Tuesday 27 May 2008

Hong Kong speed

The past five days have sped by in one second. I met the printer, charming Anthony and his equally charming wife Angie, to have a final check on the book about my uncle.
Apart from two rather obvious mistakes that shall be corrected immediately - a perfect book, a publisher friend of mine once told me, does not exist, everything seems to be ready for the printing. Finally we have this inimitable blue that is my uncle trademark. I now begin to suspect that Colin has given his approval too hastily. But he’s not to blame, for my father was also in such a state of emergency in having the book finished ‘in time’ for my uncle that he ignored my pleas to take it slow. I couldn’t give him any practical reason; intuition cannot be explained. My uncle was maybe trying to tell us something beyond his sickness. That big things can be achieved in an apparent passivity. My aunt is now thrown out of her flat after maybe more than forty years spent there. I can only empathize with her. It all came so suddenly and dramatically. Her husband, now her flat. My parents have offered to come and stay over for an unlimited time. I hope she’ll be fine. I wonder how long she’ll last by herself. It’s a terrible thought, I know, but even if they made the oddest couple, one didn’t go without the other.
So this chapter is now closed. I will receive the first copies in a week or two, and the rest will take one month to be shipped to France. That was the main purpose of my visit to Hong Kong. I would have had to leave Taiwan after one month anyway, so I arranged it so to packed everything in this one trip. And being in Hong Kong also allowed me to see dear friends of mine and, of course buy a handful of CD’s and DVD’s on the way.
Friends after friends, for drinks, tea, lunch, dinners, after-dinner drinks, pre-dinner snacks… I was eating all the time.
We also went to the club, even if, at first, I thought myself to be too tired to spend the night out, but once on the dance floor, I went on and on and on, like some famous singer would say. I officially hate club music now, or most of it. 90% percent of what I hear in club I find appalling. It could be less the music itself than the fact that there’s too much of one thing. It may work if one takes drugs or drinks a lot - which is unfortunately the sine qua non condition if you go out. I can dance to anything, but a little of diversity of style and rhythm wouldn’t be unwelcome. We left the club at around five in the morning. The original plan was to have breakfast, but one of my friends was in no condition to do anything but lie down and recover from the gallons of alcohol he drank. So I was left at the ferry pier at the break of dawn. The first ferry back to Lamma island wasn’t before two hours later. It was raining, I was singing. Some people were already up, exercising, jogging, newspapers were being delivered. I was beyond the state of exhaustion, sleepiness or hunger. I was drifting. 

Thursday 22 May 2008


I’ll fly to Hong Kong in ten minutes. The past week has been mainly focused on the music for Auntie, rehearsals at the studio with the musicians. Now the songs are taking their full shape and everyone starts to see what I had in mind. I had my first session with the string quartet two days ago. That was actually the first time I worked directly with a string quartet. It’s a magical moment when what is scribbled down on the music sheet is played at last by real musicians, especially nowadays when it‘s so easy to find virtual replacement in the guise of emulators and samplers. That may be convenient when one is running short of time or money, but in the end, nothing can replace a live musician. Maybe that’s what people mean by ‘no pain no gain’. The thrill and excitement that fills me when I finally hear the music can erase any hard time I may have beforehand. This was our first session, more are to come. I can’t even imagine how I feel when all the songs are completed and recorded.
I organised a surprise birthday party for Nicolas. I don’t know when I will see him again - soon, perhaps. So that was a fine opportunity to gather the group of people he has befriended the past month. Not all of them could come, but at least the one who were there are dear to him. I was concerned about him before meeting him in person again.
We had a few internet exchanges that left me somewhat alarmed about his state of mind. Was he stubbornly following his plan at all cost? I promised myself to convince him to come back to France. This was madness to me, though. How could I interfere with his life? But he was mirroring my own state of mind after returning from this long trip in Asia. My life was in Asia not in France. But I didn’t have the guts to take such a drastic decision, cut my bond with a country where I spent half of my life in order to start anew.
Now that I see him so happy and blooming to his new life and new surrounding, all doubt or worry vanish. I know he’s walking the right path - who’s walking the wrong path if it’s the path of one’s life anyway? Right and wrong finally are so inept at describing changes. The true power of decision isn’t necessarily in the hands of the one who’s at his most stable. Nicolas may be a wanderer who does not have much now, but what he’s going to build is priceless. I admire the faith he’s got for life. It inspires me and gives me strength to go on with mine. Taipei for me? Oh yes!


Travelling from one city to another is like going from one room to another in one single big house. Each room offers something for a particular mood, a particular need. When my friends ask me what city I prefer, I don’t know what to answer. There’s no comparison possible. And why do I have to prefer one city to another? This kind of questions extend to food, music, people, film… Be the best, be the most powerful, the most beautiful, have the best, be at the top… Life becomes an illusory charting game for so many. The metaphysical desire to be God, to be like God, or the closest to God. I’m quite happy to be in Hong Kong again. The air is stuffy, it’s not hot, but the humidity turns everyone into sticky walking candy bars.

Friday 16 May 2008

In / Out

New twist in the plot: Tony Wu has been ‘asked’ to leave the cast. Pan Lili, the actress they have found to play the mother is apparently very good and they want to keep Fay as the father - because she’s also a fine actress.
It’s a shame Tony didn’t seize the opportunity to use the part of the mother to show his acting skills and bring depth to the character instead of discarding it as he did. Maybe he would have changed his mind had he heard the music and understood all the potential of the character. Anyway, I have decided not to worry anymore and go on writing the songs. I just dread writing down the score on paper for the musicians. It takes so long! Maurice Ravel used to start his days copying down a few bars of a Mozart string quartet. Maybe I should do the same!

Monday 12 May 2008

Twist and turn

Changes again for Auntie. It’s becoming like a soap opera, a new twist in the plot everyday. The fact that Tony Wu wants to play the father turns the whole project upside down. They searching for the right actress to play the mother. Not much time left. Everyone is freaking out. The current find is Pan Lili, and TV actress a singer who’s fairly well known in Taipei and at least, who looks the part. They’re talking with her agent. But I fear the budget will stop them from taking her. Yen even thinks of playing the part himself. In the midst of this mayhem, I try to bring some stability in writing the best music I can.
I spent the afternoon at the studio yesterday to play the five songs I have written to Yu-Gou. We did a rough recording so he can have the melodies and work on the lyrics. I shall see the musicians later this week and start recording the string and piano parts this week end so I can elaborate the arrangements.
This forced trip to Hong Kong doesn’t come at the best of time. Five days are precious. I even think I won’t go to Singapore in June. I live my life day by day and don’t even try to think ahead. Any plan I may have take on another shape as soon as a new element is brought in. So why try to decide. I know what I have to do, and will know what to do if anything happens. The death of my uncle reminds me how little we know, and how little we can actually do. But at least, I want to bring some joyfulness in any little thing I do. In the light of what is going in the world, any sprkle of joy and happiness is welcome.
I did feel a little earthquake yesterday at around 2:25 in the afternoon. A friend asked me if that scared me, since in France we’re quite safe when it comes to natural disasters. It was later that I learned about the tragedy in China. The government, as so many times, whatever the country, underestimated the danger and could not warn the population in time. The death toll has risen up to 10.000 already with thousands more buried under the ruins of collapsed houses, factories and schools.
What is happening in Asia?

Sunday 11 May 2008

That's entertainment!

More changes as far as Auntie is concerned. Tony Wu, the actor who was supposed to play the mother has decided that he’d rather play the father after all. The reasons he invoked were sensible: being a comedian, he was afraid he would not be able to bring much dimension to the part of the part of the mother and turn the whole play into a gay camp show in drag. This turn of events is causing some sort of commotion, for now Fay, the girl who was originally cast as Auntie, the father, doesn’t think she’s right for Mother, since she cannot handle the Taiwanese dialect with much confidence. On top of that the second series of performances in autumn have been postponed, so they will not fit into her schedule anymore. Another girl has been cast who is perfect for the role, except that she’s tone deaf… And curiously, that didn’t seem to bother Yen and Yu-Gou until I pointed out that Auntie is a musical, and that Mother is a central character with many songs to sing… Sometime, I really wonder whether these boys know what they’re doing… I advised them to keep Fay, make the necessary changes I the text so she can say her dialogues, and see later what to do with the replacement actress.
Album launch party for Madonna’s twelfth album Hard Candy at the club yesterday. Victor was once again the host DJ. Not much of her music was recognizable in the dance remixes they played. Her songs were all flattened by this deafening four-on the-floor beat that bovine remixers automatically apply when they have no idea what a chord progression is. Her voice - or what remained of it, seemed like the last resistance before the song would become a musical black hole. What pained me was the crowd. I find the clubbing scene to be a less and less appealing one. I love to dance, but I like to be aware of what is going on, and not get on a high - unless it’s a natural high. The guys were - once again, taking loads of these little magic pills and if I found it slightly amusing to watch them last week, I was this time more in a state of distraught at the sight of them, all muscles out, and curiously all shaking each others like stuffed animals, head swinging from left to right - it could be used with great effect in a contemporary dance piece…! The dance floor is the place to release yourself and have fun and forget about all worries. But there’s something definitely wrong when drugs are used. All I saw were closed up people. I felt so sorry for them. There was no real sense of fun and the banging beats made it all too fuzzy.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Why do innocent people have to leave?

Auntie’s opening number will be a blending of oriental music, hip hop, cabaret and tango. She should be one of those creatures that can only exist on stage. I have only done the rhythmic skeleton of the song. The rest will be provided by the guitar, strings and the bandoneon. Yu-Gou will start writing the lyrics on Monday. I hope he’ll like what I’ve penned so far.
Nicolas was the only of my friends who met my uncle so I told him about his passing away. He may have seen him only once, but he was profoundly moved by the news. ‘Why do innocent people have to leave?’ he said. My uncle went away very peacefully. He knew his days were numbered. He had started giving away his treasured belongings, claiming that he’d rather know that the right people have them, than potential heirs. I received a painting and a beautiful series of book about the history of art written by Elie Faure that he bound them himself at the time he was working in a publishing company. I don’t know what will happen with what’s left - which means, a lot…
His brother who knows nought about his work will certainly claim a few of his paintings. Even if he still wanted to stay, he was aware that the time was now. He had remained so long in this silence - most of his work speaks about silence and certainly suffered a bit to be so isolated. What matters is that the last months did change that and I’m happy to know that I contributed to his happiness, and did whatever I could. Nicolas told me that by leaving us, he taught us that difficulties can be vanquished through an apparent passiveness, when actually the strength is to let things happen by themselves. I believe that’s what connected my father and I to him. In the end, it’s an illusion to think that we humans are in control of our life, because there are higher powers at work.
Kylie Minogue has been knighted by the French government! The pop princess is now a 'Knight of the Arts' and now can join the rank of Silvester Stallone and Sharon Stone in this unlikely Camelot.
I don’t know who else has received this distinction. Now all she needs to wait for is to become Dame Kylie Minogue in England… The speech that the Minister of Culture delivered in her honour was, to put it mildly, quite entertaining. As a witty friend insinuated, maybe the minister has some very gay advisers working with her … But perish the thought of ever thinking ill of the pop princess.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Irony of fate

We shall start recording instrumental tracks next week. Mayhem all the way, but I need the stems as soon as possible to complete the songs. In two weeks I’ll have to leave the Taiwanese territory because of the visa and fly to Hong Kong to see about the book about my uncle. Finally, the publisher has agreed to do a re-print after he saw the original paintings and the way they featured in the book. No comments were necessary. He understood. It’s good news for my father, because he would have been stuck otherwise. As I’ve told him many times, we always find a way out, the key is not to rush into any hasty decisions. So I will check the colour balance and all the details before the final printing. And that should be the end of the story. We all have to move on! And my uncle is in good health now.


Ironic. Shocking news. I just called my father to tell him about my upcoming trp to Hong Kong for the book. He seemed very pleased that it would finally be finished, and told me that everyone was getting ready for my uncle’s funerals. Funerals? Last thing I knew was that he was healthy now and in good shape. My father was equally surprised I didn’t know. Then I remember that strange e-mail I received -mail from my mother but I guess she was in such a state that she forgot to tell me the important news. Ironic it is. Cancer was not to be the cause of his death. He fell down the stairs and broke his spine. I’m in a state of bewilderment and numbness. My father saw him a few days before the accident and was telling him that I would go to Hong Kong to check about the book and make sure everything was alright. He was delighted at the news and showed him more works of his. So he’ll never see the book. My father wants to organize an exhibition of his paintings this autumn to launch the book and also have a concert given on his honour. Ironic indeed. When death is claiming his toll on someone, there’s not escaping. At least, my uncle lived his last months happily. I’m crying now.  

Tuesday 6 May 2008

British white soul

The first song for Auntie is written. Andersen booked me a piano studio at the Art University in Guandu, not far from where I stay. The piano was completely out of tune, but that was far more preferable than this thing people call 'keyboard', which has been sitting in my room for two weeks now. I will go back to the university tomorrow and try to pen another song. If I can manage a song per session, then we should be in time for the recording. I’m afraid what will be time consuming will be to write down the score on the paper, not composing it…
Another session today. I managed two more numbers and sketched ideas for two other songs. It was raining hard outside so maybe that’s why I wrote the ‘death song’ today. The scene occurs near the end of the play when the mother has possibly killed her husband and learns that she’ll never get a grandson from any of her two sons. It’s like a light death march that goes deeper and deeper in the lower register of both the singer and the orchestra. Of the other sketches of songs I started today, one will be a number for Auntie’s show. Yen and Yu-Guo suggested some jazzy tunes when they sent me the first version of the book. Honestly, I did not have much enthusiasm for the idea. A gay transvestite performer torching jazz numbers was a bit too tacky for me. A the moment, I listen a lot to this wave of British white soul songstress like Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Adele, who revived the 60’s of Dusty Springfield and Cilla Black and updated it for the younger generation. And the result is energizing and refreshing. I had this song by Duffy in my mind and it wouldn’t leave me. I immediately adopted the idea. Then comes the tricky part. It’s easy to make a pastiche, but more difficult to make it sound personal as well.
Before I could start working today, two girlfriends of ChingYao, both singers as well, asked me to accompany them on a song from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies - a duet about a last kiss before parting. Hearing the first of them sing was already quite a test for me - she sounded like an ageing soprano when she's actually only past her twenties, but when the two of them started warbling together, I had that nasty impression of accompanying Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in a musical version of Whatever happened to Baby Jane.
The Taipei University of the Arts is located on a hill, and offers a beautiful view on the whole city. Theatre, music, dance, fine arts, each has its own building - and its dog… plus the library, a few restaurants, shops and of course the dormitory. I’ve never seen any campus for the arts in France. It feels great to be here, to share the energy of all these young hopefuls. And this project compels me to find new ways to write music. Never let habits get the better of me!

Sunday 4 May 2008

Invasion of the (new age) body snatchers

I finally saw my dear friend Nicolas again after six good months during which we each travelled the world and settled the foundation of a new life. That was the first time we met outside of Paris. It’s relevant to see your friends out of the usual familiar context. We discover new aspects of the person, strengthen the bonds, sometime have insights of the nature of that friendship…. Habits and routines are dangerous, whatever the case. He’s now going to settle in Japan where apparently, some people are going to sponsor him for his projects. I really do hope that it’s going to work out for him.
After tea at a posh restaurant, I took him to a concert I knew nothing about, except that Tang Shuan, an erhu player friend of mine was performing with a band called Moving Sound. World music, he said. The leader of the pack, Scott Prairie was an obviously failed former rock musician from New York, who found better horizons in Taiwan and also redemption in the spirituality of world music. We had all the clichés: ethnic outfits, a female singer clad in gold and silver jewels, inspiringly chanting the coming of a new age, a flea market mixture of sounds from India, Taiwan, the Middle East, and interminable talks about spirituality that lasted longer than the songs themselves… The three other musicians, including Tang Shuan were really good, but completely put in the shadow of Sir Prairie’s enormous, battered  ego. I suddenly had this vision of him sucking out the energy of his musical partners to create a divine image of himself. Some people even started dancing at both ends of the room. One American man said of them that they were an agency of angels…
Since everyone else around us seemed to be under the spell, Nicolas, ChingYao and I wondered how much longer it would be before the body snatchers caught us! As Bibbe wittingly put it once: 'that's what I call endurance art'.
At least, I got to hear Tang Shuan play live, and I have asked him and the percussion player to play on The Blessing. Oh… Now I suddenly realise about that title…!
The evening didn’t end there for I went to the club. Victor Chen was celebrating his 20th anniversary as a DJ alongside his friend Jimmy. We had so much fun last week dancing the whole night through, that I couldn’t wait to find myself on the dance floor again. If all started rather well - except for the exceedingly loud sound volume, people started getting this joy pills. First sign of it: they take off their top. Second sign: they all hug each other. Another body snatcher experiment. Everybody was moving like affectionate zombies when I left the place.