Friday 28 May 2010

Nearly the end

I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But I know I will! I received an email from the company manager of Noism, informing me that they expect me in Niigata on July 6th. That’s perfect. I don’t think I need to be there for longer than two weeks. Most of the work is done now, so it is wiser to cut the spending.
I wish they’ll be willing to fly me to Taipei for a stop over of a week or so. That would be the ideal plan. Still no answer from them, so I should be patient.
Anyway, I still haven’t really started to prepare for the move. I more or less know how I want to do it: hire people to pack everything for me and ship it to Taipei. The passport isn’t done yet. I’m waiting for some papers proving that I was born in France. The rules have been reinforced regarding papers and  ID. More often than once recently, I have been called ‘bloody Chinese’, something I haven’t heard since I was a child. Is that a sign?

... which means: "beware of [gorillas] humans"

Boulevard de l'Opéra

La fille au vent

Branches from my window

Île de la Cité


I’m half of a scene away from being totally finished with the music of the Tales of Hoffmann. I composed the first part of that final scene that gave me so many headaches. Jo liked what I did last. The big challenge is to know how to end that scene.  I realized I unconsciously made the composition process linger on and on because I was afraid finishing it too quickly will signal the big move to Taipei once and for all. It’s not an easy time for me. My mind had been drifting away, but the reality of my decision is starting to show itself in all its glory.
So I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but it will happen.
I have been asked to write a few comments for the program about the creative process in the composition of the score. I’m supposed to tell how difficult it was to compose music after Offenbach’s celebrated swan song. Quite an irrelevant question, which also shows how much people are in awe of past achievements.
As I did so when I worked on Salomé, I totally ignored the opera so not to be influenced by it (quite presumptuous of me to even say I could be influenced by it. I would never think of matching those masterpieces!) and tried to create a musical world of my own – despite the fact that I had to follow Jo’s indication very precisely. And anyway, if I had to take Offenbach’s music into consideration, I would have turned down the project out of humility. Many people did write operas on the story of Don Giovanni, even if Mozart’s masterpiece completely knows no equal. Isabelle pointed out that it would be wise not to call the ballet The Tales of Hoffmann. Maybe simply Hoffmann. Or E.T.A.


I also have to face it: my mother is losing her memory. Not all of it. But she finds it hard to remember things that had just happened. Her memory is perfect when it comes to events that happened up to a few years back. It doesn’t help that she keeps saying that her memory is bad. The more she says it, the more she believes it and the more she allows it to spreads. It pains me to see that. But I will leave her space and let her be what she is. I suppose it’s the same for a child: the more you pay attention to a problem, the bigger it becomes. You let it be and it becomes normal again.

A few cousins from Los Angeles were here in Paris for a holiday – call it holiday when it’s about running from one place to another in a very limited time to see all family members, with under-aged children to take care of…


With Tyler's little sister Zoe

My mother invited them a couple of times to come and have dinner at her place but she cancelled each time because she didn’t feel good – quite a usual thing she does.  More often than not, she gets ready for an event or a week end at friends’ place to finally stay home because of some sudden illness or weak condition of hers.
I came one evening to one of those dinners and made the mistake not to call beforehand, thinking that would just simply show up and join the whole party during dinner. When I reached my parents’ home, I was struck by the quietness. There was no unfamiliar car – not that I can really tell the difference…
When I entered the house, I saw my father’s surprised look then my mother who had nearly forgotten she cancelled the dinner. Since I had been quite busy with Hoffmann the past couple of months, it was a good opportunity to see them anyway. But I spoiled it when I could not contain my concern over my mother’s state. She was obviously forgetting more and more. Sometime she wouldn’t make sense and would repeat the same question within a short time, something I didn’t notice even a few months back. Was she repressing her sadness at seeing me leave and drifting in her own mind not to face my departure? The roots must certainly originate from a deeper past… She was always quite passive in her life and sailed through it without really getting a grip on the events. She abided.
My ultimate move may be to allow her to be her own person and stop seeing her through the looking glass of the son.
When I realized the gravity of her condition I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed and tried too hard to convince her. Of what? What could I really do anyway? What power did I have? I had managed well from childhood until now. I spoke too harshly. My father tried to stop me but I didn’t listen. Until my mother exploded and started weeping. Then I had to face it: she was 77, she was no longer young even if she still looked great and dynamic for her age. But I couldn’t ask her to be what she no longer was. I hugged her apologized. I had no right to talk to her like I did. I still owed her respect and consideration.
I also felt miserable. It was as if I had lost her that day. Maybe in my mind.

Monday 17 May 2010


Been working a lot with Isabelle. She’s going through some heavy time with her family; her mother who’s obviously reaching the end of her earthly stay has lost all connection with 'real' world. She needs constant care, she is constantly in a state of fear and has become a helpless little girl again. A broken shoulder bone has weakened her even more and she had to be hospitalized. I hope she reaches a more peaceful state of being. How long does she have left, it could be a question of months, weeks, a year or two… Maybe her soul has decided it was time to go.
Working together on Hoffmann is a good escape for Isabelle. She has three arias to sing, one for Olympia and two for Antonia, as well as some incidental scenes.
Jo and I have been exchanging countless emails. The past two months were very intense and highly creative for both of us. Each morning, we would wake up and wait for news from each other; he, new music from me, and I his feedback and comments. Out of the two hours of music I have written, maybe half of it had to be redone, revised or readjusted. If PLAY 2 PLAY and NINA came from our imagination and creative impulse, I felt much less freedom when I composed the score to Hoffmann. It wasn’t a simple matter. Jo had to find a way to approach the tales, and I had to find a way to approach his approach of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tales. It was like creating music blindfolded. I can’t wait to see what he has done with the choreography. I haven’t the slightest clue about how it’s going to look like. Jo promised to send me a video of the rehearsals. If I was anxious and reluctant to get his feedback, I gather he must feel the same. We laughed and joked a lot in our exchanges. I was on the verge of losing my faith and my patience more than once when a scene would still not fit his idea. There is still one scene that hasn’t found its completed state: the final state: the final scene when Antonia dances to her death. Three attempts miserably failed to meet his expectation. I have decided to let it sit for a few days.
Now that he’s got 99% of the music, I can take it easy, think about my move to Taipei, get done with all the paper works, get a new passport, since my stolen belongings were not returned to me. 

Some self-portraits I did for Noism for the program,
showing me at work.

The good news is that Gilbert Castro, Bévinda’s producer and the one who launched Cesaria Evora in Europe, has showed interest in my new album. He set for an appointment by the end of the month. I came to him when I was still doing the demos of Circlesong. He declined because he felt he wasn’t the right person for the kind of music I was doing. Bévinda told me that he listened to it again recently and really liked it. The last concert didn’t leave him a good impression, mostly because of the poor sound.
However he bought one of the USB keys that were for sale and listened to the six tracks which were on it. The verdict: he liked what he heard.

For now, I am writing a new song with Bévinda. Our last one, Ja Fui was met enthusiastically by the audience during the concert. This new song is aimed for the next Hôtel Costes compilation. Damien asked me whether I had a song for it and I thought of doing one with Bévinda. Oriental groove meets dance-hall dub with a zest of Latin feel and zest and the addition of strings and piano. It’s a going to be a ‘fuck you, I can do without it’ song, in a light and tongue-in-cheek mood.
If the song isn’t selected for Hôtel Costes, it’s going to feature on Hyperbody and possibly be the third song for the album we’re doing together.
Nous verrons bien!

Isabelle at work

Tuesday 11 May 2010

A life in a (Hoffmann) shell

Hoffmann, Hoffmann. Hoffmann all day, Hoffmann all night. But… it’s nearly done. From a 90 minute long ballet, it has become a full-length two hour piece. Jo nearly drove me nuts with all the requests on the music, speeding up, slowing down, extending, shortening, cutting, editing, removing, adding, pasting, deleting, changing, rewriting… At some point, I was on the verge of calling it quit and fly to the next iceberg and sink with it.
Jo has been pacing the scenes together this week and we begin to see the whole picture. He, more than I, since I have no idea what the choreography is like, what the costumes or the set design will be.

As I was reading some literature about E.T.A. Hoffmann, his tales and Offenbach’s opera, I realized how the whole project is reflecting my current state and questions in life. It is even more fascinating to see this game of mirrors between my life, Jo’s life, Isabelle’s life; how everything is intertwined between the new piece we are now creating, how it finds echoes in Offenbach’s opera and E.T.A. Hoffman’s tales, the life and experience they transcended in their work. It’s nothing new. The same story has been repeated, reproduced, snake-eyed for ages. I still find it riveting. In this particular case reality and creation are becoming one. My life is indeed my creation and my own theatre. I see so much of Jo’s life in this piece as I did when we did PLAY 2 PLAY. The signs I get from Hoffman’s tales show me a possible direction my life may take. As for Hoffmann, I have to choose between art and a happy domestic life. Are the two so incompatible? That is a big question for which I see no answer. Isabelle says that I should visualize a partner whom I would look up to, someone who would be my equal as well as my inspiration. My love affairs so far have been whether short-lived or excessively passionate and destructive. I have no regret for anything. Like Hoffmann, I was composing the image of the perfect partner, always pushing it further and further. The eternal story of the eternal quest, Lancelot or Le Grand Maulnes. Am I truly willing to find that person? Or is this a life force I need, to keep myself moving forward? Those hundreds of lovers have showed me hundreds aspects of life. 

Wednesday 5 May 2010


Gang called at the last moment to ask me whether I wanted to be his companion for a night out at the opera house. There was a Jerome Robbins evening at the Palais Garnier and he had a spare ticket. I hesitated for an instant and gladly accepted. I was stuck with this final scene from the third act that Jo asked me to revise several times, without any satisfying result. A change of air was welcome, even if we were to see dance… And Gang got us seats in the front row, right behind the conductor!
They performed three pieces by Robbins: En Sol, In the Night and The Concert as well as Triade, a new dance piece by Benjamin Millepied - an odd name for a choreographer.
En Sol is choreographed to Ravel’s Concerto en Sol. It was a pleasant piece but I was slightly disturbed by the fact that the pianist, who is the soloist, played as if she were merely a member of the orchestra. Or maybe she wasn’t good enough as a soloist, but that created an imbalance in the music itself and the choreography. The dancers were really good technically but somehow I had the feeling that Robbins’ intentions were left aside. It seemed to me that this piece was about this time when the old world was giving way to the modern world. In Ravel’s music, elements of jazz are whirling and playing with a classical instrumentation and structure. I guess the choreography reflected that as well. However they did it like a ballet and forgot the modernity. Maybe it’s hard to see how modern it is now… 
Triade was more interesting for me. It had a strong West Side Story flavour – maybe the lighting design and the costumes - didn't Jerome Robbins do the choreography and shot the best scenes for film? 
Musically, it was more familiar territory. Nico Mühly, wrote a score that sounded like a blending of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
The second part was dedicated to two pieces that Robbins choreographed on music by Chopin. In the Night was… well not really my cup of tea. The dancing was perfect, but I can no longer get aroused by pointes, arabesques, grand jeté and portés… The choice of music by Chopin didn’t help matters. It turned the whole thing into an extremely sweet pastry and it was hard for Gang and I to keep serious in front of such an overdose of sentimentality. I know some people enjoyed it extremely.
The Concert was totally the opposite. The music of Chopin was arranged and orchestrated and served as a musical setting for a farce in which all the clichés about dance and ballet were mocked. We laughed a lot and good-heartedly. The musicians in the orchestras never got to see the show so they were quite frustrated not to be able to know what made us laugh so much. But I saw their smile. At one point, the violinist stood up to have a peak but couldn’t see anything but the stage floor…