Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Castle in the air

Not so good news from Vietnam. The theatre where we are supposed to perform the show in Hôi Anh is an old cinema theatre they want to renovate. The main issue lies in the fact that it is considered part of the historical heritage of the country.
Now the officials are having second thoughts about the renovations. They do not want to put air conditioning – to open a theatre in a hot country such as Vietnam without air conditioning would mean organized murder for the performers and the audience.
An e-mail from them also told me that my fees were considered too high. But instead of bargaining with me, they very subtly put it in the shape of a compliment: how they liked and respected my work and were looking forward to collaborate with me in the future when the right project with the right condition would come. The dilemma for me is whether to stop accepting another underpaid project or to follow this generous disposition of mine that would push me to understand their situation and therefore do it for ‘art’s sake’. I promised myself this would not happen after Auntie.
We shall have an answer newt week. Working for less can be only acceptable if the team is a good one.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Alo (1)

Alo suggested we saw Soderbergh’s new film Girlfriend Experience. I have never seen anything from this director, not even Sex, Lies & Videotape. It was also an experience to watch it. Alo and I left the theatre with mixed feelings. I can’t say I didn’t like it. Talking about the film is pointless. I had the feeling I had read Vanity Fair. All gloss but empty. The film was a fragmented portrait of a high class young New York hooker in search of herself, or a meaning - or love. But in the end, it was desperate and cold, as if all the characters were denied any humanity. Maybe what the director wanted.
"I liked the poster" Alo said. "That’s what gave me the idea of seeing this film…" Yes, the poster is indeed well designed. At least this film gave me a hint of the musical direction I am to follow for Alo’s video project.
I have a peculiar relationship with Alo. We seem to be very close in a cerebral way. As he told me once after we saw Millenium, he’s not used to express or say much when it comes to his feelings. Apparently, it’s quite common in Estonia. I find it to be a very Japanese trait as well. To me it’s like catching butterflies. 
He gave me a bar of chocolate as a little gift to soothe my loneliness after my breakup with Andy. 

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Project in Vietnam and in Taiwan?

Linh has written back to me about the show in Vietnam. They seem to accept my conditions and I shall fly there next month to start the composition of the score.
They asked what musicians I intended to have, so I thought: a string quartet, a harp, a percussion ensemble, erhu, bamboo flute, a Vietnamese sitar and maybe a couple of traditional singers. Studio sessions will start by the end of August in Saigon!

After the debacle of Auntie last year, I swore that I would not work in these conditions again. Yet, I have received another offer from the same company. A musical based on Astroboy, the famous manga by Osamu Tezuka. The project is still very vague. From what I have understood, they are going to use the essence of it, not the characters nor the story.
I’m supposed to be well paid this time, with good accommodation and four airplane tickets. I made it clear that what mattered to the most to me was to work with experienced and able people.
I’ll know more in October when the project will be submitted.
That said, my daily mantras seem to be working well. I have to keep on and be even clearer with what I visualize for myself.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Solitary birthday


I claim to not care much about my birthday. It was difficult to ignore it though, for I was showered with hundreds of messages on Facebook. However, these messages didn’t cross the line to materialize in my reality. The dichotomy couldn’t be more striking. While everyone thought I was partying wildly with happy and cheerful friends, I actually stayed home alone and spent an aimless day. I was so broke I couldn’t even afford to buy myself a loaf of bread. At the end of the day, Jan eventually stopped by for a cup of tea. He had dropped an envelope in my mailbox earlier in the afternoon with enough for me to last a few days. That gesture deeply moved me. It’s strange that I do not allow myself to receive help. But what a precious friend I have!
As we were sipping out tea, a violent storm was raging outside. Lightning every second.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

With Jan

To break this intense solitude, Jan and I had dinner at his place. A soothing moment with my old friend. How many years already? Twenty two!!!
We compared our current life situation. We discussed our parents’ legacy. The past should no longer have any influence on our present. What is it that we still drag this burden of misery on our shoulders?  He played me sketches of new songs of his. They’re irresistible. He’s really finding his path now. His music is getting greater and greater. Gone are the gospel years and the lousy jobs he had to accept as an accompanist. His last concerts were excellent and it’s just the beginning.   

Friday, 10 July 2009

Festival de Paris

For the past two months, I have been saying my mantras before going to bed. Take the time to chase away negative thoughts, invite them out and replace by positive ones. I’m amazed at all the energy we put to keep the pain body. Why not reverse the process?
So I say out loud happy things I visualize for myself. I call for them. There is no ‘if’ and ‘would like to’, not even ‘want to’. I may no know how or when these good things will come, but I bring in the confidence that they will.
And it works.

Just when I was in the middle of the Làng Tôi frenzy, I received an e-mail from a dancer friend in Saigon. He had given my contact to a girl who is about to supervise a big project in Vietnam. They needed a composer and he had been singing high praises about my work. Linh, a young woman who was born in France but settled in Vietnam a few years ago to work there wrote to me and explained what the project was about: a theatre was to open next year in Hôi An, and they commissioned her to put on a one hour long show that would involve dance music and circus. Wasn’t it a coincidence? My friend Loc, who choreographed Lâng Tôi was the first choice but he had to decline due to a huge amount of work, including touring Lâng Tôi… A shame, for I would have loved to work with him.
Linh and I met one sunny afternoon. We agreed on most of everything. Now remains the how’s and when’s. I have to make an estimate of the total cost as far as the music is concerned.
They need the music before the end of September. Auditions and rehearsals shall be held in November. That’s a perfect timing for me. That also means that I will have to go to Vietnam very soon in order to compose and record the music.
Vietnam in August? When it’s scorching hot and humid? I’m so excited.
I enjoy being in Paris but the energy here drags me down.


A film festival is currently being held in Paris. I got the pass and went to the cinema nearly every day. Not always masterpieces I have seen. Among the good surprises: $E11.0U7! (Sell Out), a bittersweet musical comedy by first time director Malaysian Yeo Joon Han. He was selling the soundtrack of film after the screening so I took the opportunity to exchange a few lines and get his contact as I was buying a copy of the soundtrack. I was surprised to learn that he was formerly a lawyer before turning to cinema. It was only when he was studying law in London that he was introduced to different works than the usual American blockbusters and realized his love for this art.
I wrote to him and was surprised to receive a reply a day later. I don’t know where all this is going to lead to, but I have this little wish that we may collaborate on a film project together.
Many other Asian films were presented during this festival: Antique a fast moving Korean gay comedy based on the manga by Fumi Yoshinaga populated by handsome actors. Antique won’t change the face of cinema, but it’s this kind of undemanding feel good film that cheers you up on a rainy day.
The others I saw were more on a wacky side: Quickie Express, Better than Sex, Temptation Island and The Sperm – the latter being a hilarious blending of rock, sex comedy, nonsensical slapstick and science- fiction.

After I stormed out of my parents’ place two days ago in state of sheer distraught, I ended up in a movie theatre to watch the most peculiar film: Honor de Cavallería, a Spanish film by Albert Serra. I had no idea what I was about to see. I didn’t care; I needed a change of mind. 
A ‘road movie’ involving Don Quichotte and his companion Sancho, this was a two hour long filmic stream of consciousness, as we watch them wander aimlessly, converse with one another rather sparingly in the middle of sumptuous landscape. All narrative was discarded. The actors weren’t even convincing. They just looked like actors in costumes rehearsing a play in and arid wilderness. I was in a state of sleepiness most of the time, maybe out of shock after my familial drama and felt like I was on a high. The slowness and apparent lack of any narrative added to that feeling. Here and there, a few lines would pop out of this fogginess: ‘We are knights. And we, knights have to try our best and never give up’ says Don Quichotte at some point. I suddenly woke up from my state of semi consciousness.
‘That’s true’ I thought. ‘In spite of all the tough times, the dramas and differences with people, I have to do my best and never give up.’
Isn’t it funny how one has to be at one particular place to hear that one particular line…

Petites scènes de famille

I have decided to give up this piece for two violins. I am absolutely not inspired. I have only managed to sketch a few bars but nothing has come and the whole thing has become more of a burden than anything.
I feel even better now that I have let go of this task.
The enthusiasm I had at the start died down so quickly. It felt like buying a delicious looking pastry and finding out that it had no taste at all. 


I have been blessed with a strong sense of family. I respect and try to honour my parents as much as I can, in spite of my obvious flaws. Our family having the history that we have, it’s a heavy weight to carry on my shoulder. Typically Asian, some of my Western friends might remark.
Durkheim however said so wisely there are three things one has to liberate himself from: religion, country and family. The last one is the most difficult. The larger the family, the trickier the web.
What can I do when I try to stay in the light and around me, the people I love cling to their negativity and threaten to drag me down? It’s like trying to keep a candle lighted while winds are blowing from all direction.
Visiting my parents can be formidable moments of peace frozen in time, like this sunny Sunday we spent a couple of weeks ago. We were just the three of us, eating in the garden, enjoying the sundown and each other’s company. Perfection doesn’t require much. We were simply happy to be there. A beautiful moment I shall remember for a long time.
Lunch today on the contrary turned into drama. As time drifts by, my mother appears to be less and less able to control her emotions and her fears. She blames it on her heart, but I believe it’s all the repressed anger and fears she’s locked inside for so many years. When she’s gone to far in her anticipation of fear, hurtful things are said that she doesn’t even mean.
What child doesn’t wish to make his parents happy? I wish there was a way I could bring mine some comfort and joy. The more I try, the more illusory the task seems to be. And that saddens me deeply. In spite of the love I have for them, I am powerless. The only thing I can do is to live my life and live it happily. That may be the only true gift I can make to them.
Nevertheless, I’m still shaken by all this.
It’s time.

With my parents - Photo by Mathieu Thoisy

Friday, 3 July 2009


I rarely cry in my life. But I did shed more than one tear when I watched this Japanese film Departures. The subject was quite unusual: how a young cellist quits being a musician and leaves Tokyo to start a new life – so far nothing unusual, but the new job he finds is: to prepare, make up, dress up the deads for their next journey, hence the title. My Japanese friend Yasuchi who has just left for Tokyo to send his grandmother to her afterlife told me that the people doing this job were considered a lower caste in Japan.
This film will hopefully be shedding a different light on the subject.
Death has been present in my life ever since I was a child. If we learn about the passing away of a beloved one, it’s a rarer case to witness that moment when someone leaves his earthly life.
When I was 18, I lost a dear aunt of mine. Quite ironically, it was when she visited my mother who was being operated from a tumour that she underwent a checking and was diagnosed cancer. My mother recovered but she started to get ill. To spare his two sons, my uncle decided to conceal the fact from them and only told them that she was having a long sickness.  Unfortunately, he also told his wife the same thing.  Eventually, things got worse and he had to tell them… only one week before her death. I don’t know whether she knew what was happening to her. The two boys who had not been paying much attention to their mother during her illness were suddenly hit by a devastating sense of guilt. But it was too late to catch up with the lost time. 
Then the last day.
It was a Sunday, in November. I had not quite caught the extent of the tragedy that was taking place in front of my eyes. We visited my aunt like we often did. I ran up to her room to greet her. She was lying in bed, looked at me and smiled weakly.
I had known her ever since I was five. She loved me very much, maybe because I was more sensitive than her own sons. Maybe she recognized how lonely I actually was because I was different. She related to that. I remember how one day, she led me to her room to play me a song she liked, the B side of a popular single.
‘We all know the other song’, she said. ‘This one is different.’ A slow and sentimental song, it was. At the age of seven I didn’t fully grab what she really meant. I only found it odd that she shared that song with me while her guests, the other adults, were chatting and dining in the living room. Now that I think back, she was barely in her mid twenties. She must have felt lonely.
She enjoyed teasing me a lot. She would ask an embarrassing question and watch me stand there in front of her speechless and then she would laugh. 
That Sunday, she was no more than a faint shadow of herself. She didn’t seem to understand or fully realize the tragedy in which she was the unwilling heroine. The afternoon went by slowly. The whole family was there, as well as the doctor. Everybody was getting ready for the final hour. We all prayed. I stayed alone with my aunt, sitting at the end of her bed, while I heard sobbing and crying coming from the other rooms. Strangely, everyone found a way to avoid the crucial moment. My aunt didn’t seem to acknowledge my presence anymore. Did she know what was happening? As the sun went down, so did she. Slowly. Ineluctably.  Death had a mesmerizing effect on me. I saw the room where we were, then the house, the city, the planet… We’re not much in this world, I thought. 
Departures reminded me of these times when I lost people I loved and cared for. It’s a beautiful thing to accompany the dead on their last journey. Last? Last according to us, until it’s our turn. Then it’s just another journey.
A departure.