Friday, 24 April 2009

Prince and prince

It was a secret. Julia wasn’t to suspect anything. By the end of the month, she would be retiring and the three companies in which she taught singing joined to organize a big celebration for her.
She obviously didn’t suspect anything when she entered the restaurant. It was, at best supposed to be a little meal with some of the people from the administrative team. Everyone was there. We had to be very good at lying and pretending especially those who saw her earlier on that same day.
Even if she’s officially retiring, Julia is far from actually retiring. Her students are many and would want to see her going away.
The core of her life now is in teaching. Why would she stop?

I’m going to ask five screenwriter friends to come up with a one minute long scene for my album. Each scene will be in a different language. The idea came from my many travels. The more I travel, the more my sense of time and space changes as each trip is also in inner journey. Two friends, Stephen and R
Yuichi have already accepted: the first one from Hong Kong and the second from Tokyo. Bévinda will be writing the French scene and I’ll ask Lara to do the English one.

« They're very odd people, you know. When they're young, they have their teeth straightened, their tonsils taken out and gallons of vitamins pumped into them. Something happens to their insides ! They become immunized, mechanized, air-conditioned and hydromatic. I'm not even sure whether they have a heart. »
Audrey Hepburn in ‘Love in the Afternoon’ 1957.

Conversation between Emmanuel and his, three and half year old daughter Mattea:

“- An is going to come for dinner tonight.
- Who’s An?
- He’s a friend of mine. A boy…
-You must be joking!
- An was Daddy’s lover a long time ago.
- A lover?
- Yes
(Confused look)
Like a prince and princess.
But you said An is not a girl!
Well, if you want. More like a prince and prince, then.
(Confused look)
You mean that he will be king???”

Emmanuel in Central Park, New York 1996

Thursday, 23 April 2009

"He didn't come..."

I should have listened to my intuition. Quite like a zombie, I made my way to the airport to no avail. Andy was nowhere to be seen. One by one, the passengers were walking past the arrival gate, some of them greeted - cheerfully or not by friends or family.
As I was waiting on the platform to take the train back to Paris, I recognized a girl I had seen on the airport shuttle on my way top the terminal. She still had her luggage with her and a plastic bag containing some kitchen equipment she must have just bought the previous day. There were tears in her eyes. I walked to her and asked her what happened. Maybe she didn’t realize that shared the same shuttle an hour and a half before. 
“He didn’t come…” was all she managed to say. I knew nothing more. She couldn’t speak French or English. I helped her lift her suitcase when we got in the train. We sat opposite each other but kept silent during the whole trip. She was lost in her thoughts and weeping softly.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Pride and Prejudice .... and Zombie

Andy is coming back tomorrow. Got a short note from him yesterday. Will I go to the airport to pick him up? I feel like doing so but something is holding me back. I don’t know why.

Been reading Pride and Prejudice… and Zombies. The author just took the favourite novel and added herds of zombies as a background. It’s hilarious. Darcy and Elizabeth are now masters in the deadly arts and have been studying in Asia with Chinese and Japanese masters… Hilarious.
I get even visually more confused since I have recently seen the old film adaptation of the novel with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. The unlikely vision of Sir Laurence Olivier delivering a swift kick to a zombie is delicious. 

Monday, 20 April 2009

Auntie - the return!!!

They want to restage Auntie, this time in Beijing. One stage director showed great interest for the music and decided it was a shame to shelve this play. Good news - or is it really?
I have recently received countless messages from LianYen to ask me for help, rewrite and sign the contract, give my advice. Help I did give, for I wrote the whole score last year for nothing at all. As the saying goes, give them an inch they take a mile.
Micky will not release the CD at this stage. Even if they had ChingYao re-sing most of all the parts as a last resort, the result is still far from satisfactory. ChingYao is no pop singer Some songs are not suitable for his voice, the mixing is not right, there are some instruments missing, one song is only half done and ChingYao improvised a dreadful counter-melody on one song that had me jump to the roof. What happened?
Micky and I agree that it would be a grand style suicide if LianYen releases the soundtrack in spite of all the problems - and our warnings to him. But he cannot afford to lose his reputation, he told me. Short-sightedness, or a desperate situation? 
Now he’s attempting to restage Auntie. The book had to be rewritten. YuGuo’s story is much too racy for China and they have to tone down all allusions to homosexuality, transgender. What will remain? I wonder. Since YuGuo and LianYen’s friendship collapsed after the harsh reviews the play received, another playwright is now hired for a revised version. What are they going to do with the song lyrics? After all, I’m no longer on the ship. But my name is associated to that.

Alo and I were speechless after watching Synecdoche New York. Charlie Kaufman had astonished all of us with Being John Malkovitch and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I couldn’t see how much further he could go after these brilliant screenplays. Yet in Synecdoche he pushed his wacky ideas ten miles further. When such a genius mind is filled so such a boundless sadness, it seems that all aspects of his life merge with his creativity and become wholes universe intertwining with each other. It’s mesmerizing, terrorizing, fascinating and absolutely depressing. A little like when, as a child I tried to imagine how infinite the universe was. I would get dazed and stunned in the process. 

Sunday, 19 April 2009


Had a strange dream last night. Once again, there was a game in which I was involved. What I remember though has nothing to do with the game. One of my old music school mates was there and at some point he stopped by a window and called two birds. One of them flew to his hand, a beautiful grey parrot. Then the parrot humped to mine. It showed lots of affection. I thought of Jon's cheerful dog Willy. The vibration was the same when he would run to me and expressed his joy at seeing me.
The next day, I was in my room at my parent’s place and there were lots of feathers of a striking turquoise colour.
Just a dream I remembered. I can’t put my finger on any symbol…

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Michael Galasso

Met composer Michael Galasso today. JiaRen invited me for dinner tonight. I was climbing the stairs to the last floor where he was staying, and there was a strong smell of cigarette smoke. A woman was sitting on the landing, working on her laptop, a cigarette in hand. “JiaRen is there”, she said with a warm smile as she pointed to the left. JiaRen left no time in telling me that his neighbour was Michael Galasso. I had just seen his wife. Since her husband didn’t smoke, she had to spend lots of time on the landing. He had recently won an unexpected award at the French Oscars (the Césars) for the score he wrote for Seraphine (a great film, with an astounding performance by Yolande Moreau). Like many people, I chiefly know the music he composed for Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love. His wife, who seems to enjoy his husband’s fame more than he does, was delighted when I expressed my appreciation and immediately called him to the door. The man, a frail short man, was modest and absolutely charming.
We exchanged our contact. 
"I'll make sure to listen to your music", the composer said. "Right now, I'm very busy". He was busy, but he has also been through lots of healthy problems. He could barely make it for the award ceremony. His wife insisted they went. She was so proud of him.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Books and movie stars

No news from Andy lately. I wonder what he’s doing. He’s not much of the writing kind, so I didn’t expect to hear much from him anyway. He managed an occasional few lines. I learned that the flute competition in Kobe did not go as well as he wished. However that was a good experience for him, he said.
Other than that, I have no idea what is happening to him.


I’m keeping on with my reading of film-star memoirs. After Marilyn Monroe and Alec Guinness recently, I’m starting Hedy Lamarr’s, Ecstasy and Me. A ‘shocker’ as advertised on the cover. Brent is a film aficionado and we share great time talking about our favourite stars and films. He insisted on me having his copy of Bette and Joan, a book about the feud between the two stars. I’m not that fond of either of them, but it’s supposed to be quite a delightful read. Brent knows all the second hand bookstores in Chicago where you find treasures after treasures. My downfall it was; I came back with an overweight suitcase and bigger biceps!

Hedy Lamarr

Will see Alo tonight. We’re going to watch Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche New York. Beside books, I have also spent lots of time searching for DVD’s. And it’s always nice to have a cinema companion who can actually appreciate films. I’m curious to see how Charlie Kaufman fares as a director. It may be crazy but I think I’ll approach him for the project when the time comes. It’s crazy, but why not?
I wonder whether he’d be at ease writing a libretto for an opera. I love his screenplays so much that I can’t think of anyone but him –and/or Philip Pullman, to be able to come up with a synopsis ‘big’ enough for what I want to do.
Until then, my play in music will be a good preparation, albeit in a much smaller scale. The fact that the play will be in two different languages will allow the playwrights lots of freedom. When I told her about it, Minita asked whether it could be in Hindi and French for example – does she know any Indian writer? The plot will be the same. The differences will come from the way it is told according to the manners and customs of the country the playwright comes from. I’ve always been captivated by folk tales. After all, films, plays, novels are all tales of human experiences. I would like to keep that idea in mind.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Back to Paris

5:40 in the morning. I didn’t expect to be able to sleep any longer than that. I heard the blackbird singing in the distance. That’s something I have missed living in this part of Paris. The birds’ songs are covered by the traffic noise.

A matter of chance? I finally talked to Micky, the sound engineer who worked on Auntie in Taipei. I had not heard from him since the day I left, and despite a few e-mails I sent, I never received any reply.
The time was right – ripe, then. But it was yesterday. I mentioned NINA being performed at the National Theatre, to which he responded with cries of enthusiasm. Then I just simply asked whether he’d be willing to publish the music on CD through his company. The simple question got a simple answer: yes!
I had written to Jo a week ago, telling him that I wished to revise some details in the score but most of all do the mixing again. Some sections sounded extremely heavy and messy to me. Nothing happens for no reason, obviously!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Cookie monster

The weather has been surprisingly good for the past four days, though not warm enough to make one think about spring. Some courageous spring worshipper bravely wore t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. But today, it's back to the usual: grey sky, cold wind and drizzling rain.
My suitcase is packed with books and DVD's that I have been buying and ordering here in Chicago. I had tried to control myself but the temptation was too strong. This little second-hand bookstore that Brent showed me in Boystown was my temple of perdition.
I’m now devouring Alec Guiness’ diary - My Name Escapes Me, which he wrote when aged 82. It only covers one year of his life (from 1995 to 1996). It’s sad. He never indulges in self-pity, but the account of a man who sees himself waning is poignant. Neverthless this youthful twinkle of his is very much present in his words. 
Great reading.

Now it's time to fly back to Paris. I made sure to bring a big box of those delicious cookies - the best triple chocolate cookies in the world, from Karen's favourite shop aptly named The Goddess, accross the hotel.
Of course, I was stopped at the custom. Too many luggage. But the bag with the cookies...? Still considered as hand luggage. The girl at the customs looked and then added:
"But if you find some willing hand to carry that for you..."
A woman who accompanied a group of teenager came to me. 
"Give that to me", she said. I handed her the bag. "What is it?"
She grinned. "I may run away with it..."
The girl at the customs winked at me when she saw that I found a solution. 
"Think of me when you eat them! They look delicious!" she said.
The next step was to get in the plane unnoticed. This time no friendly face around me. There was a French woman and her husband who had just one bag with them. But when I catch bits of their conversation, I knew they wouldn't do.
Then I found the trick: I took off my winter coat and carried it over my arm, so that it would hide the bag. 
I had made it! The cookies were safe!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Besame mucho

Saw Jeffrey Moy for a second time yesterday evening. He was just back from Beijing and wanted to meet up to give me a box of the best Chinese tea he brought back for me. Such a gentle gesture. A charming young friend of his named Justin joined us. It was fun, witty, joyful. Exactly what I liked. Jeffrey wants to introduce me to some of his highly influential friends. Unfortunately I have to fly back. I’m on the brink of extending my stay here…

Karen had another party organized, this time for her birthday. None of her wealthy millionaire friends, but her family: her two brothers, Brent and Kirk, Kirk‘s adorable daughter Lisa and her boyfriend, Roxeanne, myself and of course, Karen‘s gentleman, Alain.
Just when the birthday cake - a cheesecake, was brought to us, she was asked to play a few of her songs. Kirk listened to them religiously but his smile vanished when the first - unreligious - verse of Goddess of the Gospel, Karen's ode to Marie Magdalene started. The heated debate that followed could have been avoided, but the temptation was too strong and opinions were asked about the song. Kirk warned everyone: "Don’t get me started on the subject". A couple of more songs were heard then Alain jumped in the boiling pool and brought up the thorny subject back in the conversation. On one side, Kirk and his Christian faith, on the other side, Karen and her somehow sensualist theory that the Christ and Marie Magdalene were bonded by marriage. Roxeanne, who is half Palestinian had another approach on the subject and Brent presided the whole argument with his usual wisdom and impartiality. 

Later in the day, I met Jamie Abelson. I had one evening left before flying back to Paris and he said he’d take me to the Green Mill, a speakeasy from the 20’s, legendary for being a favorite place of Al Capone’s, now turned into a jazz club, located in what used to be the Old Chicago. Tonight was to be a slam poetry evening. Jamie and I had dinner with a fellow actress of his, Minita, a beautiful girl from Mumbai. The three of us quickly found a good pace in our jokes and anecdotes. I instantly liked the girl. After only a couple of minutes, we felt we were long time friends.
Jamie wants to introduce me to a theatre group called The Silk Road Company. As the name states it, their works involve artists related to the countries which were on that famous road. The play in music I want to write will perfectly fit their agenda.
The ideas become clearer as I make research about it. It’s going to be two women. One is mortal, the other, immortal. Each comes from the imagination of the other, and each speaks a different language. That will allow the possibility of working with different playwrights. I guess that has never been done before.
I hope Isabelle will be ready for the project. Ready, that is, vocally and psychologically. The project was originally meant for her. But she is so fragile and I wonder whether she’d be able to let go of her issues to finally work in a project worthy of her. We’ll see. I’m not to decide what she’ll be doing. I will just give myself the power to give the role to someone else if she isn’t strong enough. I spite of my love for her.

The slam poetry didn’t last all evening. We missed most of it because we started the evening merrily eating and chatting in the Ethiopian restaurant opposite the street. After an hour intermission, a singer took the microphone to croon jazz standards with a guitar player. Julie London she wasn’t. Actually her singing sounded like someone aping someone who’s imitating Sarah Vaughan. We had the scatting, the phrasing, the healthy vibrato, but she couldn’t get a single note in tune. She looked more like a retarded woman to me. My two companions soon fell in a state of gloominess. They were single and the songs were love songs. Lots of pretty girls were sitting at nearby tables. One raven hair beauty struck Jamie’s eyes. A young couple was embracing and dancing languorously as the singer warbled Besame Mucho. Jamie felt restless. Minita hadn’t seen anyone to her taste. All boring average-looking men. The singer was getting on my nerves. Maybe she was also conjuring an ill wind in out of her love life. I was too happy when they decided to go home.

When Jamie asked me whether I was in a relationship, fragments of the discussion during Karen’s birthday came back to me. I enjoy the idea of love and relationships. However, I have come to this strange conclusion that I may have tried too hard to convince myself that I needed that. My work and my music demands focus and concentration from me. There is a lot I want to do before I leave this earth. I know of love, I feel it as strongly as ever. Then why do I look for it if I sense it so powerfully in me? 

Friday, 10 April 2009

Not what you think

I thought it would be a matter of one or two hours at most, but my extra session with Jon turned out to be a day long affair. The song (Down by Love) needed more than just a few tweaks. My original intention was to give it an electro-pop flavour à la Calvin Harris. Jon stopped me in time. I had just played the bass part when he rightly pointed out that as much fun as it may be, we had to remember that the song was to fit the rest of the album. Off with the electro-pop bass line. We used and recycled elements that had already been recorded. I only played a couple of Wurlitzer parts. I love that instrument!
Karen didn’t look that enthusiastic when I played the song to her. But she’ll learn to like it. I’m starting to know how she functions sometime when things get out of her reach. 
Speaking of which, I have received an e-mail from D, one of the guests Karen had invited yesterday for her little end-of-project get together. D is supposed to help Karen to promote her album. A jovial and outspoken man, he showed great interest in the newly completed songs. 
"Wait until you hear the songs. Then you can talk about what to do with Karen", I had told him
Listen to the songs he did, for he sent me his comments right away. Helping someone is usually a way to prove to oneself that he’s right. To illustrate his comment he found no other example than a video of Madonna's Frozen… I will pass the mail on to Karen only after she comes back to Paris. Let her own opinion grow its roots before she hears anyone else’s.

That little get together took place at an Armenian restaurant that Karen likes not so far from our hotel - I find the food there particularly unimpressive. K, the lady who so kindly invited us to the opera gala was there, as well as her nephew Jamie, a young actor who was just back from a one month trip in Vietnam. She thought we had to be introduced to each other because of that reason. That was very sweet of her, but I don’t want to meet everyone for the sole reason they have been to Vietnam. Jamie laughed when he heard that. "Is that why I'm here?" he said.
It reminds me of one acquaintance who once said to me: "Oh, I thought of you the other day. I had some spring rolls!"

Went with Jamie (another Jamie) to see Stephen Daldry’s latest film, The Reader. Superb… and demoralizing. Karen and Brent have been boasting about it. My first intention was to see something amusing and entertaining to counter this hint of melancholy that envelops me when I finalize a project.  No regret whatsoever. Kate Winslet is brilliant, Ralph Fiennes still has this sea of sadness in his blue eyes that threatens to overflow on you. I was above all impressed by the young actor’s performance. David Kross, his name is. 

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Channelling Billie

We were at the Jazz Showcase tonight., a legendary venue that opened in 1947 and now still run by the same man who created it!
To think that the likes of Count Basie, Joe Williams, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock or Charlie Parker played there, I felt like I was entering a historical sanctuary.
A friend of Brent’s, Joyce Faison - we call her Peaches, was giving a very particular concert. The songs of Billie Holiday. Nothing special so far. But Peaches recreated the last concert that Lady Day gave before dying of a drug overdose. Says Brent: "She channels Billie Holiday". It was scarily true. Peaches not only managed to capture the spirit of the singer, as well as her range, her body language and styling, she became Billie Holiday. It was a play with music. This was the work of a great actress as well as vocalist.
I enjoyed sitting with this audience. So alive and cheerful. The show was a smash hit. The owner who is quite reluctant to hire female vocalists may change his mind about Peaches.


We’re putting the finishing touch to Karen’s songs. The last one, Touch me Again is a little gem. I wanted Karen to try to do spoken words and only sing in the chorus. She was quite unwilling in the beginning, thinking I just didn’t want her to sing. Now that she’s heard the result, she is glad we did it. The music blends dancehall reggae and a Spanish guitar - Kraig did it in one stunning take, and a little hook that popped up in my head as I was doing my work out routine at the fitness centre. When people ask me how inspiration comes to me, little do they know that it’s usually in the most unlikely situation. No big prairies, no blue sky, no frolicking in nature…!
I have one day left. Still one song to finish - Down By Love. Another upbeat song that Karen found hard to master. Fear and apprehension still play bad tricks on her confidence, so I advised her to get a music method to learn the basics. Sight reading and rhythm. She understood the necessity of it. I’m sure she’ll rapidly see the difference once she has digested a few lessons. If her vocal prowess may not impress for now, there is one thing that many will find inspiring: her courage and perseverance. I have rarely seen someone that brave in facing his own demons. She has been a guiding light.

Five more days. How fast it goes!

With Karen

Red is not a safe colour

Voilà c’est fini! Ten songs, mixed and finalized today. Karen left with a copy of her album, Red is Not a Safe Colour. She is quite nervous now, because it’s time to get real about her music. A record label, a distributor, a manager, a website… Just thinking of it makes her dizzy. I’m sure she’ll find the right person. Before she does find the right person, she will probably meet a few of these honeyed-tongued wolves with empty promises and no real plans. For the time being, she has to let the baby sleep before listening to it again and do the mastering.
I still have to go to Jon’s tomorrow to work on that one last song, Down By Love and record new parts for it. I’ll do my best to finish it. It’s strange because on our last day of our previous recording sessions last December, Down By Love was also the song we could not complete. Something is resisting. I have a new arrangement in my head that will use elements of the current version. I hope the result will be satisfactory. If not, it will be just of the pleasure of seeing Jon again and his dog, an adorable border collier dog called Willy! If there’s something I will miss, it’s Willy jumping and hopping around me every morning when I come. It’s when Willy comes and sits by us during the recording sessions, when he runs down to the basement where we work to greet us each time he come back from a couple of days off in the countryside, Willy who shows me all his tricks to get a little treat, Willy who mistakes cars for sheep and barks at them in a frustrated attempt to herd them.

I want to come back to Chicago by the end of June to record my own album. I told Jon who says he’ll make sure to have time for me. I will have to make an estimate of the total cost and find a way to get sponsored. How is a question that will find its answer, even if I’m not the one who knows it!


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Beyond the blur

I had my evening off, so I decided to have a little change of mind and accepted to meet one of my few cyber friends tonight. Meeting someone for the first time is like a game of lottery. It can be an absolute delight or make me wish I could stop time and walk out of the room. Today’s Mr. Stranger made me wish I could just vanish in thin air. I had to listen to a whole series of stories about a man who, though already past his prime never allowed himself to fulfil his wishes and aspirations, who would left his native city of Manila to find himself, but would always let his wealthy parents conduct his life, who would prefer to stay away from relationships for fear of suffering, who has now come to the conclusion that family is gold and wants to devote the rest of his life knowing his siblings better.
The usual ordinary tragedy of Asian traditions. I attempted to share my views on the subject. He listened but it was almost cruel of me to do so. It’s like standing on the other side of the river and telling someone to cross when I am aware he cannot swim. It made me sad. I wish I could help people to find strength and faith in themselves. I can’t save the world.

Two more days of work with Karen. The time capsule in which I will have lived for three weeks is going to pop open and memory will make it seem like no more than a picture in motion.
She may have worked hard on it, but the song Beyond the Blur proved too great a challenge for Karen. Not that she could not sing it. But the style just simply didn’t fit her. She’s more at ease with slow or down-tempo numbers. Jon suggested that I recorded some scratch vocals for a demo so to sell it to a young recording artist. Other projects of that kind may shape up for me. Karen’s brother Brent also thinks I could work as a producer for young artists here. I have never thought of that, but the idea is quite nice. It would be a good way to make some money to realise my personal projects.

I will be back very soon!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The glory of the human voice

Estate sale this morning in the Lakeview area. Jon called me this morning and picked me up half an hour later. They were getting rid of lots of vintage recording equipment that Jon is so crazy about. He left with a stack of tapes, sound effect vinyls and objects that only meant something to him. His wife will be delighted! I found a few old records that were more of interest for their cover.
I contented myself with some vintage LPs, my most prized acquisition being a record by millionaire soprano extraordinaire Florence Foster Jenkins!

Speaking of soprano, there was an opera gala tonight to promote the up-and-coming young stars from the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera. Two strikingly wonderful singers: Adriana Chuchman, gorgeous and elegant red-haired beauty who reminded me of Julianne Moore, with a magnificent presence and wonderful musicality and Amber Wagner, who would be perfect in...Wagner precisely! She is one of those ‘typical’ opera singers, ample and majestic - another singing turkey, I first thought as I saw her entering on stage, but endowed with the richest voice. Her musicality and phrasing were flawless. She started with an aria from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera which left the whole audience stunned with admiration. The two girls performed the famous Aber der richtige duet from Richard Strauss' Arabella . My evening was complete after that. There was also a young tenor named Edward Mout who showcased an excellent acting flair and a total ease with the text. When he sang his aria from Gianni Schicchi,  he took us in the heart of the drama. For four minutes, I forgot about the gala.
The president of the Ryan Opera Center is a very dear friend of Karen who decided to use her colossal fortune to help artists. An opera lover herself, it was natural for her to be active in that field.
Karen wanted me to meet her and that gala was the perfect opportunity. The first encounter went well. The rest will follow - or not. It seems it is the time for me to meet people who can really bring me to another level of my career.
Last week, as I was about to have an early night, a friend of mine asked me whether I’d want to join him for dinner. He also wanted to introduce me to someone who, he said, owned the largest book gallery about Asian art and culture. Jeffrey Moy, his name was, had us come to his place and cooked for us. There many people I like, lots of people I love and many others whose company I enjoy. But there are few people who really interest me. Jeffrey Moy is one of them. He opened his library for me and my jaw dropped at all the treasures I saw. I may buy books, he buys entire libraries…