonsensical fusion that makes music great. Whilst the corporation has ruined it for us now, it does warm the cockles to know that thanks to Nike the band are once again knee deep in cocaine blow-jobs. This kind of creativity deserves reward. And so does the much maligned art of yodeling.

Everything you believe about yodeling is probably wrong. It’s not just a Swiss thing, though a few years ago the Age was heralding yodeling as the new yoga for the Swiss dinner party set. These days however you can find it in not just Austria and Germany, but New Zealand, India, even West Africa. Wherever there are lungs yodeling inevitably follows. There’s nothing like it. It’s possibly one of the most ridiculous sounds that can come from the human mouth, aside from the word “chillax”. It’s absurdly kitsch, yet also undeniably fascinating. Apparently developed over 10,000 years ago by herders attempting to communicate with their beasts at great distance, these days it finds itself acquainted with country music in the US. Gillian Welsch describes her style as ‘yodeling at underwater speed,’ whilst Mike Johnson promotes himself as America’s No.1 black yodeler. Apparently nothing says heartbreak like a good yodel.

In 2006 the Rough Guide to Yodel appeared in which Amsterdam based DJ Bart Plantenga compiled a bizarre collection of contemporary yodeling techniques. Perhaps most curious was the Berlin based electronic dub of Alpendub VS. The Man Cable, which is an impossibly smooth down-tempo electro groove fusion, though the Mongolian throat singing, yodeling and shamanistic wailing of Sainkho Namtchylak makes Yoko Ono sound like the lead singer of Matchbox Twenty.

In Australia yodeling is of course woven indelibly into our social fabric. In Kew in the 30’s councillors drew up a bill to prevent milkmen yodeling in the early hours of sunday morning. However despite the occasional freak kid on Red Faces, it’s our country artists who carried the flag. Like the father of country music in Australia, Tex Morton who recorded My Sweetheart’s In Love With A Swiss Mountaineer in the mid 30’s. But since then everyone from Slim Dusty to Smoky Dawson have had a crack and Tim McNamara’s 1954 Homeward Bound not only mentions the Dandenongs, but has him yodeling a train sound. Yet it begs the question: Where has all the yodeling gone?

Anyway back to the present, and Melbourne’s one man avant garde laser show Robin Fox opened a photographic exhibition last week at the Centre For Contemporary Photography. Proof of Concept is an exhibition of Fox’s visual practice, with images constructed via sound, yet unlike sound they’re frozen in time. “Basically I wanted to capture slices of audible time visually,” he offers. “Just capture a second or two and freeze it so that I could see what was happening in that moment. What I love about the exhibition is that it is silent and nothing moves. That’s really new for me!”

If you’re interested in catching some of his less silent and more agile work he’s putting on his laser show as part of Everybody Talks About the Weather II, on the 26th of August, where some of Melbourne’s most renowned experimental and noise artists take over the Corner’s big PA and abuse it for evil. Joining him are Oren Ambarchi, Marco Fusinato and Pivixki (pianist Anthony Pateras and Agents of Abhorrence drummer Max Kohane), who after a blistering EP on Sabbatical last year have dropped their debut LP Gravissima (Lexicon Devil), which has the label breathlessly referencing the likes of Goblin and Magma which can only be a good thing. If only they yodeled.

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