Sunday, 25 December 2011

Make it simple

Thief was scheduled to be aired on public TV as a Christmas special, so I suggested to Jay and CJ that I dropped by at their place with a couple of friends to watch it and have a little get together with drink and food. Ulysses and Benoît were the friends who were to join me but their bailed out at the last minute. Jay had just moved into a new flat in Guandu, North of the city, not far from where I stayed on my first visit to Taipei.
It was Christmas so I knew my whole family would be together for the traditional meal. I had told my brother I would make a call or use Skype. Twenty minutes before the film started, I got to see them from Jay's computer. There they were, my parents, my brother, Mathilde and the newcomer in the family (who was having a nap, but opened his eyes to strike me a little smile), Mathilde's parents and also Julia, who's now part of every Tôn Thât gathering. It was already quite late in the afternoon, but they were just finishing the Christmas lunch. I exchanged greetings with everyone.
"Next year, you'll come for Christmas and stay until Chinese New Year!" my father said said with when it was his turn, he was holding a tea cup in his hands and his voice was strangled by emotion. It was not a wish, it sounded nearly like a command! I miss him so much.
"Oh! One month? That's a long time!" I didn't know what else to say. That I live far away, each visit has to be worthwhile, though by being worthwhile, the visits also become quite draining. Once again, the thought occurred to me that absence is sometime better to handle than presence. Because absence can be shaped and moulded at one's will.  
It's my fourth absence for Christmas. I don't really have any regret. Compulsory official holidays have exhausted all their appeal to me. Am I selfish? I made the effort through the years, Christmases, New Years, birthdays, mother's days, father's days, anniversaries... but I find it more refreshing to show them that it's always possible to create new and improvised opportunities to celebrate. 

The Tôn Thât family
I promised to call them after the film. But I knew that this little video appearance would be enough. We watched the film. We talked about the next one Rowboat, that CJ is going to do soon in a couple of months. Another short film.
I was also happy to be there with Ryan.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Như An


Sometime, a face, a name that has long disappeared from my memory comes back, still fresh and vivid. On the MRT, I can't help associating faces I see with people I know or have known. 
I love to observe children. They bring me so much joy. Was I ever like them? What's going on in their mind? Do they parents hear them, understand them? Youth, children, agelessness. And I connected my thoughts to Như An, a distant cousin of mine I had known since childhood. She was the older sister of Mai An who was our game companion whenever we would meet during holidays. Như An being the eldest (only by a few years), she first saw us as uninteresting beings. She was more interested in reading magazines about royalties. Royalties fascinated her - much more than us, trivial things!
"Như An always acts like she's an adult", I would say to my parents.
But her aloofness didn't last long and she would soon join our games - not the star war space battles, though. A few years later, she was still the same, physically. 
"Như An is never going to grow" my mother told me. "She has a disease and will always keep the body of a 12 year old girl."
"Even when she's 20?" I asked. 20 seemed so remote to me. "Even when she's 30?". 30 was unthinkable.
My mother nodded with a resigned expression. 
"It's very difficult for the parents" she went on. 
She was a very bright and lively girl, and if anything grew it was her obsession with royalties - the British royalties, as well as the story of Grace Kelly becoming Princess of Monaco. She grieved when Grace Kelly died in her car accident, and she didn't miss a single detail of Charles and Diana's sumptuous wedding.
Once, as we were spending a week end in their three-storied flat in Nancy, she mused about inviting the royal family to their place. 
I vaguely understood that her father worked as a doctor for the Royal Family many years ago. But if I was none too much uninterested to ask for more details, I still accompanied her in her fantasy and elaborated a 'plan' with her. Where they would stay, what room, what they would eat, how we would call them... We would get more and more excited as we imagined what we would do with them.
"But I'm not so certain they will deign to come to 'Nancy City'..." she eventually said.
I grew from little boy to adolescent, she kept the same. We went on summer holiday together. I shared my love for opera with her and she enjoyed watching a whole performance of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. At 19, she looked like a young girl of 13. Only the twinkle in her eyes betrayed a certain maturity. Royalty was still much in the topics. When Princess Grace's second daughter Stéphanie tried her hand at being a pop singer, she of course bought the record. The edge of insouciance.
My last conversation with her was a couple of years later, during the Christmas season. We were spending some jolly time with them in Nancy. I was at the peak of my teenager angst, countless altercations with my parents, especially with my father.
After one of those heated fights, I took refuge in the TV room on the third floor. The lights on the Christmas tree were blinking; Như An was sitting on one of the armchairs. She saw I was upset. She asked why. I told her. Now I don't even know what the argument was about, but I remember her, sitting opposite me.
"You know, I also often fight with my dad... I understand" she said. "He's stubborn so he never listens. I can't talk to my mother either. I don't have the feeling anyone really understands what's going on inside..." 
She didn't say much more, but I appreciated her words. And it occurred to me that since she was supposed to stay a little girl, everyone assumed her mind would do so. Behind all the talks about royalty, I suddenly saw that she was trying to imagine her ideal of an ideal family, she being a princess. A beautiful one.  Did anyone have a clue?
A few years later, I was in my early twenties. As I came back from a tour, I saw a plastic bag with some CDs and records inside. 
"Oh, Như An and her family dropped by for a visit. She left that for you."
There were a handful of 7" singles, songs that she liked, songs which made the soundtrack of our happy holiday time (for the best or, more often, for the worst, remember Stéphanie...) and (unexpectedly) a CD of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.
There was no note. She knew I loved classical music. The CD is still on my shelves.
The last time I saw her was again on Christmas day. 10 years ago? 12? She didn't speak anymore. She had completely retreated in her inner, silent world. Still a young girl, with the difference that with all the medication she had to take, she now looked like an overblown balloon. She didn't join us for the meal and remained in her room the whole time of our visit. 
As the parents were having their adult conversation and talking about Mai An's upcoming wedding, I went to her room. She was lying motionless on her bed. Only her breathing betrayed that she was with us. And the twinkle in her eyes, although nothing was said. I sang a little song.
"I'm better here than outside", her eyes seemed to say. "I would like to go, but I have to stay... for them"
Did she convey that through her eyes or did I imagine it? But that intensity, and the softness in them. She seemed happy to see me.
Her father came into the room to check whether everything was fine. He was glad to see me with her.
"I would be so happy if you could convince her to go have a meal with you. Something, anything..." he said. Poor man...
I know she still lives (is that the right word?) with her parents in a more modest flat near Paris. Her sister got married. The elder brother so far is still a bachelor and still angry with his father. 
Như An would occasionally visit me in my dreams. Of course, in them, she would talk and laugh, yet still remain a little girl physically.


When saw her for the first time, I smiled, like the other kids from the music conservatory. Françoise spoke with a high pitched, nasal Minnie Mouse voice, dressed up in a fashion that would make one think of her as a crossbreed between Little Red Riding Hood and one of these archetypal vintage images of the typical family - she would be the daughter. Two long braids and a pair of thick glasses completed the picture. What else? She was also twice if not three times our age and was always accompanied by her mother, a quiet (resigned?) lady in her sixties. She had the body of a woman (albeit more the Leslie Caron type than the Jayne Mansfield type) but her brain was that of a girl of nine or ten. Françoise was always there whenever I would go to the conservatory to practice or attend a class. I don't know how long she had been studying music there. Years? I guess whether she progressed or not didn't matter, her social life was at the conservatory. She would sit with us at the choir sessions, was seen at recitals given by friends she knew. She was always jovial. Sadness never seemed to touch her. Only once did I see her thoughtful and nervous.
"I'm so scared about the exam result" she confided. We came to see Françoise as our mascot. She was one of the key figure of the conservatory. Everyone knew her or knew about her.
Now, more than twenty years later, I wonder what became of her. During the later years at the conservatory, her look matured as she got rid of her braids and sported a shorter hairstyle, which made her look like an old spinster trapped in childhood.  I don't suppose her mother is still alive.
Is she still studying music...? Who takes care of her?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Whatever works

"It's working great. It's too good. It's perfect, perfect, perfect." The Beta tape of Thief will be sent to the TV station on Monday and then we can both sigh of relief - and have a nice dinner. Jay has just come back from the Dubai film festival, exhausted but obviously without any prize - he didn't mention anything about that in our message exchanges so I assumed.
No erhu for the final version. I'm quite disappointed. I was asked to record solo piano versions of the two songs. I came to believe that it would make more sense to have By Nightfall - the opening song, played in its entirety at the end. But Jay insisted in keeping Un Espace vert. "It's working great!" he said. Whatever works as Woody Allen would say.

Listen to:
Un Espace Vert

I nearly finished the music for Pierre est heureux. Bryan is sick at the moment so we will only resume work next week. A couple of more scenes to score and everything will be completed. At last. The year is ending and I'm finishing all my projects. 

Listen to:
Aaken & Tin - To the Sun

A sigh of relief, this time for ChihWei who gave his concert yesterday in Taipei at the National Concert Hall. He and Chun-Chieh, the pianist had been rehearsing intensively the past week, trying to get the best of the little they had, and remaining focused in spite of inner gut battle between the organisers, family and teachers... 
The programmed was oddly composed. What was originally supposed to be a concert with a spotlight on ChihWei became a double star billing once young prodigy Chun-Chieh entered the picture. The pianist being more famous than ChihWei, matters couldn't be done simply. Since he had to share the light with his musical partner and he decided to put show off piano pieces in the program. (show off they maybe, albeit usually played as encores...) In the end the program didn't make sense. No direction. The first sonata (César Franck's) was underplayed, due to pressure, lack of rehearsing time... The piano pieces made the whole concert sound like a musical mish-mash. Fortunately, the whole evening was saved by the Richard Strauss's sonata. It wasn't perfect. Precisely because the two musicians were not so confident about the piece, they had to pay more attention to each other, thus creating a true, lively partnership, something which was missing during the rest of the concert. I wish they had one more week on their hands. ChunChieh's technique is phenomenal (the fact that he learned that monumental Strauss sonata in less than a week is telling), his touch pearly. Contrary to what he liked to believe, these qualities were in better display when he was playing with ChihWei. His choice of show off pieces was to say the least, bizarre made me think of those women who get obsessed on a particular part of the body they do not feel confident about, and desperately try to enhance, forgetting in the process that it's only a detail that maybe others wouldn't even pay attention to.
Strangely, the ticket ChihWei gave me just disappeared from my desk. It was still there yesterday but nowhere to be seen when I was about to leave the house.
Bizarre, vous avez dit bizarre?

The concert allowed me to see KunLin again. We had not talked since last summer when I gave him all the documents he needed to make the proposal for next year's concert with Avi Avital.
The project was to have a concert focused on Avi and the Taiwanese traditional music ensemble Chai Found, themed on the Silk Road. I was to compose two pieces and make an arrangement of Béla Bartók' Romanian Dances. It was my first commission to compose pure music. The event was to be held at the National Concert Hall next year in September. Until KunLin found out that Avi was having two concerts in Taipei this coming February. When he confronted Avi, the latter pretended (?) that he thought the concert was organised by KunLin. Maybe he should have been smarter when he elaborated this excuse. KunLin felt betrayed and now is about to cancel the project. Unless... unless he finds another mandolinist - he knows a more famous one than Avi Avital. Or unless the musician plays another instrument. I had told KunLin that even if the project failed through, I would still compose the piece, this time for cello instead of mandolin. Writing for mandolin was a challenge I was willing to take, but writing for cello will be a great joy. This left him with some new thoughts about what to do.
We shall see what happens. KunLin will organise a meeting with the members of the Chai Found ensemble, FangYi, the other composer who was commissioned to compose for Avi.
And there's another project he mentioned, a series of events for the 800th anniversary of the construction of Notre Dame. Dance? Music? Theatre? Cinema? Apparently, it's an open field. He asked me to come up with an idea. The events will be held at the HuaShan Culture Park.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ebbs and flows

I'm battling. Just by saying so, the thought makes itself reminded that I could simply stop battling, take a step back and realise how pointless and trivial it all is. I do that, then I throw myself back into the turmoil, as if something in me needed that self indulgence in negativity. 
The first few weeks of elation that followed my return to Taipei were quickly followed by this silent tension which I felt has been growing fast inside. Has it been triggered by my (temporary) fall out with ChingYao? Alberto's mute rejection? Do I create the situation where nothing seems to be right in my life? Do I have to blame it on the moon, the eclipse, the stars, the lunar knot - something Nicolas has been telling me about, which still doesn't make much sense to me, or the change of time? ...
Whatever the reason, I'm starting to believe I am in depression. Nicolas had hinted that fact when he was there in Taipei, last spring. Depression, not just since last week, it's been months, if not years, with ups and downs. And the downs are getting more dangerous at each ebb and flow. 
I'm losing the appetite for things, I desperately cling to what I see as my only salvation - work, music, something creative. I don't know whether this image of a lonesome artist is that successful. Work itself has proved unsatisfactory. Finding words to explain it leads me to this familiar conclusion: it all depends on me; then why do I take so much wicked pleasure in dragging myself down?

I find some solace in the company of Brendon and Lesley. They're kindness and light spirit are soothing to me. They want to open the basement and turn into a cosy café for people who wish for a more intimate atmosphere as opposed to the broad light of the first floor. 

I enjoy having ChihWei at home. He's completely focused on his upcoming concert this Friday - tomorrow already! This energy brings me calm and helps me go through this troubled time. The pianist, one of those once celebrated young prodigies now turned adult seems to be creating a tug of war. The young star (or his parents) doesn't want to be just an accompanist - how could he even think he would be, these two sonatas, César Franck and Richard Strauss' are (beautiful) hell to play for the pianist! I was amused to see how in the programme a sonata for flute and piano has now been termed, 'Sonata for PIANO and flute'...
Well, if one has a closer look, it's again the same story involving an ignorant, egomaniac backstage dragon-lady mother who wants the 'best' for her son.

Strawberry boy Ryan popped up into my life. He's young. 22, tall, puppy-faced with cherry lips. Delicious in his eagerness to see as much of me as he can. Also quite outgoing and observant - he's studying public relation. 
I'm like a cat which has been thrown into cold water and is still shivering and shocked to know what to do. But the very fact that someone wants me in this simple and direct manner is comforting. But yes, like Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity, I can't help giving it one more try.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Start the Play

Duke Ellington playing on my stereo. I'm alone (at last) in the flat. ChihWei is rehearsing with the pianist for his upcoming concert next week, Chubby is still working at his gallery, Nana has gone to some remote island near Singapore and I enjoy it.
I just saw Wei Wei (Jasmine) for tea. We finally managed to make some time and see each other en tête à tête after more than three years. I wanted to tell her about my play Before my Eyes. Now the ideas are starting to become clearer - each time I get the chance to talk to someone about it, new details, new angles of approach rise to the surface of light. Wei Wei suggested that I kept everything written down and sent them to those involved in the project, namely she, Isabelle, Tsuyoshi and CJ. That will allow everyone to contribute feedbacks and ideas, and also relieve me from the pressure of having to work on my own and deliver finished a finished play. I'll start settling the base and all the elements I have, also copy passages of books, poems or articles which inspire(d) me and develop from there. That will also allow everyone to follow the process and contribute to the project. I'm glad that Wei Wei accepted to be part of the project. I think she will be perfect. I'm having doubts about Isabelle, not as an actress, but about whether she will summon the strength and courage to leave her worries in France and take the plane to work with us. I have hardly seen her during my stay in Paris. The usual cycle of personal reasons: husband, family, worries, career, life, husband, family, career... When a problem becomes a habit, it's harder to get out of the infernal cycle. I no longer know what to think regarding her. I have to concede that this play was supposed to be a present to her. Knight An delivering to fairest Isabelle a gift of life and creation. But fairest Isabelle remains mute and distanced. And the knight An becomes another Don Quixote.
Wei Wei's suggestion will get things started. Her input and direct involvement will be a good help for me.
She also accepted to be one of the faces for the music video I'll make of Nothing comes to Light. Yay!

Another erhu recording session with WeiJen yesterday. It's always a pleasure to play with him, but I wonder if this session was very that necessary. I don't want to give in to negativity once more. This past week has been a nuisance. I get in cranky mood before I realise it. I attract negative thoughts like a magnet, meditation or not. I question everything and everyone. Rage is always about to explode at any slight opportunity
 Jay seems to like the new music for the chase scene. Good. But/however/nevertheless (...?) he hinted in his last message that the erhu may give the scene (film?) too Eastern a vibe, when the film is actually more American in style and structure, despite the fact that the story is set in Taipei. I forgot that this point was exactly what shocked me when I first saw the film. Jay's use of the Gershwin song gave a very Woody Allen (circa Manhattan) atmosphere contrasted heavily with the story and everything else. Yes, only the direction was American in style. I want to tell him that since he asked me to rewrite the score, he should expect his film to be different and evolve to another place. Now he's in Dubai for another film festival (a film festival in Dubai... I nearly chuckled when I heard that)
The wise thing for me to do now: not taking any decision. Let the week reach its resolution and I shall see more clearly very soon.
A good shag would be the solution for now. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Chasing music

Did a dao liao knife massage today. My back feels like battered meat, but the stuck energy has gone. I feel liberated.

Jay sent me a note saying that he liked the new music for the chase scene in Thief. That's a good step. However he liked all the music I gave to him. They just ended not matching the film when he did the editing. How will it go this time? With ChihWei and Nana staying over at my place, I get to pay attention to their ring tones - people call them often, obviously. Then I recalled how a friend told me he had used my song Second Breath as a ringtone. It was what I had to do. Use Second Breath! In the scene, a ring tone turns into the accompanying music for a chase scene at the night market between two girls. I added some percussion, lots of cymbals and redid the piano part. WILL IT WORK????

The dark and bleak days have gone. Stéphane told me we were going through a lunar knot, an eclipse and a full moon at the same time. No wonder! Being a lunar person myself...


I love to listen to guitar music at the moment. Mostly baroque guitar. Bought a handful of CDs: Bach, Scarlatti, De Visée, Rameau. 


Bibbe sent me a patch of new poems! They're beautiful. I already used one and blended it with some lyrics I had written last week - when I met Alberto for the first time [sighs] ...
As a coincidence, she wrote: 

Punctuality defeats me
I'm always late
And my great date goes missing...

The woman is a medium! I couldn't help thinking of ChingYao who makes it the big complaint against me.
But she goes on:
Kissing someone else tonight
Locked in their embrace
While Grace's face
Shadowed smiles
Just out of reach
In that far off place
Always just around in the next corner...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Triple NO

No from Alberto. He told me he had no feelings for me, even if he would have liked it. Disappointment contained. Page forced to be turned. An immense void. It's like planting a seed, watching the first little bud then killing it. What to do? All my fantasies of winning him as a knight would just deserted me. Not again.  But yes, again.

No from ChingYao. I have become the target of his rage and anger. Paradoxically, we are the best of friends. He's my closest friend in Taipei. But this anger that he has been keeping inside for too long is now overpowering him. Strangely, but not surprisingly, the ones who show more love are the ones who get all the blame. 
"You're the trigger of all my anger", he had said last week. 
It's unfortunate. My only flaw if there is one, is that I am late at our appointments. Not always late, but as human nature goes, it's always more convenient to remember the bad things than the positive ones. As a consequence, each meeting wears its share of growing pressure, which would instantly vanish - but not be forgotten, as soon as we would start having our drinks, our laughs and our good time. 
But lately, I felt that ChingYao was less and less himself. I feel truly sorry for him. Was there a way to help? We talk a lot. So I confronted him last Wednesday during Mrs. Sheu's singing lesson. She asked for a pause to answer a phone call, so I took the opportunity to ask: "What was going on?". He didn't want to talk about it, yet he would resume the discussion, then say again that he didn't want to talk about it. People love circles don't we? His uncle had just passed away. He went to the funeral, and realised (realised?) that nobody really cared. He was the one and only one making the efforts (if you use a microscope to watch a bug, you may not see that an elephant is standing next to it). Feeling unloved? Not unknown to me either. Or to many others. But what I didn't understand was this rage. Where did it originate? During that summer in Paris where we first met, four years ago, already, I had detected it. Strong and raw, and overpowering. It disorientated me. It even made me fall sick and feverish for days.
"I also make you wait for me on purpose" he said. Make me wait, change plan, bail out at the last minute, or not telling me at all about any change of plan... Call that revenge?
I felt uneasy. It wasn't fair for me, for our friendship. The anger attached to the complaint seemed disproportionate to my 'offence'. I'm the mirror, of course. Mirror, trigger, whipping boy. ChingYao wasn't the first friend with whom such thorny situation would take place. My cousin Thu Vân, Silvano, Philippe, Nicolas had many volcanic outbursts directed at me. Flashback and I immediately see the bullying and beating up I endured at school, since kindergarten. But my attitude had usually been a passive one. Passive and understanding. Or passive and out of touch with what was really going on. It's not even because my parents have taught my brother and I to respond with kindness and a certain aloofness to violence. Never fight back. Never answer back. Such behaviour was undignified in their eyes.
Compassion, love and forgiveness, said Nana. Forgiveness, especially.
I am trying to figure out what there is to learn in this situation. 
I want to stay away from ChingYao for a while.
"Don't let it ruin your friendship", James said to me in a message today. Ruined it isn't - of course. Of course? But definitely altered.

No from Jay. The music I did for Thief still doesn't matches. If at first, he was enthusiastic about Un Espace Vert as played by the erhu, he now found that it was too strong for the ending and that the instrument sounded out of place, since it wasn't heard any time during the film. (yes, but the erhu was originally intended for the opening). Why not just have a piano version? Now I'm unable to think about any solution. I certainly will tomorrow or the day after. At this very present moment, it's just a frozen state of blank.
I also had to come up with new music for the opening - the erhu sounded too much like a human voice according to Jay and CJ, the music was too deep and sad. Fine then, I did something lighter and more sentimental, à la Misty. They loved it. But until...?
The Bach pastiche which also won his favour in the beginning also got questioned. Too mellow... I replaced it by a scene composed for Les Contes d'Hoffmann, the second pas de deux between Antonia and Hoffmann in Act 3. I reworked on it and added more instruments.
"Too slow", was Jay's verdict.
It was past 11pm. I had no intention to sink any deeper into the shifting sands.  

I saw Stéphane. Taipei is he last leg of his first trip to Asia. In his 'homeland' of Cambodia then Vietnam the previous weeks. Now one week in Taipei. We talked, ate at a food court in Taipei Main Station, had our clothes smell soupy. Topics: Indigo children. Crystal children. It's a lonely walk.
That was our first one-on-one conversation in years. We had a fall out which lasted a couple of years or so. Only recently did we start to patch things up between us.
"Cheer up!" a friend had written as words of encouragement.
Cheering up, yes, by nearly eating a boxful of chocolate and buying two CDs, Bach's Piano Concertos delightfully played by Alexandre Tharaud, and an newly discovered chamber version of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, by Mûza Rubackyté and the Shanghai String Quartet. Who? What? Where? Thrifty record company (Warner) only put that one concerto on the CD, which makes the running time no longer than thirty five minutes for a full price.
Interesting find though.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Nana's brother was showing some of his work at the Taipei Geisa show which was held at the HuaShan Culture Park. Open to everyone, this was a good opportunity for young artists and designers to showcase their creation.  Il y avait à boire et à manger, as the French people would say. (You have to keep some and filter out the rest).
Nana's brother's work is based on wood, usually wood he would find on construction sites, wood from old houses. He recycles all of it and turn them into very poetic pieces, be them lamps, benches, chairs or animal shaped objects. His is a very intimate and quiet world.
For the Geisa show, he only exhibited his animal shaped objects, which came as a little disappointment to me. I wanted to see more. I'll have to go to Tainan and visit his studio. The person is made of the same material as Nana. Nearly evanescent, like a kind and silent spirit which may vanish if we come too close.
I relate to this world.

The major discovery was this young boy of nine. I was browsing every stall with Nana when my eyes caught sight of an auto-portrait in pencil. I came closer to examine it. It was uncommon, funny, sensitive and thoughtful. I loved it instantly.
"He's 9 years old!" Nana said. She showed me a short haired boy who was signing some postcards and seemed slightly out of place among this crowd of adults.
The boy, Harrisson had already been painting for five years. 
"He gets immersed into his own world when he paints", someone from his entourage told me.
His parents seemed to know he was a crystal child. Looking at him, I could see the child, the man, the soul all in one. I felt elated and so happy.
"I hope he'll be well looked after and that his parents will understand the nature of his being" I told Nana. According to what she read and heard, it was the case.

The evening was spent at the Escape Artists Café. Brendon and Leslie had organised a hot pot party. ChingYao accepted and planned to bring Nana along as well as many other friends. I had to go by myself eventually, the last minute piece was that they had no intention to go at all. I feel more and more remote fro ChingYao. I don't know what's going on in his mind, but the air is getting chilly between us. Does it hold it against me because I couldn't not use his singing for the soundtrack of Thief? Does he hold it against me for any other reason unknown to me?
However, we had a good time at the hot pot. As I had not brought any present with me for the pre-Christmas gift exchange, I offered to write a song. It was Brendon who was the happy recipient. It occurred to me that if I had to write a song for one of those beauties present that evening, the task would have been much, let's say, delicate. I brought Stéphane who came with the girl who was hosting him. His first days in Taipei - he planned to leave Paris to start anew in Asia, Taipei, developing work with Nicolas. So far, the impression is more than positive. Only Alberto was missing...

I needed some light-hearted moment. Things were getting heavy the past week.

Sleepless moment

"What are you doing? ... Happy new year!" Chih Wei mumbled in a brief moment of apparent wake. I had just managed to kill that one last mosquito with the electric racket. Each time one of those poor creatures meets their doom, the deathly moment is echoed with a firecracker sound. Happy New year!
Chih Wei embraced me as he fell asleep again - we have this tender and intimate rapport now that I cherish. That made it even harder for me to contain an irrepressible laugh.
Now the mosquito dead, I could throw myself again into Morpheus' arms, after hours of restlessness and increasing itchiness due to their loving bites.

Sunday, 27 November 2011


And so, what if I let myself fall in love again?
Disappointments, heartbreaks and rejections still haven't managed to compel me to give up on it. Yet I feel more distant from the possibility of the amorous sentiment.
It is easy to make work the focus of my life, but there's always that hope to see this little something coming again in my life. But how many times did I get fooled. Or do I like to get fooled?

So I met Alberto. He's the one who contacted me on one of those numerous social network sites. Click on one name, see the picture, like it, unlike it, him/her/it... A few words and the product is sold. Contact? Some words or praise, flattery, sometime even sincerity. But it's a game, isn't it? It all is. A game which allows one to try before committing. And then... with what stupid joy do I throw myself into the illusion...
So I was quickly baited by the few words Alberto and I exchanged. What was offered to be read and seen, meaning his Facebook page, rose my interest. Here was someone who, beside his good looks, had something different. Something hidden inside that would not be easily given away. A certain quietness.
We settled to meet on Saturday afternoon. I knew he was to go to Paraguay for a month, on a last minute whim. Would he have the time to meet before? Yes, of course! Always possible when nothing is yet marked. Work and more work shrank a whole afternoon into an evening, then, later in the evening. We finally decided to meet at the Escape Artists café. ChingYao had asked me to come with him. The place was held by Brendon and his girlfriend Leslie; he a jewel designer, handsome and too 'gay-looking' for his own good, and she an actress, a friendly and lively girl. Their concept: paintertainment. Anyone can paint, as in anyone can cook...
Alberto knew them. He was having throat problems and couldn't speak much. Should he come over? If not now, then when?

First meeting was nice. What do I say? Promising. Should I allow myself to hope? To wish for more? Or have I given myself another ticket for a vertiginous fall?
Alberto knew Brendon and Lesley - not Leslie, as I had written before. They were part of the same acting group. ChingYao was doing most of the conversation with a girl who sat at our table - three good looking guys, there's hope! Alberto couldn't speak because of his voice injury and I couldn't speak because I didn't know Chinese. Blah blah blah...
Later I took Alberto to a chocolate and wine tasting event. Julia, a friend's friend was launching her new chocolate collection. The music was too loud (why do they all have to think that loud music = life?) so we sat outside. The weather was perfect. I enjoy this moment when everything seems possible, when everything is to be made (before everything is crushed by fear and uncertainty). I was glad I had found someone who gave me a hint of a hope that, yes, maybe I'm wrong; maybe I won't be alone after all... We ordered two boxes of chocolate from Julia.
I walked Alberto back to his place then took a taxi home. What a lovely evening!


Message from Jay: Thief won the 'Best short film' award at the Golden Horse Festival! Rejoice, rejoice!!! Jay and CJ deserved it!


As I was waiting for Alberto to show up, I started writing a few lines for a new song:

What saves yourself
What’s in your mind
What agitates your blood
What veers closer to the depth

You go through the same motion
If I knew
If I could see
What makes you come?

The image has been
Replaced by many others
I'm not the first fool for love
No longer the hero of my own story

Yes. Another 'happy' song...

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Desperately seeking erhu player (and finding him)

It had been months since I thought of finding a way to get in touch again with Wei-Jen, the gifted erhu player with whom I had worked during the recording sessions of Auntie, three years ago.
When Jay approached me to do new music for his short film Thief, last summer, I immediately thought of writing a song which would be played by an erhu and a small jazz combo. Jay needed me to replace the song he originally used, Gershwhin's But not for me, as sung by Ella Fitzgerald. Among all the songs I wrote with Bévinda in Paris, one (Un Espace Vert), stood out as the perfect candidate for the film. 
Jo also wrote me a message about one particular scene from the second act of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, for which, he recalled, I needed an erhu but didn't have the time to record - the one erhu player I knew in Paris, Guo Gan, said he would do it, but dragged and dragged until it was too late. Would I do it now?
It was high time to search more actively for Wei-Jen.
Except for a few pictures of us taken at the recording studio, I had no other means to find him. I tried to spot him on Facebook, I asked my friends, I asked the director. Nothing.
I had told Jay that this erhu player was really my first choice. I vividly remember how how perfectly tuned we were when we would play together. He gets the music on first reading. His musicality is flawless. I know few musicians like him. 
So I resigned myself to make do with any erhu player that Jay would find for the recording. We only had no more than a week left.
.... Until one day this week when the whim seized me to post a message on Facebook: "Looking for an erhu player".
The response was immediate. One musician searched and found Wei-Jen. He had the advantage to know the Chinese name... Bien sûr!
I wrote to Wei-jen at once and he replied shortly after. The next day we were working on the music together. I sent the scene to Jo who liked it, and did a demo recording of Un Espace Vert which was forwarded to Jay, CJ and Bévinda. The detuned piano actually gave it the cool, West Coast, vintage sound I wanted.
I listened to it over and over.

Making music with Wei-Jen - Allen he wanted me to call him that was his English name, was like reuniting with an old friend. We aren't friends actually, but as we were playing together, I felt again this serenity and deep communion I had sense three years ago.
This led me to think of this song cycle on Tim Burton's Oyster Boy stories. 
ChingYao had introduced me to Chih-Wei a Chinese zither player who also wanted to break out of the traditional music mould. Now I had all the musicians who could inspire me to write the songs: Wei-Jen at the erhu, Chih Wei, at the zither, Emily at the cello and ChingYao as the singer.
Allons y!!!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bévinda writes...

Saturday, November 12th

Hello querido,

Here are the lyrics. I hope everything is fine. I started a new text. I'll see if a melody comes to me or not. Other than that, nothing new under the sun, except the caddishness of some gentlemen. And now I can only smile at that. Philippe de Sousa (one of her two guitarists) announced to us backstage right after the concert last Thursday: "Well then, that was my last concert, blah blah blah..." I would have appreciated, had he had the daintiness to tell me about it personally... Anyway...
Then appointment at my place with Mathieu Duplessy (one of her former composer and songwriter) to sign some papers. I wait. One hour. I send him a message. The gentleman had simply forgotten, when we actually settled the appointment the previous day!
That's it, my sweet An. Sun in the Parisian sky. I laze about in bed, I read, I write.

Tender Kisses


Tuesday, November 15th

Hello my sweet,

I'm sick, in bed. I have to go to Burgondy tomorrow to see my mother, but I don't feel so well. Throat, head, nose, a big cold... You are right. New phase, new woman, new age (golden age, hopefully!) More than a week now, that you have gone. I miss you, querido. 
With my friends from the restaurant Ozo, we're going to organise a Monday happy hour, Portuguese style!
I'm happy. It's the first time that I'll be doing something with Alain, and we've known each other for thirty years!!! I'm so happy about it: we're going to go together to the Île du Levant with his boyfriend Jean Mi for a couple of weeks in December. That's so great!
Before I can breathe the fresh air of the seaside, I'm sniffling in my bed.

A thousand kisses, amigo


Wednesday, November 16th

Hello coraçao,

It's funny. I started the Murakami novel yesterday. Fukaeri is a strange girl. She has written a novel without having actually written it, for she's not well educated and has dyslexia on top of that. So she dictates her novel to her sister who then sends it to a publisher for a potential prize. Tengo is a maths teacher who writes novels. He reads manucripts for that publisher and loves Fukaeri's. He talks about it to his publisher who's got the idea to have Tengo rewrite the book, since he has a good style and knows how to write.
To sum it up, two people are writing a novel together, a bit like us writing songs together! So we'll keep Fukaeri as a band name. It's a good one.

I'm still sick in bed. I don't know whether I'll go visit my mom tomorrow - it's her birthday though...

Lots of kisses, sweetie!


Thursday November 17th

Bom dia querido,

In fact, I won't go to Burgundy. I'm still in bed and coughing violently. I wait for it to pass. Mom will come two days to Paris instead, and we'll celebrate her birthday here. 
It's funny, the impact of reality in one's dream. Your neighbour slams the door and your dad smashes one in your dream!

I'm like a vegetable at the moment. Energy at its minimum, horizontal position at the maximum. A certain song says 'it's ideal', but here now, I say it's unsound...
I finished the first volume of Murakami's 1Q84 yesterday. I have to buy the second!  As always, I love his world, but I have some little reservation regarding his literary technique. Maybe I wished that his device of different, interlocked stories wasn't so clear. Yes, I think that I was hoping he would break his narrative system. but it's still always so captivating and terrific!
Gilbert is really a darling. He dropped by to bring me thyme honey, lemons and oranges. Bonds braided by love last for always. That's the true essence of love, not love down there... I said to myself yesterday that I was blessed to be surrounded by people who truly love me and whom I love unconditionally. 
As for the album title, we have a few possibilities. The more the project takes shape, the clearer we'll see which is the suitable title. Just like photography when you get closer to the object.

Tender kisses


Tuesday, November 22

Thank you An (for the rehearsal recording of 'Un Espace Vert', played with erhu) ! It's really great. It feels like being on a riverbank in autumn. The lovers are on either side of it and cannot meet.

Yes, I would like to come to Taipei very soon. We have to be together to finish our project. Proximity is important and I sense that our project needs time. Maybe I could come in spring before you fly to Zürich in May. I will see if finances allow. If yes, can I stay at your place? Because if I can manage to find some money for the flight ticket, I won't be able to afford a hotel room. In fact I thought of the recording of the vocals. We have to be there together. It is essential that this intimate ambiance which emanates form us is felt in the music.

Ah... the softness of the woman disorientated you. Your wish for a child is strong. She is attracted by you... hum hum...

I'm hardly done with this cold. I still cough a lot. I'll have the fado workshop this evening.

Kiss you forte



Wednesday, November 23

Strange... I didn't dream it! I did read a mail from you dated from November 21st, which said that you had been disorientated by a sweet young girl. Well that message has simply vanished into thin air, evaporated, I looked for it everywhere in all my folders (inbox, received, sent, spam, etc...) No trace of it! I should let the words go where they are meant to go.
Have a nice day - or night, querido.



Wednesday, 9 November 2011


That's how Bévinda and I are going to name our collaborative project. She had been saying that she wanted a name for us, not just Aaken & Bévinda. 
Since no name came to us, I told her to seize the first book that she'd find, open a page at random and point somewhere on the page with her eyes closed. 
Fukaeri was the name. She had picked Murakami's latest novel. The name of one of the characters. I liked it instantly. 
"What's the meaning of that name?" she asked.
I had no idea. And even after looking it up on the internet, I still didn't know. But regardless of the meaning, we both liked it.

We have nine songs now. The last three are actually songs that I had written back in the late 90's, one being Ru em, a lullaby which I wrote, with Bévinda in my mind! Another song I wrote with Bévinda in mind was an Afro-urban number which immediately inspired. At that time, Bévinda and I were not yet friends. She was getting singing lessons with Julia, I loved her music, would attend her concerts, but never dared to think I would submit the song to her. Now nearly 14 years later...
"I met a girl I had not seen for 30 years yesterday! she told me one day as we were having a cup of coffee. "The sister of a good friend of mine. She's completely damaged psychologically. She hears voices, she is in her own world. They had to institutionalise her a long time ago. However she's free to go out as she wants."
Bévinda had a smile on her face.
"It was crazy. She was saying nonsense most of the time, but somehow, it made sense. It had some kind of truth" she went on. "At some point she told me in her raspy voice: You know what Bévinda? Tonight, when you sleep, dream of me. And you and I are going to dream that we riding a bicycle together!"
Bévinda showed me a text she had scribbled on the back of a magazine about this woman as soon as she was back home. When I played her the afro-urban song on the piano, she had that smile, grabbed the magazine and tried to match the text to the melody. Some adjustments were necessary, but it worked!  
The last of the three songs is also a lullaby I wrote for a friend's daughter, Lily, which I never got to play to her. I never met Lily either. That friend and I lost touch of each other. How old is Lily now? 11? Older? I never gave her the song because I didn't have lyrics to go with it. A few years later I used for the musical Auntie. The lyricist Yu Guo wrote a beautiful text to the music, about lost childhood and confused parents. I will keep it as it is. Bévinda will add a few lines in Portuguese.
Funny how nothing is lost... These songs which have been loitering in limbo are now finally going to materialise! 

"What about Another Self as a title?" Bévinda asked me.
"Fukaeri | Another Self.... Why not? Yeah!"

Friday, 4 November 2011

The past, the present and the possibilities

"You sound like a character from a Murakami novel!" said Julia.
I was sitting in her rocking chair; we were having a little break before resuming our usual Friday afternoon music session. Vivaldi, Granados, Brahms, Schumann and Dvořák. 
I was in pensive mood.
I had been quite unsettled the previous evening by the realisation that my mother didn't remember much of my whole stay. She said she had the feeling I had just arrived. That was not the first time I had heard that during the two months. Normally, I would take the time to help her find the path to her memory, a little exercise which requires a long time and lots of patience.
She does remember, but the path to her memory is blurred, or her mind would go blank, like a candidate at a quiz show. So I liked to think. But I had to cope with the truth. The disease was slowly unearthing its grim harvest. The fact was painful, but I had to accept it - in order to move on. I can only wish it doesn't get worse.
"Time passes so quickly, two months look like a few days" she said apologetically. The last time that occurred, a few days before, she had said that she could hardly remember any particular moment  spent with me during those two months. They only came back after a painstakingly long game of memory recomposition. She was right, in a way. We had not done anything memorable. Spending time together, talking a lot, having walks along the river, eating at restaurant. Oh yes, she did remember that dinner that Karen threw for her and my brother's new son.
My task, I realised, was to blend in  my parents' daily life and liven up their routine, not to exhaust them with surprises and a non-stop string of events. The focus was on them, not on how I would feel. Nevertheless, I couldn't help feeling distraught at the face of complete forgetfulness.
As I said to Bévinda, I can handle death, but to be forgotten by one's own mother is frightening.

During one of our walks along the river

With her grandson

A new project I have found for her will be around this Vietnamese poet, Hàn Mặc Tử she loves so much. What has kept my mother going until now is to write and translate. I was surprised the other day when I realised she had started translating many novels into French.
She had translated many poems by Hàn Mặc Tử into French and I came up with the idea of making an art book out of it. My photographer friend Yves Schiepeck had just released a beautiful book of photograph Roots of Coincidence, that he paired with poems by a Teresa Chuc Dowell, young Vietnamese poetess who now lives in the United States.
I read my mother's translations of the poems and they're beautiful. She has managed to capture Hàn Mặc Tử's very unique style of writing and instead of just turning them into one of those books that, once read, people leave taking the dust on a shelf, the thought occurred to me that the Yves' photos would be a perfect match to the poems, not that they would illustrate them, but better, create a parallel visual world of their own.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Fire in your eyes

They were playing in a little bar near Gare du Nord. Thuy Nhan and Jan. I had seen them perform a few times, each concert being better than the previous one. 
Thuy Nhan will release an E.P. next month and this concert was a way to introduce the new songs. I have many friends who are singers or musicians, but Jan and Thuy Nhan are ones of the few whose music I truly like.
The opening act was a young indie rock band called Hope Dust. A joyful gang of five in their late teens with great songs and an infectious energy. They're only at an early stage of their career, but I'm impatient to hear more. 

Thuy Nhan was sick, maybe, but her performance was flawless. She and Jan make an unlikely but effective duo. I realise I need to see more concerts. See, hear, exchange more.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Mako and his boyfriend Yan asked me to come over for some 'fun'. I accepted. Being with my parents, I haven't had much opportunities to see anyone. The three of us had been friends for a few years now, even if chances to meet up didn't come very often.
I have been feeling very down and slow the past days. Nothing seemed to uplift me. A depressed snail I was! Vu An's baptism had left a lasting emotional impact in me. I try my best to keep it up with my parents, but everybody is so touchy and moody at the moment. 
Nicolas had warned us. October 28 would be a fatidical date. According to the Maya calendar, it was to be... the end of the world as we know it!
Of course, things are not to be taken so literally. It's more a question of deeper changes, letting go, cleansing one's mind and one's soul, leaving the past behind, making room for something new. I guess this extended stay in Paris was necessary, as well as meaningful. Talks with my parents reveal more where each of us is standing now. It's now up to us to make - or not make the move. I'm really blessed to have such understanding parents, but staying under the same roof with them is so testing! How long ago did I leave the family nest? 19 years? Since then, I had not spent more than a week at their place. 
I took the car to Mako's place. He and Yan were not living very far from my parents, only a 15 minute drive. But I had left my driving license in Taipei! I was a bit nervous as  I was driving to the countryside, where the baptism was to take place, two days ago. "You do have your driving license, don't you", my father had asked. I mumbled a vague 'yes'. I'm not the most reckless driver, but my mind wasn't totally at peace so I drove very cautiously.
Mako and Yan live in a modest little flat on the ground floor in the Eastern Parisian suburb. Their rent is ridiculously low, which is rare in Paris - or near Paris. They were glad to see me. The only thing we could have done was to chat online, which is satisfactory with people I like but do not particularly need to see, but which becomes frustrating when there is no alternative with dearer friends. It had been a year an a half since we last met. For the evening we indulged in a comfortable ménage à trois. Mako had suggested that in our last conversation. Yan seemed more than okay with the idea apparently. I was slightly apprehensive. I love threesomes, but I hadn't done that for quite some time, much less with friends! It was playful, sexy and friendly.
I was feeling like a rusted toy that had been left too long in the attic, but the two boys insufflated life energy in me again. 
As we were laying in bed, listening to music and drinking juices, I toyed with the idea of actually being in a ménage à trois. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

And I wait...

According to my original plan, I should have taken the plane back to Taipei on October 25th. But I felt compelled to extend my Parisian trip for another 3 weeks.
Surely my parents are happy to have me stay with them a few more weeks. Surely I will be happy to see my adorable little nephew a few more times. 
But all this is starting to wear me out. I nearly need to hypnotise myself not to ex/implode - of rage, despair and exasperation. There I was, in the middle of this old family system I had left two decades ago. My parents may have understood a little bit more, learned to express themselves a little bit more, accepted me and life, but in the end, most of their life takes place in their house. The outside world does not have much impact on them. I suffocate!
During our last dinner yesterday, I could see how unhappy my father was. The acouphene on his right ear is getting worse, taking care of my mother is a full time job and an exhausting task which drives him away from this necessary haven of interior peace and quietness he needs for his music composing, not to mention how worried and desperate he is to deal with the very fact that his wife  has the Alzheimer disease. I know that I have no power to change anything in people's life. The only thing I can do is to just be myself and live my life to the fullest. It's difficult not to try to interfere especially as a son. Asian tradition has it that a child has to take care of his parents once he's an adult. But if that tradition carries on, it's often more a question of material care. The more I follow that path, of mine the more remote I feel from everyone.
Fortunately, music helps me keep a sense of balance. So it has done during my childhood, my adolescence, until now.
The project to write more songs with Bévinda is taking shape. We didn't initially plan to work as much on them, but the time was ripe, obviously. It's going to become an album with a possible CD release next year.
Our last songs, which have no title yet, are a true collaborative work. Bévinda would show me sketches of a melody that she recorded on her phone. I would find a chord progression then go on with it. Then Bévinda would suggest a certain direction, whether melodically or harmonically. I would improvise, search for interesting chords or melodic lines on the piano and Bévinda would stop me whne she'd hear something she likes. It goes very effortlessly, with lots of joy.
Moments of pure bliss and joyousness.


Thief has been selected for the Dubai International Film Festival. I wasn't aware of such festival there, although I know they're trying hard to develop some semblance of culture in that desert of theirs.
Jay had asked me to write something to replacethe song But not for me, which plays at the beginning of the film. I first thought I'd do a musical pastiche, then it became obvious that my contribution had to be more original and personal than just doing musical copy-cats. My choice goes to one song I have written with Bévinda, a beautiful melody we wrote last week. As usual, she played on her phone what had come to her mind the previous days. We went on and soon a song was born. As we were eating, I suddenly thought of an old song which came to me in a dream, some fourteen years ago. I had never used it, but remembered the melody very well. Bévinda liked it so we included it in the new song.
For Thief, the song will be played on a erhu, with a piano and a contrabass. Maybe some light drums. As Bévinda was working on the lyrics, she played it to her friend Jacqueline who gave us her thumbs up while crying. Current title is Et j'attends - ... and I wait.

What would I do if I didn't have music...?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Joining the big (Christian) family

"I want my son to be baptised so he can learn the ways to God's love."
Thus spoke the parents of the five babies when the priest asked them in turn what they wanted during the baptism cerenomy. 
I couldn't help it, but I had the feeling I had been parachuted in a sect. - "A very successful sect", as Julia would have said later.
The sermon was so bad and simplistic that I felt the urge to leave growing so violently I had to bite my tongue. The priest had tried to 'Rowan Atkinson' his speeches,  to no avail. His attempts at humouring the sermon fell flat. No one really reacted to them, although they all wore a mask of gleeful Sunday devotion. The priest wasn't helped by the noise coming from the numerous babies and infants present that morning. 
My heart sank when I saw the priest hold the baby and plunge it in the basin. At first Vu An smiled,  unaware of what was to happen to him, then he manifested some discontentment when the priest plunged him a second time and finally cried out of his lungs. I had the unpleasant impression to witness a sacrifice, not a baptism.  I just couldn't help it, I had the frightening hallucination of a thin, dark veil falling above the baby as the priest  was raising him for the audience to see, a blissful smile on his face. None of the other babies seemed to enjoy the experience either and soon the church was filled with strident cryings. 
Then came my musical contribution...
A couple of weeks ago, Mathilde had suggested I came and spent two days at their place to bond with my nephew. Not just to hold the baby in my arms, but also bathe it, change its clothes, lull it to sleep, feed it, take it on a walk, take it to the doctor  (poor little thing was sick and coughing). A pleasurable two days. The little one is très sympathique! It was then that Mathilde asked me if I would sing something for the little one's baptism. Maybe Julia could sing as well.
I told her that she shouldn't expect anything like the mass I wrote for their wedding three years ago. That two voices could not sound like five. And in my mind, I went on, thinking that Mathilde had no idea what risk she was taking if Julia was to sing alone. I love her, she's a great teacher, but not so reliable anymore as a singer.
"Oh I know! You could sing a prayer to the Virgin Mary..."
Of course, Gounod's infamous Ave Maria...
The idea didn't really excite me to the highest degree, but I asked Julia if she would feel ready and in good vocal shape to sing for the ceremony. Naturally, she accepted. She had told us more than once how she had sung that Ave Maria at a wedding for her niece, although that was a decade or so ago. 
We practiced the piece together. I proposed to turn it into an a capella duet (fool, fool, fool!!!) instead of the usual solo version with keyboard accompaniment - at some point, I even toyed with the idea of singing the accompaniment as Bobby McFerrin did with Yo Yo Ma on their Hush album... but had to come to reality. That would have taken me weeks of practice!
We were fairly satisfied after the rehearsal and were even looking forward to singing it for baptism. The very fact of having something musical perform made the whole idea of baptism more bearable to me.
However, it was not to happen as planned.
Babies and children were making a hell of a noise.We were about to sing this Ave Maria not in a church but a circus! As we starting singing the first notes, a dignified silence came back. Things went fairly well for half of the song. I rejoiced. Then alas, as we reached the climax of the piece, I startled when I heard Julia beginning to dangerously slide down off key. Not just a half-tone, not even a tone. She was deflating off key. I was mad. It was impossible to salvage anything. Each note was getting lower so I had to stop singing, which made matters worse. I could only join her again and end our misery for the final "Amen".
I was livid after that debacle. Julia didn't mention anything. Avoidance...? Or was she even aware?
"You have a very beautiful voice", a man said to me later.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Lady Death

Lyrics writing session with Karen. She showed me sketches and ideas of songs. One was about Lady Death and we decided to work on it. She had only scribbled down a few lines on a piece of paper. 
Lady Death?
I saw her standing at the corner
Lady Death selling raffle tickets
Thus went two of the lines.

I took the book I was currently reading and randomly picked a page, then blindly picked a line. The words that would come were to be used. That was the rule of the game. Karen did the same with her book. We gathered a full page of words and lines we like. 
"That's how I proceed when I have no clue how to begin" I told her. "It's like opening a map and decide that where the finger points is where I would go to."
Is it stealing? Borrowing? Is that important or relevant? Sometimes I even push it as far as listening to a song and the writing down what I think I understood. Usually the result has nothing to do with the original lyrics, for on a first listen, I would always pay more attention to the music and the arrangements than to the words. I'm a dumb listener of words. Lyrics springing... Lyrics milking... 
As André Gide once said, "Everything has been already said, but since people always forget, we have to repeat it again".
I asked Karen to develop the ideas she had in mind and wrote down words or phrases that caught my ears.
After a three hour long session, we nearly had the whole song. 
The combination of our two styles of writing is interesting. Karen has this uncanny ability to find the most rare and voluptuous words to describe her ideas, while I prefer to suggest than express. Baroque way against/with Asian way. 
We had been writing together for the past six or seven years. Thanks to these playful creative sessions, I also allowed my song-writing skills to grow and mature.


I rang the bell. When I entered the flat, they were already at it. I was let in, then taken to a dimly lit living-room.  I found myself in one of those posh, late 19th century bourgeois interiors. Music was playing from a distant room, some blues music to fill the silence. Three naked figures, silhouetted against the soft yellow light.
The host, a French middle-aged man was on his knees, actively worshipping a short but lean and muscular young Asian guy. The third one, François, also Asian, was standing behind, hidden by his partners. François had sent me a text message earlier in the day, inviting me to join the fun. I hesitated. I had been bathing in  the family mode for a whole month now, and the perspective of carnal lust was  far remote from my mind. But I felt the excitement slowly grow in me,  almost feverish, like a teen-ager on his first date. A date surely it wasn't.
"We're going to be two Asians dominating a French slut..." were his words. I had just been reading some Japanese erotic mangas where the main character was the consenting play toy of an attractive yet sadistic executioner.
was I to do the same?
"Middle-aged but still in good shape", François had said about the host. The one who attracted me was of course the muscular guy, Hua. My heart started to beat faster when I caught glimpse of him, like a little boy who finds his favourite toy in a shop. I undressed, stood behind him and proceeded to feel the contour of his body. He immediately responded with a tenderness and kindness which contrasted with the forceful way he was feeding his victim with his jade stalk. I hadn't touched anyone in weeks. I was like a man  beginning to walk again after a long convalescence. The langorous kisses Hua would give back, his tenderness in the way he would touch me were what I was craving. Gestures of kindness. I didn't feel the impulse to turn  myself into a Japanese sadistic executioner. Maybe another time when my energy is up... The Frenchman struck me as a bit ridiculous with his leash around his neck, clothes pegs on his nipple and - I found out later, a dildo comfortably settled in his behind. His voraciousness didn't quite suit the role of the unwilling play toy.
What really aroused me was the palpable bond between us Asians, as if we formed a sensuous brotherhood of three against this man whose desire never seemed to smite us.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Henri Dutilleux: Thus the Night

There are some wonders in the world, people I look up to who send out warm rays of inspiration and hope. Henri Dutilleux is one of them. At the age of 95, he's as creative and dynamic an artist as he was fifty years ago. He still goes to concerts and events, has this lust for life that will keep him going for some more time. "Crazy about life as a child is" as he would like to say.
Of Henri Dutilleux, I only have a few distinct memories. I had never met him. My only link was this card he wrote to my parents when I was born.  My father told me a lot about this gentle man who would always support him by attending concerts and premieres or by giving him words of advice. He would never fail to send us a card every Christmas: an embossed golden Christmas tree on  a monochrome background . We would immediately recognize his angular yet elegant handwriting. It may have been the same card, save for the colour of the background which would change from one year to another, but we enjoyed the comforting familiarity it gave us.
I accompanied my father to the first screening of Ainsi la Nuit, a film focusing on Dutilleux's famous string quartet bearing the same name. The film itself was done like a TV documentary. Unfortunately, the director wasn't very inspired visually. The photography was dull and the colours fairly unattractive. However all was forgotten as soon as the music would be played. the performers, the Rosamonde Quartet are some of the best chamber players in France. Their interpretation was flawless. I just wonder who, beside the contemporary music afficionados would find any interest in this film.
"I know why this film has been rejected by tv channels", my father later told me. "It's because it's much too technical. Whoever doesn't have the knowledge of music vocabulary or isn't an admirer of Dutilleux's work will find himself completely lost."
As the master of ceremonry joked, regardless of the intrisec qualities of this film, if it was ever to be showed on tv, it would sadly be at three in the morning when everyone is asleep!
Quite expectedly, the Parisian circle of musique française was there, composers, famous or not, musicians, agents, relatives of Dutilleux, as well as a whole parterre of moths who would never miss a chance to rub shoulders with the 'chosen ones'.
Dutilleux was very moved by the events. He gave us a heartfelt speech from his wheelchair, his voiced charged with emotion, and even found the strength to stand up to bow to the audience.
"As you may all know, times for me are difficult now, because of my health so I welcome such moments of joy and happiness. Words will not be strong enough to express the joy I feel in my heart."
I looked at my father and saw that he was also very moved. How dearly he loved his master!

My father with Henri Dutilleux and the members of the Rosamonde Quartet

I wish I will be able to organise a great musical celebration when my father turns 80 in two years. A big celebration around the world. Spread the word!

"I finished the piece!" my father told us before dinner. He seemed happy. A month ago, he felt that it was possibly his last work. "I don't have the strength anymore. It comes out so slowly and any disruption in the daily life completely blocks me".
Fortunately, it was not the case. "I only have to fill some blanks, but that will be a child play" he added, smiling. 
I'm so happy for him. A happy state of mind is everything and I can understand how at his age, with my mother who has Alzheimer, with all the financial worries, it might prove difficult.
The house in Bretagne is sold, finally. My mother feels sad about it for she had grown a fondness to the place over the years. At last all our debts will be washed away. 
"Now I want to enjoy myself", my father told me. "We're going to go to Vietnam, then China. Better do things now that we still have the physical strength".
I know what he has in mind. He wants to see whether my mother could live in Vietnam if ever anything happened to him. She is so dependent on him now. Sending her to an institute in France would be too pricey. And I honestly don't think my brother would be able to take care of her. Vietnam is indeed a good - sunny, solution... For later...

The letter Henri Dutilleux wrote for my birth.

Dear Friend,

I was glad to learn about the birth of your son An, and I am sorry I didn't congratulate you and your wife any sooner.
I do recall how impatiently you were expecting this happy event whilst working on the score of my concerto. You nevertheless did an examplarary job and will be happy to know that the musicians of the Orchestre de Paris particularly praised this beautiful scoring.

Sincerely to you
PS. All my wishes for your personal work.

We queued up to greet Henri Dutilleux after the screening of the film. Everyone wanted to share a word of appreciation and praise to him. He was gracious and sincere with each of the guests. My father, as usual, fell short of words.But the old composer seemed truly happy to see him. 
"We don't see each other enough" he exclaimed.
When we were about to move on so the other persons could have share of time with the composer, my father pulled me and introduced me.
"My son!" he said.
Dutilleux looked up and held my hands. My mother had often told me how she would get a truthful impression of someone by the handshake. And she liked Henri Dutilleux. "Warm and sincere" she would say.
Warm and sincere it was.
"So what instrument do you play?" he asked. Of course, a composer's son MUST play an instrument.
"I play the piano". My hand was still in his.
Henri Dutilleux then turned to my father. 
"I am very happy to see you, Tiêt, but I'm even more delighted to meet your son!"
Did it sound true? It did. And I was finally meeting a man who had been a guardian angel to my father as well as a giant of music in the 20th and yes 21st century!