For almost a decade La Pieuvre have been engaged in conducted improvisation under the direction —“conduction”— of
Olivier Benoit. In the course of their various projects there has developed a unique working relationship between orchestra
and conductor, an ever more refined gestural language allowing meticulously accurate intercommunication and the
exploration of a richly varied sound-world — witness the pieces recorded on their first album, 1999-2005 (Helix LX001).
While La Pieuvre is creatively most at home with spontaneous composition, they are nonetheless open to working the
results of their experiments into pieces of a more predetermined form — the difference lying simply in the way time is
considered. So the transition to “composing” becomes a shift of emphasis, not a fundamental change, to do with the already
variable time-lag between two moments, that of conception and that of interpretation.
The play on time, in all senses of the word, can be seen on many levels in the origins and performance of the piece called
“Ellipse”. Inspired by the work of the dancer choreographer and doctor David Flahaut, the work exploits the physical
capacities of each player, his heartbeat, his breathing and his stamina.. The four movements not only unfold without a break,
— the track numbers on the CD act merely as reference points for the listener — but employ a highly individual treatment
of time (and equally a unique sound-space, achieved, both in the studio and on stage, by careful placing of the instruments,
according to their relative power, along the outline of a perfect ellipse.) The opening section, acting like an airlock, establishes
this new time-sense. A continuous wall of sound — electric and percussion instruments only — breaks on the ear,
oppressive and unsettling, demanding unusual levels of attention.
Is this so very far from the experience Cage had in the anechoic chamber, which led him to his new concept of silence?
Cut off from all external sound he was made aware of the sounds of his own body — the high register of his nervous system,
the throb of his circulation and heartbeat.
And it is the heartbeat of each musician, the personal “counter” whose rate varies with exertion and the prolonged
holding of the breath, that Benoit employs as the key to the second movement of his piece. The initial harmonic elements are
remixed and displaced according to a rhythmic system based on varying ratios of sound to silence, all subject to the
instability of the pulse-counts. The third part of Ellipse develops this quasi-regularity — or rather this interweaving of
different quasi-regularities — into a strictly metronomic activity where measured time, paradoxically through the agency of
pulse, breaks down into pure texture. Time, transformed, gives way to sound. Simultaneous cross-rhythms, emphasized by
the layout of the band, come to dominate the end of the movement. Each sub-group confronts the others in games of
opposition and attraction between slightly differing tempos, resulting in what could be called an intricate “multirhythm”.
The fourth and final movement rounds off the figure with a slow repetitive progression. Here auditory — and wider
sensory — perceptions become altered; the musician senses a realignment of what were his strengths and weaknesses,
physical and technical; his pulse quickens in his heightened awareness; time seems to eddy and shift….
What then does the ellipse signify? The word in French denotes not only a certain curve, but also a figure of syntax, English
“ellipsis”, also “eclipsis”, where parts of a sentence are left out; thus a gap, a contraction, a short cut…