Stefan Schwietert's documentary about contemporary Swiss yodeling, Echoes of Home (Heimatklange), authoritatively conveys the importance of yodeling as a traditional folk art of Switzerland, and captures its revitalization as a source for new artistic expression through three Swiss musicians. Of the three, Noldi Alder is the most visible link between yodeling as traditional and experimental art. Alder was born into a family long famed for its traditional yodeling. He achieved early success playing with his siblings, and even toured Japan. Living on a family farm perched high on a mountainside, the now mature Alder explores the parameters of yodeling much to the dismay of his elderly traditionalist father.
Also featured is Erika Stucky, a Swiss-American who spent her first eight years in San Francisco before moving to an isolated Swiss hamlet. In San Francisco, wee Erika decided that rather than be a doctor, lawyer, fireman, or President, she wanted to be a "hula hula" dancer when she grew up. Marvelously, she's followed her dream and today does performance art that incorporates yodeling, hula hooping, various instruments, and video. Stucky, much to her young daughter's embarrassment, is a free-spirit who would have made a fascinating subject for Errol Morris' First Person series.
The third of Schwietert's trio of subjects is Christian Zehlder. Zehlder is a world-class experimental musician; the kind that will never achieve commercial success, but who deserves great respect amongst music's most cultured elite. The versatility of his voice is truly impressive, and it's a joy to see him travel to the Russian Republic of Tuva to sing with the Huun-Huur-Tu throat singers. This cross-cultural collaboration is surely the highpoint of the documentary, and a great pleasure to behold.
Alder, Stucky, and Zehlder are teachers as well as practitioners. We see Alder and Stucky each working with large groups of adult beginners who, to paraphrase Alder, could not be dissuaded from pursing this musical form. Zehlder, on the other hand, is shown providing one-on-one instruction with an advanced student in an inadvertently comical scene reminiscent of something out of Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind with Zehlder making an odd and nearly impossible sound, the student mimicking it nearly perfectly but not to Zehlder's satisfaction and both continuing the call back and forth to each other in earnest numerous times seemingly oblivious to how absurd it may come across to the uninitiated viewer.
To the film's great credit there is no narration, and each subject is provided ample opportunity to express him- or herself. Through artistically-framed landscape shots, Schwietert also does a good job of grounding the film in a particular place, linking yodeling's unique tonal aspects to the geography of Switzerland where the mountains provide a natural echo and offer an incitement to sing out as proof against their isolating nature and humbling scale.
Echoes of Home is a release of the Canadian DVD and theatrical distribution company Mongrel Media. It is only available from Canadian retailers.
Echoes of Home is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic image that appears to perfectly render the original HDV source. The removable subtitles, available in English or French, provide a good translation and are appropriately sized, paced, and placed.
The original German audio track is provided in a 2.0 stereo that sounds very good, with no notable drop out or distortion.
There are no extras on this release.
Echoes of Home will be of special interest to fans of folk and experimental music, and should be of interest to a large segment of fans of independent documentaries generally. For these viewers, Echoes of Home is recommended.