AMPLIFIED TENOR BALLOON
Latex balloons as sound conduits have been my primary artistic focus for over 20 years. From the beginning, I limited myself to the latex balloon and the body. It was essential to be able to physically feel the vibrations, air pressure and texture of the balloons. By using the mouth, hands and body I could more effectively navigate the malleable sounds. In most of my large catalogue of creations for balloons, the latex balloon is used directly as a sound producer. I primarily use the balloons in three sound capacities: reeds, orb-shaped strings, and resonators.
Science cannot explain some of the strange acoustic phenomena produced by latex balloons. The balloon is capable of a wide variety of timbres and techniques that no other instrument can produce. The balloon is entirely flexible because the latex molecule can spread out and spring back to its original shape. The pitches produced are infinitesimally microtonal. The natural harmonic series is distorted due to the spherical shape and the flexibility of the substance. The balloon functions as its own resonator, amplifying its own inherent frequencies.
The video documentation (viewable via YouTube link) is a solo improvisation on a large balloon used as an orb-shaped string. (I refer to this balloon as the “tenor balloon” because of its larger size and its range, though in reality it is probably more of a countertenor.)
The “tenor balloon” functions as an orb-shaped string. Imagine a violin string spread out into an orb. The balloon orb has an overtone series like a string. The balloon can be stimulated with the hands in the same “stick and slip” fashion as a bow on a violin. The latex, however, is so sensitive and bouncy that when the note sounds, it breaks into a mutating harmonic series. The latex stretches and contracts many times within the milliseconds it takes to make the simple squeak, thus the harmonic series is always changing. When this sound is slowed through time-stretching one can hear how a pitch in the harmonic series can waiver as much as a whole step before it goes to the next harmonic.
I have found that the most control can be achieved through simply using the hands, because one can actually feel what is happening. I moisten my hands with very warm water, which lessens the amount of friction without stopping the friction completely. The overtone series, tuning and timbre vary according to where one is playing on the balloon’s surface. The range is controlled by the amount of pressure applied by the hands. Pitch can be adjusted within a range of about a perfect fifth by squeezing and releasing the knees.
The balloon is amplified with a small pick-up attached to the surface (not viewable in video as it is attached to the underside of the balloon). The pick-ups have been customized especially for the purpose of using them with the tenor balloon.
The performance on this video uses no electronic processing.
Since its creation in the mid-1990s I have given hundreds of performances on the Tenor Balloon throughout the North America and Europe, as well as releasing recordings of it on numerous labels.