In general, obstacles tend to amplify the creative process. When an artist has to “work around” a problem, the result is quite often a striking new idea or process. In my personal experience, the obstacle has generally been that I’m more or less broke. Because of this, I’ve done a lot of investigating into how to achieve electronic sounds in non-electronic ways– small party whistles become failing modems, my mouth is an envelope filter, thawing ice or salt sprinkled on tin foil can simulate the Max/MSP granular microsounds so often heard in avant-garde recordings.
It was with a feeling of synchronicity that I opened a package from Innova Recordings to find Judy Dunaway’s “Mother of Balloon Music.” Having only a few days prior hit upon the notion that a rubbed balloon sounded remarkably like an expensive synthesizer, I had been experimenting with a few leftover party balloons to generate rapid squeaking, low rumbles, the popping effect produced by allowing the ballooon surface to “slip” under heavy pressure, shouting through the balloon, and (my favorite) a continuous wavering tone from rubbing circular patterns on the surface with wet fingertips.
Turns out, all I had been missing was a few talented musicians to play along with me, and nearly twenty years of practice! With “Mother of Balloon Music,” Dunaway shows why she deserves the title– although she may not have invented the techniques (I’m being pragmatic, and citing generations of children who are natural improvisors), she certainly has put in major effort to nurture the sounds, techniques, and ideas associated with the balloon-as-instrument.
If you don’t believe me, check the liner notes. Dunaway makes note of the almost spiritual connection a player has to the instrument. It is, after all, filled with human breath. Dunaway ties thoughts about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest (a source of rubber), with notions of the balloon as a statement against “high art”, gender inequality, and the separation of music from sensuality.
Obviously, I hadn’t gotten around to discovering any of this, so in many ways it was very interesting and exciting to see than an artist has so fully explored (and continues to explore!) an aural realm of personal interest to myself. On the other hand, it was a little depressing– New York strikes again! Does this happen to you too?
But back to the album at hand… “Mother of Balloon Music” has excellent recording quality; immediate and up-front, with well-defined sonic detail that I know is present in balloon sounds. The liner notes are well-written and thought-provoking, but a bit hard for me to read with long blocks of text that might be nicer in columns. Not much of a complaint, really! I especially appreciate the background information provided for Dunaway, as well as her collaborators– this is a polite touch that is all too often overlooked.