Séverine Ballon

Photo by Gérard Le Doudic

Cellist Séverine Ballon is a well-known interpreter and commissioner of new music. Inconnaissance, released by the label ‘all that dust,’ is her debut album as a composer.

Inconnaissance consists of eight miniatures for solo cello, played by Ballon herself, each representing an arch of sounds, techniques, materials, and structures. Overall, the pieces are very different from one another, which leads to a diverse and colourful album. Ballon treats the material in an intellectual manner, making interesting choices in regards to the elements involved and the planning of structure. Each piece is unified and coherent, while the album as a whole offers a homogeneous listening experience.

An experienced interpreter of new music, the different timbres of the cello is Ballon’s specialty. She has delved even deeper into this research in her own compositions. For each track, Ballon has chosen a certain element to explore, while her background as an improviser also shines.

The majority of the compositions are minimalist, even meditative. Ballon targets specific elements, allowing herself time to explore fragments and themes, while shedding light on a variety of perspectives.

Paroles expands and diminishes, accelerates and slows down; it goes up and down a steep, dynamic slope, resulting in long dramatic lines, which are charged with drama.

The title track, Inconnaissance, is a kingdom of overtones, arousing an abundance of associations and imagery. Especially interesting are the rhythmic experiments of its second part.

Ballon makes no use of computers in these compositions, and yet, the influence of electronic music pulsates throughout the entire album. Cloches Fendues 2, is a dense composition of alternating, distorted sounds, overtones, and white noise. The richness of texture often creates an illusion of electronic sound processing, and at times, it is hard to believe that a single instrument is playing.

Listening to Inconnaissance made me ponder the advantages of recorded music over live music. I am a big fan of live concerts, but here, given the vast diversity, the listener is invited on an imaginary audial journey, whereby the absence of visual information leads to a richer experience. In Tunnel, for example, the white noise combined with a very low, slow melody invites the listener to dive into a world of abstract or actual imageries.

Ballon’s performance of Inconnaissance’s eight tracks is virtuosic and uncompromised. It adds to a line of impeccable recordings that she has already created for other composers. Her debut compositional album is fascinating, diverse, and very imaginative. In a brave act of identity soldering, she has managed to create an impressive one-woman production.