Monday, 22 December 2008

December in New York

I hear people speaking French next to me. The airport speakers are playing Christmas songs. I marvel at how arrangers can still find something original to do with these exhausted songs. I passed earlier on a group of tourists all of them wearing a Santa hat with blinking stars on it. I wonder what the atmosphere will be in Paris. I wish I were cunning enough to be away from all this jingle jungle as I have been last year.
I was in Saigon. My cousin had prepared a Christmas meal Vietnamese style, which means that there was absolutely nothing Christmasy about the food. The evening ended at a trendy lounge bar near the opera house, in the company of a couple of friends and some uproarious high class hookers who had had their whole face and boobs redone and who were telling hilarious stories about some of their clients.

There‘s this slight sense of frustration when I think about this week in New York. I imagined a perfect week with a couple nights out at the theatre, nice dinners and drinks with friends, afternoons spent  walking on the streets and taking pictures, maybe a few exhibitions. Kristin Scott-Thomas was said to be fantastic in The Seagull and I could not wait to see that, David Bowie was having an exhibition at the MoMA. I imagined some wild nights at the club, fantasized about hot encounters with handsome strangers. All I managed was The Day the Earth stood still, a dull and uninvolving remake of the Robert Wise classic. How Keanu Reeves chose to play in this film is a mystery. How I ended watching this film instead of Slumdog Millionaire or Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche is another mystery…
It’s quite strange to see how more and more remote Reeves looks on screen as the years pass by; the same quality I find in Gene Tierney, as if some deep wounds are swallowing him inward. It was already quite obvious in A Scanner Darkly, now it’s even alarming.
That film  wouldn‘t be a good candidate to save the week. I did steal a couple of hours here and there from my friends. All of them were busy or did not even get back to me. The friend who hosted me was nice but high maintenance. When I expected a quiet person with a good sense of self confidence, I met a delicate spirit much too eager to please and constantly asking for attention. It’s strange trap to be invited to stay at someone’s place and have to walk on eggs all the time even if everyone tells me to make myself at home. There was a big dichotomy between the words and what I actually felt. Add the Christmas frenzy and this week in New York was more like a strange nightmare. But the sight of the impressive architecture was enough to make me happy.  I was stunned to see all the changes since my last time here! They must have some warlocks working for them.

The other highlight was to see Kristina and Beppe again. Kristina is going through a tough and confusing time at the moment. She has left her long time companion Philippe - I shall miss the giant he was and the bon vivant who would come to Paris with his excellent wines... Work but nothing that exciting. How come such a beautiful dancer doesn't find a Pygmalion to create works worthy of her??? She has to teach monkeys and grab whatever she can. Ah, la vie d'artiste!
Her new beau is a Greek hunk who seems as confused as she is.
In spite of all that, we all remained confident about the future. We are doing what we love. We are travelling around the world and manage to see each other wherever it is. Isn’t it a wonderful life? The difficulties we encounter we meet amount to nothing much when we see what we have achieved.
And the new year will be even better, and certainly filled with many surprises.
Where will I be? Whom will I meet? Whom will I love? What will the next projects be? To what destinations will I travel? And will I finally settle somewhere out of France as I feel I must do?
I don’t know and I’m happy not to.  Hurrah!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

And it feels like home...

To be in New York is such a joyful experience that no word can describe. It may be cold, snowy, windy or rainy, I just don’t seem to notice. I am simply filled with excitement and happiness. No other city does this to me. Or maybe should I say that each city does something different to me.

I thought this trip would be a wild and sexy one, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. I hardly go out if it is not for a meal with friends. A frantic and tentative stumble that was stopped midway. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Toronto now. Lara lives in a former working class area turned hip. Like in all of the big cities, these areas were looked down until artists, musicians and fashion designers would start to flock there because the affordable living inexpensive housing. Galleries, designer’s shops, trendy cafés and restaurants would open every week. A Golden Age would then begin for five or six years until the interest of the mainstream invasion takes place, unavoidably boosts up prices and ironically compel these artists to leave for another part of town - a cheaper part of town.

My first good film in months: Milk. A wonderful performance by Sean Penn. He is the best American actor.

Whilst waiting for the laundry to be done, I wandered in Lara’s neighbourhood and discovered many interesting galleries. One was displaying picture by former 60’s model Pattie Boyd. Photographs of her then spouse George Harrisson, Eric Clapton and other fellow musicians from that era. The best shots though came from her travels in Asia.
I was glancing through the window pane and about to leave when the owner of the gallery, a friendly man in his forties, who looked like he had just been sent back from Woodstock called me and invited me to have a closer look inside. 
Since the photographs were of musicians, the conversation was about music. And when he learned I was one myself, he promptly offered his help.
‘As a point of fact, I’m looking for a lyricist’ I told him.
In no time, he came up with names, took my phone number and e-mail address and promised to get back to me.
Even if nothing happens, I was delighted by his kind and convivial attitude.

I'm so happy to stay with Lara. I couldn't possibly not visit her, when I was so near by. I had missed her presence immensely since she was more or less compelled to leave France and return to Toronto.
A difficult decision. We even thought of getting married so to get her the papers. But y intuition told me that she had to face that side of her life: family, a decidedly overwhelming mother, her career. France didn't bring her what she had hoped for, even if she loved the life there.
Now it seems her life has started to take off. She's working again in theatre,she's writing again, some interesting offers are coming to her, and most importantly, she has faced her parents and settled for what she is. 
And - something not totally negligeable, she has found love...

Monday, 8 December 2008

Pages turned

I met Karen ten years ago. She had then just started a relationship that marked the end of long years of struggle. The man was more than wealthy and encouraged her to pursue her dearest dream: to get back to her singing.  Karen came from a fairly well off family from Chicago. I saw at her Parisian flat two gorgeous black and white photographs of her parents. The mother had all the elegance and beauty of a screen goddess from the thirties. She is shot in her profile, in a long evening gown, and had nothing to envy Carole Lombard or the divine Garbo. However, there was some remoteness in this perfect appearance that struck me. Karen said that she had to be perfect because she could not be herself. Something was breaking inside but she would not show it. Her husband had married this beautiful woman and wanted to keep her as such; so when she gave birth to three children, her new role as a mother drove him away from her. She eventually died of solitude, leaving Karen and her two brothers by themselves, for their father never really paid much attention to them. He was of Swedish descent, from a small village of only one hundred and fifty inhabitants. The family was very poor and as a young boy, he dedicated all his strength and energy to work and study at the same time. I guess he had to grow up too soon and reached this paradoxical situation when he was able to afford a comfortable life to himself and his family and yet never be unable to allow himself to fully it. The photograph shows a handsome blond young man, neatly combed, dressed in a grey suit. There is a quiet confidence in his stare. Success is in his eyes.  But I could feel solitude as well.
Karen flew away from this life as soon as she could. What was in store for her was life as a desperate housewife. The tragic example of her mother was something she wanted to avoid for herself. She came to Paris to study the language.  She wanted to sing.  She enrolled at the Ecole Normale de Musique as a soprano, got excellent notice for her singing, won a prize. She was also designing jewels. At last she was living this romantic life she had been dreaming about.  A stunning beauty herself, she was quickly discovered by fashion houses and started to model for the likes of Givenchy or Dior.
She fell in love. The family would not hear of it, threatened to disown her. The young man was a burning meteor and it all ended tragically.
I can only guess that that was the turning point for her. She may have lost her voice by then. Maybe she was haunted by the memory of her mother and was realizing now how much she was losing as she got closer to her true self. When I met her, she was pushed by her partner to get back to her old dream. That also meant that she had to relive the trauma and try to walk past it. I saw it all, and can but bow down to her courage and the faith she kept for herself. Watching her also gave me lots of strength.
At first Karen only wanted to build up a repertoire of old standards by Cole Porter or Gerswhin and sing in some classy venues.  She found me through her dentist. He knew lots of artists and musicians. One of them was a friend and the connection was done. He was given three names. « What could a Vietnamese guy know about Cole Porter and Gershwin », she asked herself. What she didn’t know was that I had been exposed to this music since my childhood. My mother had lived in London for ten years and she would often play records by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra or let me watch all these glorious Hollywood musicals. These tunes were more familiar to me than any Jacques Brel or Juliette Gréco songs. But how could she have guessed anyway? She called me one day enquiring about my experience.  She spoke with a heavy American accent. But that hardly gave me a hint of who was to appear at the Café de Flore where we were supposed to meet up on our first appointment. Her first appearance was simply stunning. Everyone looked dull next to her. She was glamorous, a film star without the films. The French have this innate elegance, they are stylish and dress tastefully. Karen is a head turner wherever she goes. It’s not only because of her beauty. She’s certainly one of the kindest person I know. Someone once said, rather cynically that she was too positive and he couldn’t bear that. 
I worked as her vocal coach for a few years, tried to help build a repertoire. She moved from jazz standards to Tom Waits, before starting writing her own songs. When she showed me her first texts, I immediately a great talent. As a singer, she struggled a lot. Each time she had to sing, her psychological blockage would put her in a state of near paralysis. Many other vocal coaches followed, although her problems had nothing to do with technique. But she kept on going and braved her deepest fears, gave concerts, studied with more than one vocal coach.  However I encouraged her to hone her talents as  songwriter, in spite of her resistances. She didn’t mind expressing her creativity through writing, but she wanted to find acknowledgement as a singer. That dilemma was more hers than mine to solve. I only kept on supporting this new side of her creativity and wrote a handful of songs for her.
She came to Chicago a couple of times to work with a friend of hers, Keithan, whose claim to fame was to have featured in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and sung backing vocals on Madonna’s True Blue album - albeit on one song only, White Heat. These credentials didn’t help when it came to direct Karen and arrange the songs. The result sounded like uninspiring demos taken from the vault of some obscure recording studios of the 80’s. There was nothing left from what I had written. All the melodic lines had been changed to suit Karen’s voice, Keithan said. Even from that perspective, it was downright embarrassing.
Maybe I was being unmindful when I accepted the job. I knew I could improve the songs musically, but was less certain regarding her vocal prowess.
A challenge is always good to take. The first days were spent in refashioning the existing songs.  To my greatest surprise, I unearthed very good musical stems out of this mess. Once again, the motto ‘Less is More’ shone brightly above our heads. The songs badly needed some heavy tweaking.
For the new songs, I made a point I writing very simple melodies that would suit Karen’s limited range. At the end of our two weeks of labour, headache, fun, exhaustion and full enjoyment, Karen was coming home with eight songs, including four brand new ones. Her confidence was boosted, she had reached a new level. Not yet Maria Callas, but a positive improvement indeed. Among the songs, a little gem called Pages. It was no longer about Karen trying to prove anything. It was simply a beautiful and moving song.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Thanksgiving, Fatherhood

Thanksgiving allowed me to have a few days off and wander in the city. But I actually spent most of my time with Karen’s brother, Brent, a giant of a Viking, who took great joy in showing me some aspects he likes about his home city. The three of us would often have dinner and walk the streets together.
He introduced me to Roxeane, an American born Palestinian woman in her mid forties who is looking for someone to father her child. She showed me the pictures of some of the few suitors that have lined up for the role.  They all struck me as men with no potential ahead, as if having a child would give them the life they no longer have.
I considered the option of fatherhood myself.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

In Chicago

I wake up around seven in the morning, go to the gym for an hour and a half, grab a light breakfast, then hop in the taxi with Karen to go to the studio where we work until the evening.
That’s more or less the routine I have been following during this first week in Chicago. I would be so knackered by the end of the day, the only thought I could welcome was a good night sleep. I actually enjoy this very unadorned and focused life. Just concentrate on my task and nothing else matters. I even surprise myself at not even being tempted to meet up with people, browse the bookstores or the record stores - something is wrong…?
It’s strange. I feel like I am emptying myself so to welcome a new life. A friend of mine talked about mutation and the word quite accurately describes the process I‘m undergoing. I’m dropping my inner skin  and do not feel the slightest regret nor fear to leave it behind. Not anymore.
But I see it happening all around me. Hope is spreading. Better things are to come even if it’s not going to be easy, but we have the hope and that is a vital ingredient to build something positive. At last. I never thought this energy could be so palpable, but as I walk on the streets of Chicago, the evidence of it is everywhere. It’s so simple, one man speaks out and people listen because their hear someone who seems to understand them. His words are told to raise confidence and strength, not fear and paranoia.  Faith doesn’t make things easier, it makes things possible.

Monday, 24 November 2008


In last night’s dream, I was taking part in a very unconventional performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The usual orchestra was replaced by the most unlikely sounds or instruments. As often in my dreams, I just happened to be there and found myself involved in the action before knowing it. The musical reunion soon became a farewell party. As I walked back home, across the hills of the city park, the hint of the thought that it was maybe time to get ready for my departure grew into a panic that I may have missed my plane with all these distraction. Was it already too late? Where was I actually? I had never seen this park in Paris. And where was this plane supposed to take me?
I woke up and it took me a few seconds to find my bearings. The panic subsided for an instant. I was at the bottom of a well and it was all dark. How did I find myself in this room? What was I doing there? How did I get there…? I had a similar experience a week ago. I was in a music shop and  kneeled down to have a look at some scores. When I stood up again, I lost consciousness for the strangest ten seconds of my life. I completely forgot where I was and what I was doing there. I grew alarmed that nothing made sense. Was it a bad blood circulation? Extreme fatigue? Alzheimer? Let’s not be too dramatic.
It took me a few seconds before I finally recognized the bed, the room, the place. I had just spent my second night at the Talbott Hotel on East Delaware Place, in Chicago.

We had a chauffeur driving us to the engineer’s studio, John, his name was. His house was located in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where each house reveals the inner fantasy of its owner: a small castle, Snow White’s cabin, English manor, Spanish villa, French farm, gothic mansion, fisherman’s den, southern colonial style.
I can imagine them to line up for a TV show contest called The House of your Dream.

John’s house is a museum of these vintage artefacts from the fifties and sixties that everyone is so crazy about nowadays. Countless spaceship or egg-shaped TV screens, record players of all shapes and sizes, radio sets that look like props from a 50’s science fiction film. John was very excited to show off his collection. His enthusiasm took no time to spread in me. I wouldn’t spend my spare time hunting for these objects on eBay, but looking at them filled me with an odd sensation of euphoria and well being. Maybe that came from the round shape, a friendly shape. The designers certainly were fully aware of that..
The first day of work with Karen was pure pleasure. I wasted no time to befriend John, a swift and witty man in his late forties. As someone who’s been used to write and arrange all my music, it’s a personal challenge to oversee arrangements done by others and yet be able bring my salt and pepper. John comes from another musical time. He worked with The Police, Madonna's collaborator and friend Pat Leonard, as well as musicians who gigged for Brian Wilson or Frank Zappa. Respect, respect!!! I wonder what  the marriage of your two perceptions will create.

Monday, 8 September 2008


Bévinda has grown her hair long again. So she asked me to do some new pictures for her.
My brother had lent me his new camera a couple of months ago, but I had not touched it until today. I didn't feel very comfortable with that new toy. But when came the time to get in action, I tried my best.
And yes, I enjoy it very much. Quite a change from little Sony Cybershot!
Today, Bévinda was turned into a 40's Hollywood movie star à la Joan Crawford. We didn't have any light, so I told to lie down on the floor where the sun was coming by the windows and keep her eyes opened in spite of the light blinding as I was shooting the pictures. Il faut souffrir pour être belle!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

C'est fini

« The important thing is being obsessed, then noticing when something more important than your obsession comes along«  Brian Eno.
The termination of my Taiwan stay is getting more and more real. I am the acrobat who’s about to fall from the rope into the void. The project is far form being finished. The mixing hasn’t been done at all. We were still recording the vocals for the last song today. Even trained singers need a whole session for a song, much less the untrained ones. However Wei-Wei did a fairly good job. Se was the last one to record her vocals and I know that she was under the pressure of singing if not well, at least adequately, especially after all the comments she would have heard from me or Micky about the other members of the cast. To my greatest relief, she showed a very good musicality and proved a fairly good singer, in spite of her inexperience. ChingYao gave me a good hand at supervising her voice and also providing backing vocals for a few songs. It was truly enjoyable for him, for it offered him an opportunity to sail away from the classical realm. I appointed him company vocal director until the last performance day. It was a hoot to do the backing vocals with him and see the harmonies slowly come to life as each part was being added. I even got to do my first singing in Mandarin! When all else fails, just sing!
I will leave Taiwan an illegal visitor, won’t get to see the result of all this labour of love - if labour it can be called, for it was all but work in the usual sense of the word. I could go on forever in this studio, recording instruments, mixing, singing, composing, playing this wonderful Steinway grand piano, directing the musicians...
Music is my life.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

This is the Muppet Show

Mayhem that would not speak its name. I have reached this stage of exasperation when I no longer care about anything, just do my part of the job and then leave. The actors hired for Auntie proved to be incompetent when in front of the microphone. I’m aware that we lose forty percent of our capacity and self confidence because of the pressure of doing well and right. However, the casting for this musical was done regardless of the crucial fact that they would have to sing!
Now Micky, the producer and sound engineer, has to spend hours fixing the vocals. Not just one note here and there, but usually the intonation, the phrasing and the pitch. After this laborious process, the result is: decent singing.
Complaining about the situation won’t help matters. I have grown attached to the performers. They’re wonderful people. But if I let my emotions lead me, then I'm in trouble.
While discussing with Micky, I stated my wish to audition an entirely new cast for the CD. I have learned yesterday that the album might be distributed by EMI -fantastic news, but which means that it would be self-sabotage if we keep the original cast on the CD. At best, we would have some sympathetic support and at the other end of the line, the company will no longer be taken seriously at all. The decision isn’t mine to take. I am just the composer. I tried my best. However, when so much money is wasted because of ill judgement or just plain ignorance of the facts, somebody has to speak up.
I’m leaving in 6 days. There isn’t much time left for anything. Everyone is very nervous and tries his best. But the set of dice isn’t the best combination. Yu-Guo should not be the director. The rehearsals are dragging along because he cannot handle the demands of the actors. Lian Yen should not be in charge of the promotion simply because it is a job that should be performed by someone who’s been professionally trained for that. I’m really concerned and worried. And I feel even worse because I will not be there to give them support to the very end. Feel like abandoning a group of handicaped children...
So what happen now?

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Conversation with Xiao III

Hello, are you all fine?
I should learn how to clone myself
What do you mean?
I have so much to do, I should have doubles
Are you depressed?
Anyway, take good care of yourself, I believe you will do well.
Depressed? Why?
No, but there's just so much to do and I'm pushing myself a bit too far at the moment/
Make sure you're pushing yourself to enjoy, but not suffer.
Then I can take it as a moaning of happiness!
I'm fine. Some days are more difficult to get through than others.
But as I said, making music brings me so much joy, that the rest doesn't really matter.
Ok. Good.
I'm illegal in Taiwan now
Anyway, you'll fly away soon
I know
I dread the post ‘baby’ blue a little, I must admit.... But I won't think more about it
As every child finally coming into this world, no wonder.
Yes. Listening to the music that I have written also brings me lots of satisfaction.
I'm happy about it
So what have you been doing the past week? We haven't spoken much
Nothing else than crazy working, which is both comforting and distressing
Not distressing…
Yes, it is
Because we feel we're missing something else?
What do u mean?
Oh Maybe.
It puts a lot of pressure
Sometimes I don't know why I have to be that diligent and responsible.
Your work is different.
I don't mind having to be responsible
I'm devoting my energy and time and patience and vigour into it.....
Power comes with lots of responsibilities
I have complicated feeling about this business.
On one hand, I have to do it, to make a living, also find fun and interest and a sense of success sometime.
On the other hand, most of my life time has been spent on it, but it never really belongs to me.
I don't like to see myself pouring energy into something which will finally fade away from me. And the reality is: I can't help doing that again and again At least for now.
I understand
I dreamed of an old lady, a famous music conductor in China.
She drove for me home, I was so tired that I nearly fell asleep on the back seat
I woke up when she stopped the car at the destination.
I felt so ashamed and guilty, coz she's 80 years old!
I thought she must be very tired too. And I asked her come back soon.
Psychologists say that it's only us in a dream.
So what shall it mean? Who is this lady in you?
But she seemed to smile despite all that.
You know why you're doing what you’re doing.
It seems she didn't care much about my concern. Then I started to say something to her.
I said I wanted to be a musician, finally, in order to show that miraculous world I have been to.... and a lot of that kind of feelings.
Did she react to that?
But a bit surprisingly, she just listened and said no encouraging words.
She seemed to be falling into some state of ecstasy or meditation
I didn't know what was going on, she was just like a wall in front of me, listening to me quietly, no objection, no smile... just looking very serious.
How did you react to her, then?
The same as before. I was a bit excited to express my ideal about this music kingdom in front of her, feeling crystal clear in my mind.
Then how did you feel afterwards?
I simply took her as a trustworthy person to tell, regardless how she would react... I knew she would not be annoyed by me.
I felt calm, but there was no revelation.
In this dream, it’s two sides of yourself
The picture is like this: she's like a lake, and I'm like a melody.
Oh you saw it that way? I interpreted it as one being beyond life (because she's lived it and is wise) and the other sleeping and dreaming....
No...I had woken up from my sleep and my tiredness
She drove for me.
I was like a devoted disciple.
In fact, I only saw her once in my life when I was in Xia'men City.
I always see dreams as a little sign that our subconscious is sending us
They usually help me understand things about a given situation. Or how to balance a situation, or a state of being.

Well.....I think I know what she is in reality now.
She is part of you
Very likely
Is she?
Why? How?
Well....of course she doesn't fully represent you
You see, her background is music profession.
Do you have to take it so literally?
No....not literally. In real life, there are few thing which are really connected to music in my world
But what does music represent to you, maybe that's more relevant to approach it that way…
It's what it is in you. I don't think she was representing someone else....
Well...what's music for me, only I know.... hehe...
What part of you does it represent?
Ha ha, I don't ask you to tell me! I'm only raising the question.
I don't want to reveal that when I'm really awake.
But I fully expressed it in the dream.
I see
Xiao dit :
To sum it up, this dream shows parts of my impressions about our previous conversations
Sometimes it's not like a normal conversation, its ZEN.
You know Zen?
What I asked her was not the most important, what she reacted likewise
I'm not really acquainted with her. She's a symbol to me.
This is a bit what I am to you


An illegal alien

I’m illegal in Taiwan now. My excitement at being official in Taiwan was short lived. Lian-Yen couldn’t get the papers in time - more accurate to say that he dragged and dragged until the last minute and on the very last day, he woke up and we rushed to the ministry of immigration and spent the whole morning there. The lady told us that I was one day beyond the visa expiration date!!! Damn, I could have slapped that sheepish face of his when we heard that.
The more I spend time with the members of the Auntie team, the less I trust them!
Buying a last minute ticket to Hong Kong was discarded as a foolish idea. Even for one day, I would still have to pay a fine anyway and as a penalty, I will not be able to enter Taiwan freely for a whole year.