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Igor Ballereau — SHSK'H Vol.01 - Igor Ballereau Cover Art

— SHSK'H Vol.01 - Igor Ballereau

Released 8 November 2008 (All day) on SHSK'H / SHSK'H Vol.01

About 'SHSK'H Vol.01 - Igor Ballereau'

Frottola - a review by Elliot Cole

In college I sought out the very dense: James Dillon’s quartets, seemingly shaped by some invisible, torrential rush — Harrison Birtwistle’s chattering parades — Ligeti’s maniacal machines — Schnittke’s overripe pomp and savagery — Messiaen’s overpowering electricity. Esthetically, I aspired to be devastated. Intellectually, I was imagining a viscous, physical music shaped by unseen turbulence, in which density was necessary to describe and reveal those forces in higher resolution.

But I am lately drawn toward what might be called music of abegnation. I tentatively include Feldman for his infinite patience and Scelsi for his holy focus, but the Webern-Kurtag line is more central. The Webern/Viennese Trinity narrative is pretty well cemented, so I won’t dwell on it. Webern’s example is the musical aphorism – brief, spare. Kurtag’s pieces tend to be even shorter and leaner, while pushing the expressive range to extremes; it is music written not with a pencil but a scalpel.

And I have just discovered Frottola by Igor Ballereau.

Frottola is a setting of a poem by Michelangelo, for string trio, voice, piano, chimes (and, I might add, microphone). Here, the aphoristic event — an utterance followed by a pause for reflection and reverberation — becomes the rhetorical unit of a larger language. Each event is scarcely longer than an exhalation, a tiny universe of perhaps only five or nine notes. The intervening pauses tend to be equally long, and equally significant. Sound, for Ballereau, is not the rebuttal of silence, but rather its preparation. And silence has never been so ravishing.

It is slow music. But the regularity of the sound/silence cycle does establish some inertia, even though the pulse is far too slow to feel metrically. Each moment is separated from the next, but not isolated. On multiple listens, large-scale phrasing can be discerned. There are also connections across the gap — a single interval repeated or a line suggested is, in this microphonic world, grammatically conjunctive, and an epiphany for the listener. Clear relationships between details make this music legible and compelling; instruments dovetail, echo, complement and continue each other. There is so little going on, and so much to notice.

Singer Jody Pou is perfect — the kind of performer that makes one want to compose. The strings and piano have almost super-human sensitivity; each note is cared for, and played as if fully understood. The recording itself is exquisite.

Ballereau has distilled the musical aphorism down to moments of intense detail and focus. But, more importantly, he has formed it into a language that can be meaningfully sustained over a long period of time. Frottola elevates the ‘pregnant pause’ from melodramatic cliche to its own modality, a clearing for deep and sumptuous communication.

You can listen to Frottola and several other pieces by Ballereau at SHSK’H.

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