Wednesday, 28 September 2011

In Züri

These few days in Zürich are a little piece of haven after the family tornado. I was in a moody disposition when I arrived in Zürich, and Simon quickly cheered me up with his insouciance. I didn't realise this talk with my brother would affect me so much. It still does...
Swimming in the lake has a cleansing effect.

My galivanting life proves fruitless for I learn that all my lovers now are securely settled in a relationship. Hugo, Martin, 鍋貼貼 ...  I knew it would happen sooner or later. How could I expect them to remain single for ever? Certainly not for me to keep hoping. 
I was reading this novel, Room by Emma Donoghue about this young woman who was kept prisoner as a sex slave in a tiny room for seven years with her young son. In order to survive and make life bearable for her precocious little boy and herself, she uses imagination to turn a dreadful situation into a colourful life. Act of creation. Act of love. As I was reading it, it occured to me that I had been doing the same all my life, creating a universe of my own with its code, its beauty and its architecture in order to survive a world which seemed too cruel, violent and totally ununderstandable to me. I was noone's prisoner. It's difficult for anyone else to enter this world of mine. Maybe that's why I write music, as a bridge to the outer world. I can't blame anyone for not finding the way in - or not willing to get into it. Distance is the best option.
Simon is a fine and entertaining host, although his over-the-top self-centeredness sometime makes me retreat even further within myself. It's good to be around someone who knows me so well and has no problem handling me as I am.
He would like me to join a project he has started to build up since last year. He had been in close contact with British underground icon Anne Clarke for the past months and now he would like to have a series of Art total performances based on her body of work. Kristina will be there as the divine goddess dancer that she is, and Simon is currently selecting artists to form a collective of musicians, visual artists, dancers, painters, designers - something we had already started to create for Swatt, the original idea of a collective we started to develop a few years back.
Since I have no project for the coming spring, I think a little trip to Europe won't harm me.
We shall start rehearsing and putting things together by the end of April for performances around the 10th of May.
Anne Clarke said she had listened to my music and liked it very much. The first step will be to do that reinterpretation of Our Darkness, which I had promised her months ago. Then I will read through her lyrics to find other songs I want to re-write.
Simon and I visited the place which will host the event, Dynamo, an alternative venue located by the river, with a fairly big room and plenty of possibilities.
For now my mind is still blank regarding what I'll do. I think I will start working on it once back in Taipei.

Simon as as Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Tokyo 2003

Johan wrote to me to say that the video for Enter the Void was nearly finished, but that he and HoHo still had to hone the editing before showing it to me.
The bad news is that I won't be writing the music for the runway show in Tokyo, for the Japanese team want to work with their own people. Johan has been fighting to get me to be in charge of the music, but to no avail.
That's just less work for me!

Next week:
Record the guitar parts for the song To the Sun with ThuyNhan
Go to the Sacem to register all the new works
Photo shoot for Karen who need 12 persons to pose as the 12 apostles alongside her as Marie Magdeleine...
Find a lover?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Tie the knot

"The baby is born. It's a boy. We're working on finding a name!"

When earlier in the afternoon we heard the news that my cousin Thao was starting the labour of birth, my brother and I were at her parents' place for a Sunday lunch. The sun was shining outside, everything was so quiet inside and outside the house. My aunt was showing us pictures of her flower arrangements on the tv screen. Ikebana, as she proudly would state and repeat. The slideshow went at an excruciatingly slow pace. One picture a minute. Hundreds of pictures... Each as dull as the following one. I was trying hard to fight the after-lunch sleepiness. My uncle was sitting dozing in his wheelchair, occasionally sending out a 'yeah' as personal comment. My brother was bravely keeping the situation dignified with his undying attention to each passing photo. He certainly would have deserved a medal for examplary family conduct.
The news changed the mood. A newcomer in the family. My uncle and aunt were to become grand-parents.  My aunt got more and more excited as the thought grew in her mind. A couple of years earlier, she was resigning herself to the idea of seeing her daughter leading that solitary life of hers, traveling to the most remote parts of the world for her work as a geologue, with no family tie no children.  
The day before, we were celebrating her wedding to her Irishman Robert. A home party. Not exactly the wedding itself but the third and last part of the wedding journey. The first day was for the Buddhist ceremony, in the strict intimacy of the parents - mine included, the second day, the civil ceremony followed by a dinner with relatives from Ireland and close friends - again with my parents, and the last, a joyful celebration with everyone - my parents not included, for they left for Bern to visit more relatives.
Since Robert is Irish, Thao and he tied the knots Celtic style, with a friend performing the role of the druid, complete with the traditional outfit, the face blue paint and the irresistible accent. 
It was very moving and meaningful. They didn't need the pomp, they didn't need to show off in front of anyone, the guests presents were those who loved them and the loving energy shone brightly accross the room.

My brother Chân, Thao and her hubbie Robert
- or how to ruin a photo...

On the train to Zürich, I was reflecting on the recently past events. I had a serious and heavy talk with my brother while we were waiting for our aunt to come and pick us up at the hotel.
We never really talked with each other. Occasions are rare. He's now always to be seen with wife, son and dog. Some kind of protection. He's been that way ever since as a young boy, he realised that the family was far from being the protective haven. Emotional insecurity and unstability, constant fights between our parents, or the menacing, layered weirdness of a brother he could not understand. Through the years and thanks to his relationship with Mathilde, he came to let down his guard and show his affection and love.
"You're hard on people" he said at some point. "You're quick to judge people without taking the time to know them". He was referring to my comments on cousins we have in Los Angeles. Yes I was hard. I may love them, but I find no connection beside the family bond. I said nothing.
"You never make an effort to be interested in anything else beside your music and art" he went on. I still said nothing. I only nodded.
"You are snobbish". 
I didn't answer nor did I try to explain, but it was a blow on the stomach for me. I really didn't expect that. I thought he had finally come to understand me better. But obviously the old issues had not be resolved. I was and would always be the weirdo he has to love because I'm the brother. The thought was saddening.
"I can't pretend to be interested in something that doesn't interest me. I wish people were more honest with each other and didn't put on that fake social facade. It's a waste of time" I eventually replied.  As I said that, I was wondering what kind of monster I was to this world. Someone who goes his own way and chooses to leave the others behind, someone who only thinks of himself, hopelessly self-centered and egotistic?
My brother didn't need to answer anything. Our aunt's car had just appeared from the other end of the street.
During the meal, I felt - or convinced myself that my brother understood what I meant. I was sincerely very happy to see my uncle and aunt, happy to share their joy about their daughter's marriage and baby, but I didn't need to abide their issues. I don't know whether he understood how vital it was for me to preserve my sanity by being far away. Is there a personal way to express one's love for the others? There is, but I don't know how many of us choose to look that direction, instead of using exhausted codes.

Suddenly this whole trip became a draining experience for me.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Morning: Alexander technique session where Ulysses is having is training, a few steps away from Bévinda's place. Ulysses wants to teach Alexander technique. He had been looking for a path to follow in his life. His parents were worried that he didn't have any job. Being the son of rich parents may have lots of advantage in terms of financial comfort, but Ulysses had been spending all his time being the everlasting student. Music, painting, calligraphy, tai chi... never seeming to go beyond the status of student. At last he has found his way with the Alexander technique. 
"My mother is such a fearful woman, I guess she has passed that trait to my brother and me." he once said.  
I had a short music session with him and Benoît who plays viola di gamba, among many other bass string instruments. I suggested we sang some of the Händel duets with Benoît playing the continuo. Benoît had been complaining that they would hardly play together because Ulysses didn't think piano would go well with viola di gamba.
"I know it's supposed to be a harpsichord, but since we are here, the three of us and there's a piano, why not try?" I answered. Benoît was overjoyed. We weren't giving a concert or auditioning for William Christie anyway. The result was enchanting. Ulysses' enthusiasm grew by the minute and I was glad to have someone playing the bass part, which made it easier for me to sing the intricate vocal part and play the intricate piano part at the same time! I will ask Isabelle to join us next time. 

Lunch with Joshua, my London based Malaysian friend who came to Paris to go on a shopping spree with his best friend Dunk. I hadn't seen Dunk since I came to Bangkok two years ago.I must say I didn't keep a very impression about him: a rich and spoiled young man for whom appearances are everything. Thanks to his outragesouly rich parents, he can do whatever he likes. Contrary to some who could be those empty and lost characters from Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Dunk tries to be a musician. He is just about to release a new album which he played for me. As a true gay man, he loves Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and it shows in his music. However, he manages to catch some sort of edginess with interesting song structures and electric guitars - I feel he still has this contained rage which has to be expressed somehow. 
As I expected, Dunk started being annoyingly bitchy, but as the minutes passed by, he softened his attitude and ended up showing a much gentler side. I suppose he's constantly followed by a courtship of young admirers who want to rub shoulders with a pop star, so he needs to protect himself. Joshua and him make a very entertaining couple of friends even if I could be easily feel overwhelmed by this excess of campiness and friendly bitchiness between them. 
I was happy to see Joshua. We had been exchanging online for a few years now, calling each other on the phone, I had been introduced to many of Joshua's friends throughout the world, in Taipei, in Bangkok, in Paris, but we never met! For the occasion, we set an appointment at a fancy place in the posh - or shall I say overrated, area of Paris, namely the Ladurée tea salon near the Place de la Concorde. I couldn't feel more like a tourist... 
We joined Dunk later in another café nearby. They had been spending the whole day hopping from one Hermès or Dior shop to another. At the Hermès shop, I saw a young Vietnamese guy I vaguely knew from  my former clubbing times, sitting on a bench, calling everyone he knew because had had reached his paying limit and couldn't pay this prized bag he  was drooling over.... 
I would like to get to meet Dunk more often. "I could buy a flat here and we could come every other month to Paris to have fun!" he said. He's quite capable to just do what he said, I thought. I sometime find it fascinating the way extremely rich people function. We promised to meet again soon. January, maybe?

I was supposed to go to Lucien Zerrad's little showcase in Montreuil for his new album then come back to Paris to meet Philippe, Jan and Sandra for dinner then it occurred to me that the showcase would have to be skipped.
With Vanessa and Margie, Philippe, Jan and Sandra are my oldestand dearest friends. I hadn't seen Sandra that much, the past years but on my last visit in December, the four of us were together and had such a great laugh that we all realised that we shouldn't let time slip through our fingers like that without trying to see more of each other. 
I treasure my friends. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

To the sun

Whenever I meet Bévinda, I can be sure that we'll be writing a song, doing a photo session or planning new projects together.
She's so free and open-minded that there's no topic I would feel embarrassed to discuss with her. We talked about love, about sex, about music, about life... She showed me naked pictures of her new lover, candidly told me about their escapade in Sardegnia. 34 year old. Met him at the terrace of a café where she was having a bad salad.
They found out they were both from Paris. The story began. 
"It was the most beautiful birthday present I ever had", she commented. 
She mentioned the age difference. "I'm 50 now!!! He doesn't seem to mind..." There was an uncertain expression in her eyes as she said that.
Bévinda is like the big sister I never had. 
I told her about the few current projects I had: the two films, the recital at the National Concert Hall, next year for which I have been commissioned two pieces...
I told her about the film Pierre est heureux. I needed lyrics for one of the two songs, To the Sun. French and English lyrics. I had asked Thuy-Nhan to sing and play the guitar on it and she gladly accepted. But before we do the recording, the song needs to be finished! I played the instrumental demo to Bévinda and she immediately started scribbling down on a piece of paper.

"Let's make some music", she said later on. She showed me drafts of lyrics she had written. "This one I wrote yesterday... I think it sucks..." It was about how she loves the horizontal position, whatever that may suggest...
She read it out loud to me. I sat at the piano and started playing a few chords progressions until I found something I liked. Bévinda hummed a melody to match the lyrics. Then she suddenly remembered she had recorded some rough vocals on her phone the previous night, and played it to me. We then improvised further until we had the full song. It's in French. The name: Sans Soucis (Carefree).

I was - not surprisingly, browsing CD's at a store when the phone rang. It was Bévinda. She wanted to read me what she had written for To the Sun...

She told me about a project involving her and a string orchestra. for a series of concerts next year. She had asked musicians she had worked with to do arrangements to each pick a song and orchestrate for string.
"Would you do one?"
Of course I accepted. The project came from the former first violin of the Orchestre du Théâtre des Champs-Elysées who now runs a music school in the South of France.
"And please, don't pick Fatum or Asia! I have sung them millions of time, I can't stand them anymore!" she added.

I'm going to listen to those two albums of hers I really love: Terra e ar and Chuva anjos and select a couple of songs. Arranging for a string orchestra? I love the challenge!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Family affair

Being now in Paris feels like performing in a play, then finding out that the play and the stage have suddenly changed into another show, but I still have to keep saying my lines as if nothing has happened.

Jan came to pick me up at the airport. The plane had landed at 5:45 but I had told him to only show up at 7... I was already too glad someone would come and drive me to the city!
I didn't know what to expect from this trip. I was reluctant to go. I was happy to see my parents again, but dreaded the idea of being caged in any heavy family drama. I wanted to focus on my parents. When I was at Pinga's funerals and saw her parents and her brother standing tall, dignified and holding back  thei rtears, I swore to myself that I would enjoy every single minute I would have with my own people. 

It's been 5 days already and my time with my parents has gone by very smoothly. Needless to say that they are so happy to have me around.
I finally saw my nephew Vu An. He's two months old, has the most adorable smiling face and a very friendly disposition. It was touching to see my father serenely contemplating his grandson with a little smile as if both were in having a long and silent conversation.

The house was very dusty and looked like an abandoned attic which longs for the children who once played there. Countless cobwebs covering wall and ceilings. My parents are old now, and can only do the minimum. I didn't waste time and started vacuuming the rooms one by one, scrubbing the floor, repainting the wooden table which had suffered from humidity and extreme heat.
The garden badly needs some triming. It looks like a jungle now.
As I progressed in those house chores, I felt like the sun was coming back in the house. My presence certainly does bring a big shift in the energy. I just hope it will not go down again after I leave.
My mother went to have another test to check the state of her Alzheimer disease. Everything is fine. The key is to keep her stimulated - she has always kept her mind working and is doing lots of translating so there's no worrying about that. I try to push her to go out a little more. Stimulation can come from one's reaction to unexpected things; and being outside brings plenty of opportunities.
I have to learn to be more patient and not let me concern overcome me. Learning to grow, learning to let go...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Before I go

I'm all set. Two more hours and I will take the bus to the airport. The music for Johan is finished now. I woke up early this morning to work on it and everything came out clearly and simply. 
It's not a master piece but I think it will fulfill its purpose. The casting will take place this afternoon., the shooting in four days. I wonder what they'll do visually this time... If need be, I can always hone the music once I'm in Paris.

For my last evening in Taipei, ChingYao had asked me to join him at La Boca, a trendy bar in the Eastern part of the city. James and Jin were there as well. Jin was accompanied by a friend of his, a charming young drama student turned model named Charles. I couldn't really enjoy the evening. I had just started to settle some base for Enter the Void, but wasn't at all satisfied, so ideas were passing through my mind like dark clouds in the sky, changing shape every few seconds. ChingYao and James were in a merry mood. Charles was very flirtatious.
And I thought that at the same time the next day, I'll be on the place to Paris...

Andy stayed at my place for the night. He was going to have a lesson with a new flute teacher. He also wanted to see me one last time before I left. Throughout the summer, Andy had opened up, no longer afraid to tell me things. Should I call it trust? We had managed to move out of this two year long no-man's land. 
He has finally decided to spend his last year of study in Geneva. He's going to be 30 next year, and he's aware he's got to mature into an adult musician. Being a student can no longer be an option.
We all have to move and take decision. I salute those who aren't afraid to take the dive.

I was at the airport.
Johan called me to wish me a good trip, but chiefly to tell me about the music he had just rceived. He liked it but it was too long. The duration of the film will not exceed two minutes, therefore I would have to cut off one minute.
One minute? That meant one third of what I had done. I didn't mind, but I knew this would mean changing the structure and adding elements. Then I picture myself in Paris, at my parents' place, jetlagged and working on the music whilst fighting a strong urge to collapse in bed...

Saturday, 10 September 2011


North, South, East, West. I ran everywhere in the city today, mostly to find the gift for family and friends. In the meantime, I was wondering what music I would be writing for Johan. He had asked me to do a three minute track for a new video which will show his upcoming collection.
I'm leaving tomorrow and my head is still full of all the music I and written for Bryan's film.
I also didn't want to pressure my mind. I know the music is like a cat, it always comes out at the right time., but I should not force it.  Beside, Johan tends to always ask me at the last minute...

I went with ChingYao to see ShuYi's new dance project yesterday evening at the Fine Arts Museum. A warm and windy evening.
The new piece was conceived around the space he was given: an inner courtyard and an indoor empty room in the basement, adjacent to the esplanade. The dance itself wasn't very exciting. With ShuYi, it's his charisma that makes whatever he does work. He could just stand still and that would be interesting. That's precisely what he did for the beginning of the piece. Then the young dancers for which the piece was made came in one by one and ShuYi disappeared to let them get center stage.
Then I nearly fell asleep. The music, or shall I say, the soundscape created a lulling atmosphere which was hard to resist. Only the end, which took part in the basement caught my interest again. We had to move to the window panes and watch it from the courtyard. ShuYi had been using the medieval choral music I had given him and suddenly everything came to life for me. Soundscape as background for dance is an exhausted concept for me. 
But I was so glad to see ShuYi again, after all these months.  

Now I seriously have to think about this music for Johan...

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Pierre est heureux

I woke up this morning at 6:50 am. Not even four hours sleep, since I stayed up late, chatting merrily in a bar with a friend until 2 or 3 am. But I felt rested and happy. The weather is getting cooler, I can leave the windows open and let the fresh come in during the night, instead of using the fan or AC. The whole week has been devoted to the film score. It may have taken me more than two months to figure how the music should intervene in the film, but now that I have set my focus on it, it flows out with so much ease. I'm even surprised...
I had a recording session with Emily yesterday and last Friday. The cello has become a prominent part of the score. I first intended to use a violin as well, but time is running out. I had the violinist's number but somehow I didn't chose not to call him. I may ask him for another project. 
Emily is really a great joy to work with. At first, what you see is a beautiful and very elegant girl, always wearing long dresses. Then you discover a passionate musician. One masks hides another one, as I eventually found out that Emily was a very wacky and funny person, which came out as a surprise to me.
We worked in a rehearsal studio which belongs to a small music company. They manage various kinds of musicians, ranging from classical to jazz.  I played her what I had done with all the parts I had recorded and she was quite astonished by the sound of the cello. Even for her own album, the cello didn't sound as good. What I had been using for more than a year now is this Zoom recorder. It's a musician friend of mine from Paris, an oboe player who showed me that wonderful tool one day as we were having lunch. He plays in a few contemporary music ensembles and had been recording his rehearsals and even his concerts. The quality, he said, was amazing. He demonstrated for me and I was won over as soon as I heard the first notes of the oboe. 

I had prepared for Emily the score for the last scene. I had woken up this morning with a totally new idea for the final scene and rushed to my computer to record the piano part and add a rhythmic section.
To the ears that are familiar with my music, it will not be new territory. It' could be a slowed down version of Second breath, with this impressionistic, Sakamoto-esque mood. The cello is superb on it. But I was very excited.

Now most of the music is done. I couldn't believe I would manage that in a week. There might be a couple of more scenes to write for, but the main chunk of the score is done.
I will complete in Paris the remaining two songs which will require a vocalist. 


Bryan has just come with his producer partner to discover the music. I was very nervous. "And what if he doesn't like it at all?" I had been asking myself during the whole time I was working on it.
I had imagine the worse scenario: big scenes, fights, long arguments, diva scenes. Then I stopped. There was no reason I should let my old demons play such tricks on me again. 
I had taken great pleasure penning the score and collaborating with Emily. There was no reason the joyfulness of the process shouldn't translate. But I still had in mind how FangYi had rejected all the new music I had done for her a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping such a situation would not repeat itself with Bryan. I'm so sensitive to rejection...
And he loved it! He had only a few remarks regarding the opening titles, objections I had to agree with. Too much tension coming from the strings, which also creates a tiring mood. 
Bryan particularly loved the finale I had entitled The final Journey, where we see the main character, Pierre, finding out that he will never go to France for his friend Luc had had a drug overdose. He wanders aimlessly in the city and eventually comes back home where his mother - the only sensible and grounded character in the film, is sitting alone on the sofa. 
The cello by Emily is just wonderful. I take pleasure listening to that piece over and over.

There will be more music to record. But I think it can wait until I come back. Emily just told me our session tomorrow can't take place at the studio, for the room is already booked. 
I will think about Bryans remarks and requests and let them grow in my head.
CJ and Jay Chern had been telling me about a vocalist who would be good for the song which is played during the first club scene. I wanted the number to sound like a blending of The Ting Tings and M.I.A. Don't know whether I'll find a female vocalist who'd be able to pull it off like that. 
Another song which will require a vocalist is the song whivh features during the make-believe visit of Paris scene, where the two boys pretend they are in Paris and speak French to each other.
I'm thinking of having one verse in French and one in English. In the book of photographs that Yves sent me as a thank you gift for the re-composition of Kawaita Sabaku I did for his project, I found a beautiful poem written by Theresa Chuc Dowell, his literary partner on the project. I love her use of words. She said she would be happy to work on songs together. Maybe that could be the start...

Bryan really liked the second club scene when Pierre is having his hallucination/fantasies. I used an old track I wrote for the opening of the concert at the Café de la Danse in 2006. The track was itself a reworking of a song, minus the vocals. A minimalist techno track which travels musically through the world: Europe, India, China then New York. I refashioned it to fit the scene in the film, asked Emily to play some cello parts, added some synths and the result is delicious.

I can now prepare for my trip to Paris. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Les Contes d'Hoffmann  will be performed again this year in Niigata. I thought I remembered Jo telling it would be sometime around November, but I received a mail from Mikiko saying that it stated for December. 
I'm asked to update my bio and send them new pictures.
I did some pictures. 
"I wonder what you're going to turn yourself into... Last time you did Bruce Lee, which was very nice", Mikiko had written.
Yes, indeed, what to do?
I decided to go the sexy way. Not too much, but just enough to bring a change from the previous pictures that had appeared through the years.

I played for Mrs Shu's singing lesson this morning, with ChingYao being the teacher. Chinese songs for the most today. Some of them actually sound Russian to me. Wouldn't it be for the Chinese lyrics, it could easily be mistaken for a song by Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin.
As usual, we had lunch at Mrs. Shu's office - she has dedicated one room for her singing lessons! Then I asked her about the two tall studio lamps that had been taking the dust in a corner for months already. I had been looking for something similar I could use both for my photography and for the house.
"Oh, do you want on of them? I don't use them anymore!" 
My face brightened up as she said that. 
"I used when I was doing oil painting, a long time ago. Not anymore."
 A gift from heaven!