One of Britain’s most diverse percussionists, Joby Burgess is known for his virtuosic performances across films such as Black Panther, Mission: Impossible, Alien, Paddington, The Darkest Hour and many more. During the recording of Superball at the iconic British Grove Studios in London, we sat down with Joby to discuss his career, his gear and how he uses Superball.
What is a Superball and how do you use it on percussion?
JB: Superball is plastic toy ball with a stick shoved in it, and you can use it on many percussion instruments just to create friction. Generally large instruments work best so that's what we're doing today - we're recording Thunder Sheets, Tam Tams, Gongs, Taikos, Timpani, and various other effects. It creates this sort of moaning, wailing sound so you get contact and friction but you don't really get the regular attack or pitch of the instrument.
What would you say is unique to the sounds you can get from a Superball mallet?
JB: It's just a different sort of vibe, you're adding a bit more mystery to the sound really. It's everything 1960s, early 70s Sci-Fi – that where we tend to hear these sort of eerie, otherworldly sounds and of course we hear them much more common place today in lots of big budget Sci-Fi films, but it's been around for quite a while. Interestingly you also find other instrumentalists using Superball as well, so it's not just percussionists that use this technique nowadays.
Is it something that you are commonly asked to perform in film scores?
JB: It's not something that we use every day, but when you want something a bit mysterious and ominous it can provide an incredible effect. Tam Tam is probably the principle place where it's asked to be used as it provides such a great colour. I remember performing on the score for Alien vs. Predator about 10 years ago, and the composer suggested that we try using Superball on other instruments. We spent a day in the hall at Air Studios experimenting with Superball on just about anything we could find, and it lead to some amazing discoveries!
You have a large array of custom Superballs, can you tell us about them?
JB: Good question, because Superballs are kind of these weird, rare things! My mate, Mike Balter who is over in Chicago, makes these wonderful things as a part of his collection of sticks. They come in various sizes – they're not very large, but they're really good because they always work which is fantastic!
We heard that you sometimes even make your own Superball mallets, why is this?
JB: When I first started using Superball in a lot of my solo projects, I was using it on Thunder Sheet which is a 6 foot by 4 foot sheet of metal. I discovered that often if you want to get the low end out of percussion instruments, you actually just need a bigger mallet - you need more mass. I went to Toys R Us and bought a whole collection of these much larger Superballs, which are basically kids toys for about one pound each. I just drilled in to it, stuck an old stick in to it and superglued it all together! I found that the mass and density of these much larger mallets which I made myself just brings out the low end in Thunder Sheets, Tam Tams and other large instruments.
For more information about Joby, visit www.jobyburgess.com