Judy Dunaway

Mother of Balloon Music

Innova 648


Etude No. 1 for Balloon and Violin (2004) [9’15]

Improvisation by Judy Dunaway (balloon) and Tom Chiu (violin).



For Balloon and String Quartet (2001)

(Commissioned by the American Composers Forum)

Composed by Judy Dunaway

Performed by Judy Dunaway, balloons, and FLUX Quartet (Tom Chiu, violin; Conrad Harris, violin; Max Mandel, viola; Dave Eggar, cello).


2) First Movement [5’24]

3) Second Movement [8’43]

4) Third Movement [7’25]



5) The Balloon Factory (2004-2006) [3’12]

Created by Judy Dunaway (giant balloon improvisation, editing/mixing) and Damian Catera (sampling and real-time processing with MAX/msp).



6) For Bass Koto with Balloons (2000) [11’36]

Composed and Imposed by Judy Dunaway

Performed by Ryuko Mizutani, bass koto.



7) The Rubber Forest (2004-2006) [4’44]

Created by Judy Dunaway (balloon improvisation, editing/mixing) and Damian Catera (sampling and real-time processing with MAX/msp).



8) Etude No. 2 for Balloon and Violin (2004) [5’42]

Improvisation by Judy Dunaway (balloon) and Tom Chiu (violin).


All works published by Lilly Myrtle Music (BMI).



From my earliest work with balloons as musical instruments in the late 1980’s, I instinctively knew that I must approach them without inhibition.  I limited my playing techniques to the balloon and my body, as it was essential to be able to physically feel the vibrations, air pressure, and texture of the balloons in order to fully interact with all sonic possibilities.  This non-judgmental aural relationship, and its corporeal visual manifestation also served as a rebellion against power structures that have oppressed women, and ultimately all humankind, by severing the connection between the psyche and the body.


Throughout the past millennium, power structures in Western culture have used dissociation of music and the human body as an effective tool to control and manipulate the masses.  In medieval times, church officials in Rome sought to ban music from the church for fear it was too sensual.  The nun/composer Hildegard von Bingen altered the course of history when she convinced the medieval church officials that all sacred music, both instrumental and vocal, functioned as a bridge between God and humanity.  In spite of this, sensuality continued to be associated with sin and sensuality grew to be considered a product of the feminine -- whether in the guise of a woman, a transgender (such as Joan of Arc) or a homosexual. The church believed the seductiveness of femininity must be repressed in order to protect men (including priests) from sin.  Thus sensuality in music was equally restrained and punished, lest it appear too seductively feminine.


European “explorers” used this repression of the body to justify genocide and slavery.   Music and dance were a unified art in other cultures, and within this art, sex was glorified.  The European invaders claimed this as evidence of their superiority to other races because, for them, dissociation between art and the body was tantamount to supreme spirituality and intellect.


In the 20th Century, with the rise of feminism, civil rights, gay/gender rights, and recognition of the intellectual equality of other cultures, this separation between art and the body began to disintegrate.   The natural inclination of human beings to experience art holistically combined with the capabilities of new technology began to force the dominant power structures into a new acceptance.  Film reunited sound and image, and television transported it into a personal setting. 


In the 1960’s, influenced by the philosophies of John Cage and inspired by the new opportunities for individual self-expression, avant-garde sound artists of all races, genders, sexualities, and social strata celebrated the end of “high art.”  The toy balloon frequently appears as both a statement against elitism and an exploration of formerly forbidden soundscapes in the work of these optimistic pioneers.  In 1963, as part of the First Annual New York Avant Garde Festival, Charlotte Moorman included a balloon pop in her interpretation of Cage’s “26’1.1499” for string player” (1963).  Numerous artists involved with the so-called “Fluxus” movement including George Maciunus, Ben Patterson, Ay-O, Claus Oldenberg and Robert Watts used balloons as sound producers in their multi-media happenings.  Mauricio Kagel included seven pages of balloon instructions in his seminal composition “Acustica” (1968).


However, jazz composer Anthony Braxton’s “Composition 25” (1972), which utilizes 250 balloons divided amongst fifteen musicians, best demonstrates the full symbolic meaning of the balloon in the early avant-garde.  In “Composition 25,” balloon sounds replicated those of expensive electronic equipment that was not affordable to most African-American composers at that time.  Thus the balloon, like jazz itself, functioned as a parody of white culture and a protest against classism.  Furthermore, Braxton used balloons as improvisational tools, rather than controlled instruments.  Be-bop, and the collective improvisational music it spawned, showed the African tradition of improvisation as rivaling the intellect of the European model.  Braxton used balloons as a tool to change the way the improvisors thought about sound, to free them from inhibitions and to open their minds to limitless possibilities.


My own work then, 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.


The violin was created as an interpretation of the voice, and notational systems reflected the tones the composer wanted to hear.  But the sounds of balloons are irregular and uncontrollable.  The balloon is entirely flexible because the latex molecule can spread out and then spring back to its original shape.  The pitches produced are infinitesimally microtonal.  The natural harmonic series is distorted due to the flexibility of the substance and the spherical shape. The balloon also functions as its own resonator, amplifying its own strange inherent frequencies.  The balloon does not lend itself to tonal music. The balloon, rather than the composer/improvisor, sets its own musical boundaries.


"For Balloon and String Quartet"(written specifically for the FLUX Quartet and myself) melds the instrumental idiosyncrasies of the balloon with the string quartet.  It spotlights a different sound capacity of the balloon in each movement - in the first movement as a "reed" instrument (reflecting into my mouth as a resonant chamber), in the second movement as an orb-shaped string (rubbed with wet hands), and in the third movement as a giant resonator (with the tones excited by the subtle vibrations of hand-held tape-players and vibrators).  The string quartet plays within similar parameters as the balloon in order to bring this special identity to the entire ensemble.


“Etudes One/Two for Balloon and Violin” (with collaborator Tom Chiu) reveal the nature of the earlier improvisational explorations that lead to the creation of “For Balloon and String Quartet.”  “Etude One” focuses on the balloon as an orb-shaped string, and “Etude Two” zeroes in on the balloon as a reed instrument.  “The Balloon Factory” (balloon as giant resonator) and “The Rubber Forest” (balloon as orb-shaped string) also concentrate on singular techniques, electronically processed in real-time by Damian Catera.


In Japan in the 1600’s, only males of the elite classes were allowed to play the koto.  Blind musician Yatsuhashi Kengyo dedicated his life to making koto playing accessible to the general public, a trend that eventually included women.  In “For Bass Koto with Balloons,” I place endless obstacles in the musical path of the improvisor (Ryuko Mizutani) by replacing many of the bridges with balloons (see photo) and constructing a complex game of cards that influences and restricts every improvisational move, as well as the overall structure of the piece.  The obstacles are symbolic of those that women and all other disadvantaged individuals must overcome in order to survive and to thrive in the world.  As with all oppressive systems, the rules of this piece often dictate silence.


Balloons are made from the sap of the Hevea Brasiliensis plant, commonly known as the “rubber tree.”  In the natural habitat of rubber trees, the Amazon rainforest, the indigenous people take from the forest in a non-destructive manner by tapping rubber and gathering chestnuts to sell, and hunting and fishing for their own food. However, greedy landowners who want to clear-cut the forest for timber have murdered hundreds (perhaps thousands) of the indigenous people of the rubber forests and their advocates, including, in 2005, the American nun Dorothy Stang.  Stang had worked for 30 years to protect the rights of the rubber tappers and to save the rainforests. She reportedly often wore an imprinted t-shirt which said “The death of the forest is the end of our life.”


The Amazon rainforest, known as “the lungs of the earth,” produces over 20% of the world’s oxygen.  Its complete destruction could bring about the end of all life on earth.  The balloon is made of the “blood” of the Amazon’s rubber tree and filled with human breath. In my work, the balloon and the body are one. I feel that to sever our minds from our bodies is to sever our connection to Mother Earth.  Have we inadvertently turned global blood into a party favor?


                                         Judy Dunaway






Since 1990, JUDY DUNAWAY has created over forty compositions for balloons as sound producers, and has also made this her main instrument for improvisation.  She has presented her work throughout North American and Europe at many well-known venues and festivals including Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, The Edna and Roy Disney Center, the Bang On A Can Festival, the Guelph Jazz Festival, Podewil and ZKM.  Her discography includes recordings on the CRI, Knitting Factory Works and Outer Realm labels.  Ms. Dunaway holds a M.A. in Music from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and she is currently completing a Ph.D. in Music Composition from State University of New York (Stony Brook).


Experimental violinist TOM CHIU, founder of the FLUX Quartet, has performed over 100 premieres worldwide and has worked closely with many distinguished composers and improvisors including Virko Baley, Dean Drummond, Oliver Lake, Chen Yi and Ornette Coleman. Mr. Chiu’s discography includes recordings for the Asphodel, Cambria, Koch, Sombient, and Tzadik labels. His original works as a composer/improvisor have been performed throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia.  He holds degrees in music and chemistry from Juilliard and Yale.


"One of the most fearless and important new-music ensembles around," (Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle) "who has a brought a new renaissance to quartet music," (Kyle Gann, The Village Voice) the FLUX QUARTET has performed to rave reviews at many music centers around the world, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Library of Congress.  FLUX captivates its audiences with a vivid repertoire ranging from "classics" by Conlon Nancarrow, Iannis Xenakis and John Cage, to new works by John Zorn and Elliott Sharp.  Recent appearances in New York include the Ligeti Festival and a performance of all five of composer Giancinto Scelsi’s string quartets.  Their recording of Morton Feldman’s monumental six hour work “String Quartet No. 2” can be heard on Mode Records.


DAMIAN CATERA is an electroacoustic composer/guitarist, sound installation creator and media artist. Catera's work reflects interests in sound based composition/ improvisation, transmission and sociopolitical critique. He has toured the US and Europe and has also presented work in Latin America and Asia.  Most recently he performed in the Prague Biennale, collaborated on a transmission based sound installation at the Udjadowski Castle in Warsaw, Poland and also participated in the New Sound New York festival.



RYUKO MIZUTANI studied both classical and modern koto music under the world renowned koto masters Tadao and Kazue Sawai. As a member of the Kazue Sawai Koto Ensemble, she toured in Europe, Asia and the U.S.  From 1999-2001 she was an artist-in-residence at Wesleyan University, where she premiered works by Alvin Lucier, Anthony Braxton, David Behrman and Pauline Oliveros.  Ms. Mizutani’s discography includes Koto Lantana “Tnaka,” Alvin Lucier’s “Still Lives,” Hideaki Kuribayashi’s “Koto: Kuri First,” and her own solo CD “Vista.”



Produced by Judy Dunaway and Brenda Hutchinson

Recording Engineers:

Damian Catera (1, 5, 7, 8)

Matthew A. Girard and Nik Chinboukas (2, 3, 4)

Malcolm Kirby (6)

Recording Studios:

Harsh House, Jersey City, NJ (1, 5, 7, 8)

Spin, Brooklyn, NY (2, 3, 4)

The Tone House, Rochester, NY (6)

MLab, Somersworth, NH (3)

DB, Jamaica Plain, MA (2, 4)

Editing: Judy Dunaway, Brenda Hutchinson and Matthew A. Girard

CD Mastering: Harvestworks, NYC


Front and back cover photos: Efrain John Gonzalez


Front cover photo retouching: Christoph Bangert

Cover photo hair/makeup: Laurie Hefner

Interior photos: Efrain John Gonzalez, Bozidar Yerkovich, Franz Luthe.

Interior photo retouching: James Murray

Graphic design: Philip Blackburn

Liner notes:  Judy Dunaway


I would like to express my most humble gratitude to all involved in this project for your kindness and generosity.   Additional thanks to Helmut Biehler-Wendt, Bjorn Dittmer-Roche, Brad Ellis, Evan Gallagher, Johannes Goebel, Markus Kritzokat, Alvin Lucier, Sue Schlotte, Renate Seitz, Daria Semegen, Robert Smith, Jim Staley at Roulette, Bernhard Sturm, Dan Weymouth, Scott Wilson, and the Institute for Music and Acoustics at ZKM.  -- Judy Dunaway




Warning: Balloons are a choking hazard.  Children under 8 years can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Adult supervision is required.  Keep uninflated balloons from children.  Discard broken balloons at once.