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!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

We need to talk about...

Thief has been selected for the Golden Horse Festival this year as 'best short film'. Jay told me that it would be nice if I managed to complete all the music before the end of this month, which I will do. One month is more than enough to compose the few tracks necessary for the film.
I'm also busy finishing the songs for Pierre est heureux. I will have one session tomorrow with Thuy-Nhan and  we'll record the guitar parts. Bévinda has given me the lyrics before I went to Switzerland so now I have to come up with the melody that Thuy-Nhan will be singing. In a couple of days...

My father has been complaining that the past summer had been so disruptive that he felt completely blocked and unable to reach this state of calm and quiet he needs in order to compose. First was the presence of my L.A. cousin Laura, who, was supposed to stay a couple of days and ended up staying for weeks, then the death of his brother in a car accident and the sale of our beloved house in Bretagne.
I heard him try a few chords on the piano the past mornings, I hope that he's back to his creative self. He joked with my mother and his spirits seemed high. He was smiling. I think it's a good sign...

I spent some time with Dennis yesterday and we saw We need to talk about Kevin. The film stayed in my mind for a long time. That threw me back to the time I was 12. I was going through a miserable year at school. My music teacher who had sensed lots of potential for music in me had advised my parents to send me to a school which provided a special section for musicians. Students would be able to attend the music conservatory as well as the regular school and have their schedule arranged so they could follow their academics and have enough time to practice their instrument. That actually meant extremely long days. I was first very excited about the idea. Being in a class where all the students would be as passionate about music as I was!  How exciting! I imagined everyone having long discussions about such and such composer, making music together, discovering new music together...
"What the fuck are you doing here?"
That's how one classmate greeted me on my first day. I was a bit lost in this new environment. All the children I saw looked too normal to me. I was trying to figure which one were the musicians.
Later that day, during our first music class, I started questioning a boy sitting next to me about his musical taste. We may have to spend lots of time at the conservatory, but we still had music classes at school. To each composer name I mentioned, he would  answer with a  puzzled look.
"Do you know Léo Delibes?"
"Do you know Heinrich Marschner?"
"... ???"
"Do you know..."
I had the slight inkling that I could have picked more famous composers... I closed my eyes. No! It was impossible! A simple nod from him would have meant that I had been sent to the right place, that something meaningful would be coming. Nothing. The only outcome of that little conversation was that I had branded myself with the label 'weirdo'. If my parents had sent me to work in the mines, it would have made no difference. I felt betrayed.
It went downhill from there. Music and literature classes were my only precious  - and too rare, moments of bliss. The rest of the time was pure hell. I was bullied, called names, publicly humiliated on a daily basis.  Sport classes were torture sessions to me. Teachers pretended not to notice anything; my parents were totally oblivious of what was happening to me beyond the border of the family, friends would just vanish when I was in trouble. The few ones I felt close to couldn't do much to help. I was particularly hurt when Sebastien, a happy and talkative boy who was my 'best' friend when we were alone would side with my bullies once we would be outside. "Fool! Traitor" I would think of him. He reminded of me of the weak and double timing  characters in gangster films which were played by Peter Lorre to the perfection. I retreated further and further within myself.
Then one Tuesday evening I caught  the trailor of The Village of Damned on television.: George Sanders against 12 blond children with angelic faces but frightening, evil powers. The film was going to be played late at night so naturally, it was out of question that I saw it. I had piano class the next morning... So desperate was I that I prayed fervently that I could be one of them and get rid of everyone at school. I gleefully imagined how with those super powers I would be able to beam all of them to dust.
It never happened.

Not many friends are available. They keep cancelling appointments. Dennis is the only one who seems to make an effort. When I hear or read "How long do you stay?" for some reason, I know it means I will not see the person.

Dennis and I going vintage