Monday, 27 February 2012

Làng tôi

I just talked to my father on the phone. I had chatted a little with my mother earlier on, as I had promised to call them yesterday and couldn't. We're all quite excited at the prospect of a trip to Vietnam. My father had been mentioning it for months. They managed to sell our little house in Bretagne and that allowed them to wipe off all the debts that have accumulated through the years. As I wasn't able to take care of my financially for quite some time, I was part of that debt and felt guilty and awful about it. My father may have said it more than once, I musn't feel that way, because he knew all too well how it was to be a struggling musician and that whatever he could do to help and support me (something which his own family wasn't able to do for him, they didn't have the means and most importantly, they didn't have faith in him). Now that there is even some money left after the debts have been paid, my father said he would take my mother on a trip to Vietnam.
"While we can still do it". (while my mother can still remember things)
Since an aunt (my mother's younger sister) is going to come to Paris with her soon-to-be-married son and his future wife-to-be by the end of March, the dates have been postponed by a few weeks. I feared that this unexpected visit may cause my parents to cancel that trip. I called them to insist that aunt on visit or not, that trip to Vietnam was not to be missed.
"I don't care about my sister! I'd prefer to see you!!! And anyway, she will be doing all these touristy things..." my mother said. Not caring about her sister's visit? That visit is also good news for her, something to look forward to. I gather she will spend time with them, which means lots of walking and good exercise - also good preparation for the trip.

My father sounded happy and delighted. This trip will also be a good opportunity to see Tuân Lê who has been asking me repeatedly to come to Vietnam and discuss possible future projects. Now that they may indeed need my music for a couple of upcoming shows, it's a perfect timing.
In one month already???
I just wish that my brother could be with us. Such opportunity may not come twice.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Strawberry Boy

I'm like the grumpy smurf. I don't celebrate holidays. Don't care much for Christmas, New Year, Halloween, birthdays, much less Valentine's Day. Deceptive holidays, I would say about them. 
Then little cupid's messenger knocked on my door this morning. I was chatting online with my Strawberry boy Ryan when he told me to go open the door. I had an inkling what was to happen next, but still, the sight of this paper bag deposited right behind the door moved me and filled with me with tenderness and, yes, joy.
Ryan had been preparing all the cards and photos on the final night before he flew to Uh-merika and gave everything to a secret friend and winged ally.
The paper bag contained a dark brown square box, a heart-shaped collage with a picture of the two of us in the middle, as well as a little present for Chubby! The square box was in fact a chocolate music box.
"I was hesitating between three tunes, and I chose this one..." Ryan told me.

My heart will go on, from the Titanic soundtrack...

I may not be sinking with the Titanic, but I hope I'm not embarking on the same boat as Gustav von Aschenbach...

"Céline Dion has managed to infiltrate your house!!!!" Jay laughed when I told him later.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


I finally saw KunLin after many cancelled appointments. I waited for him at Rue 216, a bistro à la française (or so they wish, the owner went to France to follow a cooking training, but the result is still not very French...)
I was seated at a table near the window. KunLin was nowhere to be seen. As often the case lately, I had forgotten my phone so there was no way to know where he was. Around me, laughter, jovial outbursts. I was reading old issues of Entertainment Weekly. Then the brilliant idea of asking the owner to call KunLin occurred to me (they're good friends, whence the appointment in that particular place)
"I just came back from the South of Taiwan. Didn't you get my message? I'll be there at eleven o'clock."
It was barely nine. I ordered a plate of cheese (or what they think they can call cheese) and ate... too quickly. Around me, new customers, a group of young and cute post teenagers, an ageing lady on a new date with a foreigner...
KunLin arrived. He was wearing a long black coat. Since he was a regular, everybody started to talk to him. As usual, he kept his cool. Never show any emotion seems to be his motto! When he finally got inside the bistro he had a look around and told me that we would go to another café at the other end of the city.
I wanted to go straight to the point and have some more clues about this Silk Road project mystery.
"So you cancelled the project?" I asked KunLin.
"It's not me..." 
I remembered that Avi Avital played a non-too kind trick on KunLin by having another concert in Taipei (though with a different program) without telling him. Now the project was completely off.
"Avi isn't famous enough yet to attract enough people twice in a year" Kunlin explained. A little voice told me the decision was a mistake. I was proved right when I went to a record store today and discovered that Avi has just been signed by Deutsche Gramophon and released a new album of Bach's mandolin concertos...

I asked KunLin about the project for the 800th anniversary of Notre-Dame at the HuaShan Park. Another blank then I heard that it was much too late to book the venue. KunLin seemed to like my idea for the play. He suggested an alternative as a possible venue. It's located in a building near the Eslite bookstore on DunHua Road. I had attended a concert there but had no recollection about the place itself. 
What liked about the HuaShan Culture Park was the building themselves. They used to be old warehouses turned into spaces for exhibitions or performing art. I last went there to attend a performance by Horse, in which ShuYi was dancing. If the dancing wasn't what I would remember best, the stage design was absolutely gorgeous, helped by the industrial unfinished aspect of the venue. 
I was already starting to envision how the play would look like in that place, but it's obviously not meant to be. 
"So what about you giving a concert?" KunLin asked
"Oh yes,I could come up with another idea with music, projection and dance performance..." I mused.
"No, a concert of your music"
"I had been talking with ShuYi and we would like to do a series of mini multi-media performances every month to present all the music I have been writing. There could be..."
"I'm not talking about ShuYi. What about you giving a concert?"
"Me giving a concert? As a singer?"
"Yes. You have written songs, haven't you? You could give concerts at the Wall, or the Riverside."
"But.... would you be interested in organising that?" I was confused. In my mind, KunLin was an agent for classical musicians. As a composer that may be in his range, but I assumed, perhaps wrongly that my work as a singer-songwriter was beyond his realm. 
"Yes for you as a singer. And not with contemporary dancer or projection or anything like that! I could book a venue for you in December. A whole week."
I was speechless, but still not convinced.
"But no one knows me here! There will be lots of promotion to be done! Who would come?"
"You forget that I work for a radio station..."
I will have to give it serious consideration.
"And about the play, if it's premiered in Hong Kong next year, give me a video of it when you can, and we can possibly tour it in Taiwan and China..."
Now it's up to me. No more doubt. Go for it. Do it. Conceive it. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Zero degree

Last minutes in Hong Kong.

A new and exciting project growing in my mind as I was on  the express train to the airport. It should be realised in June, when I go  back there to work on Siu Yung's exhibition, Lumières imaginées. However, this time, I won't be playing or singing a single note. The proposition came yesterday as I was trying to set an appointment with Norm Yip and exchanging messages him on my way to the city. I had asked Norm about his new book of photographs to which he replied that he didn't have any recent release. The third one was still in preparation. The mistake came from the pictures I saw in a magazine. I asked him to bring me his first two books the following day, and that led to the next question: When would I pose for him? He had asked me - though tentatively, a few times in the past couple of years. Norm's claim for (relative) fame is essentially through his work on the Asian male nude. I had declined the offer, since I never really considered myself worthy of such ... an honour.
A few weeks ago, I came accross the recent work of Leslie Kee, a Singaporean photographer who does everything from fashion, album covers, to more... intimate works. He displayed his latest work, the Super nude series for an exhibition in Japan at the end of last year. Eight 'IT' guys, hot male celebrities (mostly Japanese, with the notable exceptions of Lady Gaga and Ayumi Hamasaki's beau Manuel Schwartz), actors, models, and also porn stars. Eight books were published for the occasion - not really books, more like luxurious magazines (very reminiscent in style of Andy Warhol's Interview, while the photos obviously bear a very strong resemblance in style with Terry Richardson or David LaChapelle's works...)
Leslie Kee followed these hotties and got more than a glimpse at them in their intimacy. It's funny, sexy, sometime hilarious, but artistically as arousing as porn. And porn it was, basically, since those 'it' guys would be often seen in their birthday suit, and joyously - and shamelessly 'playing' with themselves...
So when Norm said that he wanted to take pictures of me, I gave it a second thought.
My appointment with Norm was the last I had in Hong Kong. I was about to change my ticket and stay a little longer. But I already had other engagements.
The past days had been so fulfilling and energising that I wanted to bask a little longer under that pleasant sun.
I felt I could do anything. The play Devant mes Yeux | Before my Eyes was likely to be premiered next year in Hong Kong and in Vietnam. It's new to me, but I make things happen for myself, instead of waiting for other to initiate projects.  
So that photo shoot is a natural move for me.

But to avoid the trap of self indulgence and vanity, I told him my vision for the shooting: it had to be an editorial, with a narrative which will involve other characters.
Norm was all for it. I mentioned a few films which inspired me: LanYu, Spring Fever and of course Happy Together.  Not on a visual level, since Norm will work in black and white. But for the mood and the themes.
"We have to create a sense of tension, maybe suggest what/who is missing by choosing the place and the props." I  explained. "If you just show a good looking model, the sight will be pleasant for the eyes for an instant and he will probably be forgotten when the page is turned. Unless there is a sense of emergency. That can only be created if there is dramaturgy involved."
We brainstormed for a little while. Norm was toying with the idea of bondage. I was not so enchanted by it, but didn't rule off the suggestion. I thought of the dance piece that Huang Yi  is currently developing, Double Yellow Line. So I imagined...
A male prostitute. He's lost. He has a girlfriend who doesn't know how handle him and patiently suffers her woes in secret. He has a young rich lover who is dangerously passionate, possessive and extremely jealous of his clients. Then this lover plans to 'buy' him for one night and sets up an appointment without telling it's him. Unaware of that, the prostitute decides to ends the love affair because he feels it's leading to a dead end. He meets his lover on the rooftop of a building. The two of them fight violently, then say farewell to eachother, dancing a milonga, as a reminisce of happier time.
We then see the prostitute entertaining clients in dodgy bars at late night hours, at home with his girlfriend, but there's a cold and silent world between them.
Then comes the appointment. It takes place in a hotel room. When the lovers appears in all his youth and splendor, the prostitute knows something will happen, but he doesn't want nor try to escape.

I think I'll ask someone to come and film the scenes. That could end up as a little short film which can illustrate a song.
Norm's comment: "Back to the script. Tension, doom or gloom always seems more appealing, especially in a sexual kind of way."

Sunday, 5 February 2012

"We have the music but we need the money!"

Self reflection in Hong Kong

"We have the music, but we need the money". That's the introduction a friend of mine posted on one of his blog and it applies to me as well - all so well.
I saw Gilles and his assistant Julien for lunch. He invited me to one of those posh Italian restaurants where the better the food looks, the smaller the portion. We talked a lot about Siu Yung and his upcoming exhibitions. I also reminded Gilles how we did meet: at a French chanson festival, somewhere in a Burgundy little town. I was then still working with French songstress Michèle Atlani, some fifteen years ago. That festival was one of the modest events held during summers to promote French chanson as well as tourism in French lesser known provinces. Chanson wasn't quite my cup of tea but I had to make a living. Accompanist, composer, musical director, psychologist, driver and punching ball I was to the singer. Gilles at that time was trying to launch a talent agency which was to only last for a couple of years before he switched to something more interesting - and more lucrative. So there we were, surrounded by old (nearly extinct) luminaries of the endangered 'French chanson', warbling their tunes to a crowd of connoisseurs (and friends they would drag along). remember in particular an evening about fishermen's songs. Since fishermen had to sail for long months, they needed to keep their spirits high so the song they would sing had to accompany their daily chores and in no case be short ones... Alas, we were not sailing on a stormy sea, and when they all started belting these excruciatingly endless odes to the sea, I could nearly see myself pulling the ropes. That's how I met Gilles, trying to keep his composure, but bored to death. Of course, he had forgotten about it!
It was also Gilles who introduced me to an artist named Nironi. He invited me once for dinner at his place. As I walked in, I was struck by a work of art the he displayed at the opposite side of the entrance. I fell in love with it immediately.
"Is he Japanese?" I asked him. There was a stillness, simplicity and serenity which were reminiscent of the Japanese spirit.
"No, you'll laugh but he's from Corsica!!!"
Serenity and Japanese zen are the last things one could say about the people from Corsica. A friend of mine knew a man who bought an old house for as a summer residence. He wanted to do some renovation and hired his own architect. Alas, as a non-native, he didn't know that there was an unsaid rule in the village according to which any refurbishment had to be done by the locals. They came to him to discuss about it (or warn him?). When he politely refused they left and replied in their local way: the next day his house was bombed.
I did laugh. Then Gilles told me about this new gallery in the Marais whose owner had a very interesting policy regarding the works he represented: he set up a rental service, because he believed that it took time for a buyer to warm up to and live with a painting. So each painting could be rented for a three months period, after which, the buyer could choose another work, or keep and pay it in quarterly instalments. The first thing I did the next day was to run to that gallery. I asked the owner to show me other works by Nironi. I actually wanted something which looked like the one Gilles had. Unfortunately, none of the pieces I saw were close in style to the one I saw at Gilles'.
"I actually am looking for a piece which would be similar to the one monsieur Bonnevialle bought..."
"Ahhh... I see! I may have something that would might like, but I don't have the piece here. Can you come in a couple of days?"
I was so excited. I couldn't wait for those two days to pass, just like an impatient lover. When finally I went back to the gallery, the owner greeted me with a broad smile. 
"I have what you're looking for!"
He directed my eyes to the opposite wall and there I saw it!
But then the price?
When I heard the number, my heart sank. The owner saw that and smiled.
"There is a way. You can pay in instalments. The amount you want."
"But it would take me for ever to pay for it!!!"
I didn't even try to calculate. I accepted. I had no clue how I would manage it; I hardly earned enough with my work, and there was now the prospect of eating plain rice and fish sauce for the months to come. 
The owner delivered the painting a few days later and picked the best spot. I was then sharing a small two room flat with Jan in Montmartre.
"I have what you need", he said, showing me a long and big nail. The painting was quite heavy. After he left, I sat in front of the painting for hours, contemplating it. I felt like I just got married. Contrary to my love relationships, the ones with the painting I buy do last.

Nironi's painting in my Parisian flat

 So I summoned all my courage to talk about the play. Gilles seemed interested, although he kept on teasing me. 
"I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm interested", he bursted. "Who are the actresses?" 
I named Bévinda as the French actress. 
"Oh Bévinda? What does she do now? I know about her, but I haven't been following her career..." Still singing, still writing, still touring, I told him. I also mentioned our project together as Fukaeri.
"When is the album out?"
"There are eight songs right now. I have to write of couple more, then do the arrangement and orchestration. Find time to go to Paris and record the vocals... But I hope it will be finished this year... It will be in English, French, Portuguese and Chinese!"
"You sing in Chinese?" Gilles looked genuinely surprised.
"Well, as long as you don't ask me to do a rap, then I'm fine!"
We laughed full-heartedly. "It's perfect, then. If it's completed in time, Bévinda and you can also give a concert in Hong Kong for that album!" Then Gilles explained to me that for a reason he didn't understand, Hong Kongers were very passionate about fado. "And she can give a concert of her own too. Send me a CD of her music and make a presentation of the play for me... so I can understand what it's about!"
It all seemed too easy to be true.
Now I have less than one year to pen that play. How? When? What? Not the first time I have been facing these questions. But one thing I know: just do it!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Free will astrology

I never read horoscopes, but my eyes caught that one I found in a Hong Kong giveaway newspaper...

"You now have a special talent for helping your allies tap into their dormant potentials and latent energy. If you choose to use it, you will also have a knack for snapping lost sheep and fallen angels out of their wasteful trances. There's a third kind of magic you have in abundance right now, Cancerian, and that's the ability to coax concealed truths out of their hiding places. Personally I'm hopeful that you will make lavish use of these gifts. I should mention however that some people may resist you. The transformation you could conceivable set in motion with your superpowers might seem alarming to them. So I suggest that you hang out as much as possible with changer-lovers who like the strong medicine you have to offer."

I read the entries for the other signs and found that it was less about horoscope than intuitive pearls of wisdom. Rob Brezsny (the writer) is right. I give lots of my time, listening to others and trying to encourage and support them. But that support is sometime seen as an attack. I can think of ChingYao, for instance. 
I wrote him a long letter to apologise. Apologise about what? I had been telling about my fallout with him to Nicolas, and the latter told me that even if there was nothing I could blame myself for, writing apologising could trigger a healing process in our relationship. So I followed his advice and wrote. I recalled the earlier days of our friendship, which actually was closer to an amorous fling. It was the month of July, in 2007. Simon introduced ChingYao to me as he made a stop over in Paris on his way to southern Italy for a recital. He possibly needed someone to coach his singing so I thought of me. During our first session, ChingYao's voice literally enchanted (possessed) me. (ChingYao later told me that someone said that his voice gave him a hard on during a recital...) 
These few days were magical. We were happy and enjoying every second of the day. I took him to Nicole Fallien, a highly respected singing teacher who had honed the likes of Philippe Jarrouski or Natalie Dessay. 
ChingYao then went to Italy for the recital and decided to postpone his return to Taipei and come back to Paris for a few days. By then things were slightly different. We still had a pleasant time, I shared as much music as I could, took him to concerts and had steamy sex with him. But I felt an alteration in our rapport. Anger. I didn't recognised it. I thought it was me. Then I fell sick. That's the time he was to leave. I tried to explain (reason) that I maybe just appeared in his life to provoke a shift. He was in a long term relationship which brought him lost of frustrations. He was angry with his parents, with his agent, his life in Taipei. He was well to aware of all that was at stake.
I recently learned from Nicolas that ChingYao was shocked at my coming to him. Says he, he only wished us to be friends. To use a word now made famous by Madonna after an interview, it's reductive. I was annoyed.
The anger is still there. I attended a healing session that Nicolas a week before I left for Hong Kong. ChingYao was there. I know he had received and read the letter. But there was no apparent indication of it.
Give it time. But for now, it's icy air between us.

People usually see sex as a way to exercise one's power (or to numb a lack of self confidence). I see it as a way to communicate. It could be likened to opening a door. In a life ruled by compulsory sensibility and profit, offering oneself to the other may be the greatest gift. 

Friday, 3 February 2012

Possibly maybe

Off to Hong Kong today.
If usually I go there for visa reasons, and at the same time, use the occasion to take more photos, buy (more) CD's and DVD's and meet up with (more) friends, I feel this trip will be different. It's a common place to say that the world is small, but I had another illustration of it the other day. A long lost acquaintance - Gilles, happens to know Siu Yung, (my first contact in Hong Kong who so kindly let me stay at his place for a few months, back in the winter of 2007). Siu Yung has since developed as a recognised lighting designer and now works like a maniac on many projects at the same time. It appeared that Gilles was involved in a few of them, so naturally, one thing leading to another, he found me again in the midst of Siu Yung's friends (needless to say it was on Facebook)
I learned that Gilles had moved to Asia a couple of years ago and settled in Hong Kong when he was offered a position by the French government as the director of the French May festival. The last time I heard of him was at a cocktail after a promo concert (what artist it was, I have no recollection!) and he was at the head of the Rock en Seine festival - one of the best rock/pop yearly events in Paris.
The thought occured to me that it may be time to try to make things work by myself and seize the opportunity, instead of relying on potential projects initiated by others. Of course I had my play Devant Mes Yeux in mind. Wouldn't it be the perfect opportunity? 
Before I tell anyone, I will see what Gilles thinks of the whole project. Everything is still unshaped now, so it's quite challenging to keep moving forward - much less with other people.

Speaking of Siu Yung, he asked me last night if I would be willing to contribute some music for an exhibition he will be having in June. One of his millions of projects!
"It's called Lumières Imaginées. It's going to run for three months and I have asked three musician friends to compose music for it. Oh yes, it will be at the Agnès b. gallery."
Siu Yung gave me some musical references he had in mind.
"Would you do it?"
Hell yes, I would!!! I was happy. Things seemed to be opening up for me outside of Taipei.
I told Siu Yung that we would be discussing the project in depth in Hong Kong. It was already 2 o'clock in the morning.
And KunLin finally emerged from his silence to ask me if I would be free to meet up and discuss about our upcoming project.
"When I come back from Hong Kong", I told him.
These past two months were foggy, now I'm starting to see more clearly.
Indeed, this trip to Hong Kong will be different!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Linchpin Lover: done!

Linchpin Lover is done! It was quite a challenge to put together this song which, as Stéphane said, is "a song in evolution as the song goes"!
Nicolas said Linchpin Lover it was a good move forward for me. More direct and more outgoing. I posted it on Facebook to see people's reactions and so far, my friends in Europe and the US seem to be more receptive to that musical style...
I have new ideas for songs in my head. Just started a new one, They lie: this time, no intricate orchestration, it's going to be very bare, just a rough mid-tempo beat, a piano playing the bass in the lower register and the voice. But...
I was at the gym doing my work out and I felt the impulse to add short sections of baroque music between each verse/chorus. I don't know how that opposition will sound like but the idea doesn't leave me anymore...
Listen to: