Saturday, 31 March 2007

PLAY 2 PLAY: first run through - emotional

We had our first complete run through of PLAY 2 PLAY this afternoon. Mihara-san was there with his staff to show the nine-bodies-in-one costume. He said my music inspired him Yves Klein's blue colour! I had some recollection of the real shade of the Yves Klein blue and was a bit worried about what he would present us. But when we saw the piece he designed, all our doubts fell flat on the ground.
Then came the run through.
I hadn’t seen what Jo had done for the finale. He asked me if I was okay to have spoken words on the cello movement. I really have a problem with having spoken words with music. Words call for your mind to work, when I try to get beyond that and let the audience use their senses and imagination.
So I wasn’t very convinced at all and that bugged me.
The dancers got prepared for the run through. Seventy minutes of non-stop dance.
At the end, I had tears in my eyes. I just couldn’t help it. I was so moved. It was too overwhelmingly beautiful. The finale was fantastic. How much Jo did put of himself in this work!
A few dancers were sobbing as well. The rehearsal studio was charged with intensity. No one knew what to say. I was crying silently, trying at first to look fine, but then quite unable to hold back the tears. It felt so good.
Mihara-san was impressed. Jo was concerned that he didn’t feel any involvement from him. But the manager and her assistant who came to help Mihara now realized that PLAY 2 PLAY wasn’t just any project.
I guess this finale with Isabelle’s voice did cast some kind of spell over people. I hope the audience feel the same. How I wish she were there!
The young stagiaires who had watched play for the first time without practicing on the side, were particularly touched and brought even more enthusiasm and heart afterwards.

A very good day indeed. We celebrated that at Nelson, of course. Any excuse was good enough to go there anyway…

Thursday, 29 March 2007


The mirror panels arrived on Tuesday, so we could work with the whole set that Tsuyoshi created for PLAY 2 PLAY. Nine triangular mirror panelled pillars, each being three meters tall, one meter wide and weighing more than 100 kilos! Poor dancers, in spite of the casters, they have to gather all their strength to move them with accuracy.
To my taste, in spite of their beauty, they are slightly too monolithic a set design and visually take lots of space.
My feeling was proven right after the first run through. Because of the reflections of the dancers on the panels, it was virtually impossible to focus on the dance itself. Jo had to concede it was too much for the viewer.
So he decided to move those pillars as little as possible until past the first half of the piece. At that point, they form a circular glass sanctuary out of which the dancers attempt to escape. It’s a striking scene with a heavy ritualistic tone - yes I know, largely because of the music I wrote.

Jo is now finishing the very last movement, Ewig, the soprano aria sung by Isabelle, which is also a dance solo for Sawako.
What I’ve see so far seems fairly academic to me. But they had just two minutes to show me. I’m quite curious to see the whole scene.

I had been invited to see a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth done in Japanese style, with kodo drums and a kabuki actor playing Lady Macbeth.
I feared another endurance art sitting, but the experience proved, if not life-changing, at least interesting and at times inspiring.
I particularly liked the how the director developed the parts of the three witches. They appeared as three uneasily identical girls with their three drummer counterparts. When not needed in the plot, they would join them to play drums and create a very exciting musical background.

Sunday, 25 March 2007


Earthquake this morning. I was trying to sleep longer and was in a state of semi-wakefulness, when the whole building started rocking. At first I thought the cleaning lady was in the room and shaking the bed, but then I saw the curtains swinging. Was I to get up and grab my things and leave the hotel?
I waited a few more seconds. This time, the quake lasted a good twenty seconds, which is very long.

Apparently, old parts of the suburbs were destroyed, especially old wooden houses that have crumbled down.
From the Sado Island, Pb told me that quake was much stronger. Good thing I didn’t decide to visit him this week end.
But I had already accepted to attend a private Butoh performance held in a traditional Japanese wooden house.
I met Jo and Sawa for a drink at Nelson before we set off to the house. It was a magnificent place, surrounded by a small but well groomed miniature garden. The plum trees were blooming. I could stop and watch everyone of them each time I’d see one.

Endurance art. This word from Sean and Bibbe will remain whenever I have to sit through a tough artistic experience.
The butoh dancer was the only lady who did that in Niigata, and according to Jo’s words, was recognized for being good at her art. She used to dance within companies for twenty years and now is working by herself, performing and teaching workshops.
We were all freezing as she did her dance during what seemed like centuries but actually lasted only one hour. According to my poor experience with Butoh I never got to see a dancer who managed to find this subtle line where the ego disappears and the body just exists as a being. At time, I seemed to seize that from that dancer, but as she admitted herself after, she forced it too much and her delivery took us to a very unpleasant place, filled with tension and bleakness. I was praying the ghastly dance would end the next minute. A musician was creating a background out of a flute, a thumb-piano and a didgeridoo while she would utter throaty sounds. It reminded me of some African religious rituals, minus the earthly energy.
No, no, no. However good she was - her command of her body was impressive, however interesting it could have been, I was not into endurance art. 
At some point my numbed mind recalled a quote from Joan Collins saying that the best work out exercise you can do when you have too much food on the table is to push it away. And now the lady was writhing on the floor. I just hope I’ll be clever enough to foresee it next time.
Maybe I should have visited Pb this week end after all...

Friday, 23 March 2007

Sound installation

As if it wasn’t enough, new, bright ideas sprang out of my mind yesterday evening, when Jo, Sawako and I had our dinner ritual after work, this time at Nelson again.
I was toying with this idea of creating more music and make a sound installation in the theatre. As soon as the audience would step through the sliding doors they would already be caught in the world of PLAY 2 PLAY. I will create a multi-tracked piece in which each section would be played in a different area of the venue. Jo didn’t really know what to do with this new dancer Yuta. He’s got some acting training so the initiative to use a speaking voice originated there. But I was less than convinced when I heard him speak during the movements, even if his interventions were very brief. Jo wants the text to be a dry description of the dancers’ movements.
After a long time of brainstorming, I came up with this proposition to use his voice for the installation. Jo immediately loved the idea. The voices will be mixed with musical elements of the ballet. In the theatre room, music will be played as the audience take their seats as the music flows and blends into the beginning of the piece. I had dreamed about doing this kind of installation for my concerts, but we had no time nor means. Here the enthusiastic support I feel from Jo gives me wings to achieve one more millions things.
If we have enough time, I will also do some short video clips of the dancers in motion that will projected intermittently on the floor as well as on the company board screen, like apparitions of what is to come.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Bunraku Theatre

I had a photo shoot today for the program. We had to re-create working situations that look good. The theatre offered a perfect setting. Lots of light, big walls, big spaces, nice volumes…
Me scribbling down music on the sheets, editing on the computer, attending the rehearsals, talking with Jo, talking with the dancers, mixing in the studio room…
I managed to talk Tomoko into having Isabelle and Christophe featured in the program. Their name will be mentioned with the addition of a small picture to make it more alive.
Tomoko also asked me to write a message to Tsuyoshi. Each four of us had to write a little line for someone. Jo and I always joked that Tsuyoshi was to be held responsible for all the troubles we have encountered until now with this wall he designed. But I resisted the impulse!

I attended a Bunraku show, that is, Japanese traditional puppet drama theatre. I had had a glimpse of it at the beginning of Takeshi Kitano’s film Dolls, but it was the first I saw one live. Bunraku is regarded as the most highly developed puppet theatre art in the world. Each puppet requires three puppeteers to bring it to life, and the manipulators appear openly, in full view, dressed in black so not to distract the audience. On the side of the stage, another small stage was built for the musicians: a narrator/singer and a shamisen player. I was surprised to see that the narrator and the musician changed for each new act. I later learned that there is some kind of hierarchy in the Bunraku world. The masters appear for the last act, which is usually the apotheosis of the tragedy, and they only can show their face as they manipulate the puppets.
I must admit I nearly fell asleep during the first act. It was such a change of pace from the rehearsal that my body needed time to adapt. A woman was also dozing next to me. I realized that many others did as well. I nearly wanted to leave. But the woman who invited me had got me a very good seat, and it would have been rude not to stay.
Jo later told me he also thought of leaving because of the same reason.
The second act caught my full attention and I was completely under the spell for the last act. The musicians, the narrator and especially the masters playing the puppet were mesmerising. The story follows usually the classic line of the ill-fated love story which ends with death or suicide, and the last act is always highly anticipated, for it is the apotheosis. 
I’m now very glad I didn’t foolishly leave and miss such a beautiful show. Jo and the people from the theatre were enchanted and proud that I enjoyed the show.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Triangular Response II

Tsuyoshi panels have arrived today, without the mirrors though. They’re so huge and weigh up to 100 kg each! How the dancers will be moving them with accuracy in spite of the casters is another story. They still have a whole month of rehearsal.
Jo worked again on the Choral "Triangular Response" movement and what he did last time was erased from everybody’s memory. Mihara’s costume also arrived today, but they proved a bit superfluous since the strength of that nine-bodied creature comes from the fact that we do not see the costume. We will see how things evolve. For now, Jo has tried another direction: in circle formed by the panels is a human mountain on top of which each dancer tries to climb away. The combination of the choral music and Isabelle’s voice gives the whole tableau a mystical strength that will place it as the core of the whole ballet. The scene is not yet finished, and Jo has still to figure out what to do with Mihara’s creation.

Monday, 19 March 2007

"Handsome Face" Tofu

First day off. It’s freezing outside. I walked to the theatre where I left my bike. And caught the sight of budding sakura on the way. So beautiful.
Weather report is announcing a very winterish week, complete with snow and storm. Hooray!

I’m learning a bit of Japanese everyday and try to find situations where I can use certain words. I’m so happy to remember the words, but less thrilled when the answers come back in Japanese and I realize I have to use my intuition to understand!
So today was: ‘Can I get some oil for my bike please?’

I had dinner at Jo and Sawako’s. She had bought this new brand of tofu with ‘handsome faces’ representing the twelve zodiacal signs gracing each box. Among the three she got was a Cancer tofu.
Amazing all the ideas they come upt with just to sell tofu…

'Cancer' Handsome face tofu

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Triangular Response

The movement Triangular Response, is now finished. I really struggled to find the right solution to suit Jo‘s wishes.
This Window Vista on my new computer is more annoying than anything since it doesn’t recognize many of the programs and software I had been using until now. My external sound card is therefore useless - I should have listened to my intuition that told me not to bring it along. However all these little technical inconveniences created a frame within which I had to find a solution.

Triangular Response was causing Jo some teething troubles. He said the choir was so strong and brought such an emotional charged atmosphere that he couldn’t find where the physicality could fit. This movement has been quite a challenge for me. But I think it has now reached its final state. I tried to record some cymbals and the addition proved less than convincing. Then I thought of the bells I had added in the finale to counter-balance the loftiness of the soprano part. I did the same with some big drums to root the music to the ground and therefore allow some space for the dancers.
We’ll have to wait for the costume to come in order to know how all this works. For that particular scene, Miharu, the costume designer, has created a one piece costume for all the dancers - although I think the set design and the costumes were already set before I even started composing the music.
Each dancer is bonded to the other whether by the arm, the knee, the head, the shoulder…. The sight of this nine-bodied creature is quite uncomfortable.
The music already sounding like some weird, mystical ritual with the soprano, the choirs, the bells and the frantic drums, the whole scene is sure to drive the audience to the edge of uneasiness. 

After the rehearsal, Jo and Sawako took me to the hot spring. The virtues of hot volcanic spring water! I immersed myself in the outdoor pool and contemplated the starry sky. We didn’t stay too long, but were completely knackered when we went out. We still managed to find the strength to have some dessert at a very trendy café called Nelson, a architectural crossroad between 50’s Californian style and a cozy Scandinavian minimalism.
I have been having dinner and drinks with them everyday. Now that we are closer to each other, the friendship can develop beyond the limits of the professional frame.

I collapsed on the bed as soon as I got back to the my room.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

At work

Big snow storms outside. They don’t last long but offer an impressive spectacle on each outburst.
I prefer to work in the big round patio outside of the rehearsing studio. They have put tables and boards for the company. We eat, chat and relax there. A beautiful view on the river, the sky, sight of distant mountains, I prefer this environment than the airlessness of the sound studio.

I have asked for some percussions and big drums in order to complete my music. I got a big bass drum, a set of snares, cymbals, woodblocks, and they found no other place to store them than the sound studio, so I have to tip-toe my way through them.

We have been working intensively this week. Now as I write, my mind is stuffed and I can’t do more.  Jo has asked for lots of readjustments and it was a mind blowing experience to include them in the music as if I had intended them myself. Trying to fit two minutes of additional music eventually takes more time than composing a whole movement as I have to go back to the roots and find the right path to blend the new elements.
The result is somehow more rounded. Not as cutting as I would have originally wished, amazing how a few notes can throw a new light to a whole hour long piece. But it certainly eased the way for Jo to find a thread. Poor dancers, they are sweating throughout the whole piece. Jo is taking them even further physically. I’m totally in awe of their endurance and ability. I could watch them at work for hours without getting bored. I feel as heavy and graceful as a rice bag afterward!

Five o’clock in the morning. I always wake up around that time before slumbering into sleep again before breakfast. It’s been snowing the whole night. To think it’s Spring in four days…
My head was filled with the cello sound I’ve been hearing all day yesterday.
I would have loved to do a second recording of it, because I see lots of little flaws that I can’t possibly leave on the final print. I may find a way to arrange these details.

Christophe and Isabelle have indeed been great: to come and record almost immediately after trying their part a couple of time requires lots of self confidence.
However, the flaws are counterbalanced by the emotional strength they bring to the music. It was a pleasure to work with them and feel their willingness and enthusiasm to work with me.

Christophe and his cello

Thursday, 15 March 2007

PLAY 2 PLAY: first day of work

I bought this new laptop to work here in Niigata. I would have brought my good old and faithful HP pal who had been my faithful companion of creation in Vienna, London, Tokyo, Niigata… He helped me conceive Nina’s Hidden Glass, Mm, NINA Materialize Sacrifice and the the songs from my album Circlesong
How sentimental I can be. But the old laptop had a major computer break up last year on that fateful day, when a friend from Zürich, a specialist in IT, suggested to control my it from Zürich to help me fix some problem… The unexpected solution was death. Nothing worked after that.  

So I spent hours re-installing all the programs and transferring my data. Now I’m operational!


There will be a prelude and a few transitions to write for PLAY 2 PLAY. The prelude will actually be the first part of the cello movement. Jo had tried a few ideas on it, and it suddenly struck him that he found the thread for everything.
Remarkable how this addition of the prelude changes my whole conception of the music. It gives it a totally new light.
Now I feel like writing an additional movement, although I don’t know quite where to place. Jo would also want to try to have one of the dancers speak during the show. I’m always doubtful when words have to be used because I want to walk away from it. But I’ll attempt to incorporate it as a ‘musical’ element. 

I was so knackered because of the jetlag, I was fighting hard to keep myself awake during the rehearsal. Jo took pity of me and kindly told me to go back to the hotel to sleep. I would be needed in good shape the following day!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Back in Japan

It was the most natural thing to be walking the streets of Tokyo with Nolico. I had just landed in Japan the same morning and was to take the train to Niigata a few hours later. But for now I was in the Shibuya area, as if the sixteen months that separated my last trip and this one had been reduced to a mere day or two.
Was I the multiple same person living his lives in various parts of the world in different dimensions and yet possessing that one same awareness…?

When as a young boy I would come back from my summer holiday, I would always need a few minutes to readjust to the colors of my room, the ordinary life.
« Oh this is where I’m really supposed to be », the only way to keep on surviving the ordinary life was to open new doors to my imagination to let in fantasy and dreams.

Jo and Sawako were waiting for me in the restaurant of the hotel. It was half past eight and they were the only customers.
The music that filled the silence was that usual stringy syrup that would turn any great tune into a sticky nightmare.
I was staying at the Italia Ken, with the same view on the non too distant sea, the same miniscule green bike, the same waitress who greets me every morning with a new French word with her deep husky voice. I was happy.

We had one rehearsal on the theater stage this afternoon. Last night at dinner, Jo had told me about his ideas and what he wanted to try. He may have been worried that I wouldn’t want to change a single note to my score. But as soon as we discussed the possibilities, I saw that he relaxed. Yes Tsuyoshi  and I were in Paris and seeing one another each time we had something new to show and he must have felt isolated, alone in Niigata with this impossible score I wrote for him to choreograph!

I liked what he had done so far. The fact that the wall is hiding the other side of the stage will be frustrating. Jo’s vocabulary is so rich, it would take more than one viewing for someone to catch all the details. Still now I’m discovering new movements in NINA at each viewing.

Thursday, 8 March 2007


Oh so sick today. I went to my Chinese doctor, Mrs. Tian, but the fever was so high, it didn’t go away. I need to sleep, rest, eat better. I realize I have been treating my body rather poorly the past weeks. I haven’t cooked a real meal since my return from New York!
My flight is in four days, so I’d better take it easy and slow it down.
I bought myself some nice films to watch for the coming evenings: Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007


A new day brings lots of changes. The music for PLAY 2 PLAY is now nearly complete. Jo has asked for a couple of additions, but they’ll be composed when I’m in Niigata. The core of the ballet is done. I finished the finale just yesterday. It wasn’t easy, once again, to juggle between my wishes and what I could actually do regarding my means.
Isabelle came to work on her aria. I sang her the vocal line and she got goose bumps! It’s a very operatic ending for a ballet. A cello is holding a single note throughout the whole number as the soprano slowly reminisces a long forgotten song. She comes like the sunset at the end of a journey. A few piano sounds fall like a crystal rain and create a nearly dream-like backdrop until the soprano reaches the climax emphasized by an orchestra playing a simple, long E-flat major chord and leaves the soprano to repeat one word: Ewig (eternally) as a distant echo of what has been.

It’s amusing to read what I had in mind even a few days ago. In spite of my plans, I knew I would find an unexpected turn and follow it. There is no Hebrew chanting anymore. The cello number is set in two parts, first a long inspirational elegy backed by high strings, then that slow waltz I mentioned. The Hebrew choir was replaced by a last recall of the Slavic theme that was sung by the soprano and the choir, as a transition to the finale.

Jo said he finished choreographing the first three movements. We have challenged each other to push our limits and explore even further is this forest of creativity. I know PLAY 2 PLAY is the start of a new phase. Nicolas told me that I should be welcoming some kind of revolution now. And I have intuited it since my New York trip. And I also keep catching cold. My body is readjusting!