Judy Dunaway: Amplified Pneumatic Squeakitude

Mother of Balloon Music by Judy Dunaway

Initially, exposure to composer/performer Judy Dunaway and her “virtuostic balloon-playing” broke my brain. But after the giggle fit subsided, I realized I was genuinely in awe of the woman, for many of the same reasons I’ve long adored Harry Partch, Hans Reichel, Clara Rockmore, and Klaus Nomi. Like them, Dunaway is utterly fearless in her approach to her craft, and unflinching in the face of inevitable backlash from both her classical and avante-garde contemporaries. (It takes ovaries of steel to play Lincoln Center with nothing but an amplified balloon between your knees, ah tell you whut.)

Her Etudes No.1 and 2 for Balloon and Violin (2004) are particular favorites of mine, perhaps because they’re what my own stuffy classical violin instructor would undoubtedly have dismissed as “good musicans behaving unforgivably.” I’m at a loss to accurately describe the music… imagine what an orgy of parasitic wasps being slowly pressed to death between two lubricated sheets of mylar might sound like. New York Press writer Kenneth Goldsmith likened Dunaway’s live performances to witnessing “Cab Calloway in Munchkinland… Olivier Messiaen on helium.”

Dunaway’s own statement of purpose is more straightforward:

My own work … does not come out of a void. Creating a large body of work for balloons has allowed me to develop a vocabulary outside the realm of oppressive classical heritage. It has raised the ordinary and mundane to the status of high art. I have fetishized this simple cheap toy in my music, as the violin has been fetishized for centuries by Western European-influenced composers. In an era where the progress toward a woman’s control of her own body is threatened, I have coupled myself to a musical instrument that expresses sensuality, sexuality and humanity without inhibition.

Hooo wee! You go, girl!

Kudos to Brian V. for reminding me of her!

4 Responses to “Judy Dunaway: Amplified Pneumatic Squeakitude”

  1. Irene Kaoru Says:

    Feminist balloon music. I am in awe.

  2. cordara Says:

    any samples out there that don’t require the useless realmedia layer?

  3. theremina Says:

    Cordara, can you listen to samples of her on emusic or iTunes? Otherwise I don’t know what to tell ya.

  4. e Says:

    wow, good stuff. i really like Etude No. 2.. It brings to mind some of the things that Sainkho Namchylak does with her voice. Particularly on her album Amulet.