Monday, 23 April 2012


Darien has just asked me to model for Manhunt. Manhunt? I vaguely recalled that it was a model agency. Or was it the Manhunt competition in Singapore? No... Certainly not that.
"A photo shoot", Darien said. "Topless, jeans. Fratboy style."
Me topless??? Young and muscular guys are not a rare good here in Taipei and I know many who would do that so willingly... And fratboy style???
"I think you'll be perfect for that"
Why not give it a try... Remember: "Plant many eggs!"
That shooting could be a good preparation for my project with Norm Yip.


Darien came back from his lunch to give me more information. I completely misunderstood what the whole photo shoot was about. Manhunt is actually a gay dating website!
Just a glimpse at it and I knew that I wouldn't be doing it. Just my imagination, running away with me (again)...

Lee Byung-Hun in my dreamless nights

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Wild tiger

Now that the last performance of Winterreise is over and that I have left the theatre, the past month of rehearsing, practicing and performing now seems to be vanishing from 'reality'. Reality is a concept that escapes me more and more. We were in a Japanese restaurant (excellent) with XiaoXiong, ChingYao, ChienWei and also CJ who surprised me by coming to see the last performance. I was very touched by her presence. I may have posted the information on Facebook, but I knew that not many people would bother to come. Ulysses was there during the last week of rehearsals, so his input and advice on my piano playing were precious as well as comforting. I had not played classical music on stage for so long, I felt nervous. The couple of hours preceding each performance were always quite excruciating for me, but that allowed me to battle that old demon of mine. And I laughed when I realised one thing: I had never been able to play exactly all the notes during the run-through and performances. The piano was like a wild tiger I had to tame. It usually takes me a couple of sessions to feel the keyboard and know how to produce the sounds I want. Not with this one. That piano had a life of its own and wouldn't let itself be played on so easily. Each time was different (and surprising). 
"You didn't play the same music on Lindenbaum... Did you add something?" XiaoXiong said at the restaurant.
"Add something? No... I played what was on the score... I think!" They laughed.
"No really, I have the feeling that you added something because it sounded different from the music I know", XiaoXiong insisted.
"Perhaps... Because each time is different for me. I discover something new, or my fingers react differently, or I play it more slowly or quickly, so what comes out is different. I don't know.... Was it that different??? I may hit an 'extra' note at time, but not like you said..."
"We can watch the video to find out! I have all the evidences!" XiaoXiong said with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Oh dear, I'm in trouble!!! We all laughed merrily.
So I realised that I would never be able to play classical music exactly as it is written, even if I put all my focus on it. I attempted to (had to) when I was at the music conservatory. But I don't think I was a good musician then. Now that playing music is connected to my human experience, I can't play the score exactly as it is written, not that I improvise or change anything. It's just that each time I play it, the piece becomes alive and I cannot predict what is going to happen. It's exciting and elating, but I never feel very sure of myself, somehow.

Ulysses was in Taipei for a couple of weeks so I took advantage of his presence to ask him to be my external ear. This had been a good help for me. Ulysses has got a keen ear for details so he gave me his precious input. What I may lack in technical skill, I now largely compensate with my experience and understanding of music. Of course I wish I could do wonders like Ivo Pogorelich or Yundi Li. But I can't deny that I was very happy when I received all these of positive praises about my playing. I can make peace with myself now!

The experience with the dancers was not as fulfilling as I was hoping. They didn't have enough time to work on the details, and especially have some session where I could guide them in deciphering the musical text and  apply that to their dancing. Ulysses said that he didn't see the connection between the choreography and the music. In the beginning, I must admit that I was paying more attention to my playing and also to ChingYao's singing. He had the tendency to speed up, so I decided to watch the dancers as I would play (and get a wrung neck in the process). That paid off, and the result was much more effective and poignant.
Winterreise was actually a post-graduation show for two students. XiaoXiong wanted to show them off to their best advantage in spite of their limits and flaws. He succeeded brilliantly, for both of them received excellent grades from all the teachers. And having live musicians was a big asset, I should say!

XiaoXiong wishes to rework on the piece (which was already reworked from the original version he created last year in Australia). I guess it would be a great opportunity for ChingYao. Toward the end, he started to break his shell and let out the fine musician he potentially can be.
"It may be simple to say" Ulysses commented during one of our long conversations, "But he only has to connect his singing to his emotion. Because everything else is there."
Our friendship has been totally rekindled thanks to that project. As Madonna would sing it: "Music makes the people come together!"

Photo by XiaoXiong Zhang

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


"We need to discuss something"
I had just come home. Chubby was in his room and had grunted back a vague 'hello' when I greeted him. I saw him emerge from his room and come to me, and immediately had the weird inkling has he was to tell me something serious.
"I'm going to move out soon. My parents want to buy me a flat"
"Okay", I replied.
Chubby stopped. He was obviously surprised by my minimal response. Could it be so simple? Things had been icy between us. Not because we were mad at each other. Icy because there was no life. 
Our flatsharing experience had started well. Chubby was not the most cheerful person I knew, to put it mildly, but he was somebody I thought I could count on. I liked his quietness. He was well read, could speak English and a bit of French, liked the arts and worked at the Moca (Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei). "An ideal flatmate", I thought when we began to scout for a flat together. He didn't care much about investing in the house, so I did it. Most of the money I made went to it: buying chairs, tables, lights, lamps, cutlery, plates and bowls, buying the stereo, decorate the house... Creating a personal and comfortable living space was vital to me, especially since I was now living in a foreign country, far from family and friends, a blank page to write on. Chubby's part was to take care of the bills and deal with the landlord. Not much more. He was working most of the time at the gallery, so I had the place to myself during the day and could work on my music without disturbing anyone. My frequent trips abroad also allowed him good chunks of time for himself. Though opposite, our two temperaments completed each other. However things started to shift since the end of last year when I returned from Paris. His taciturn and defensive attitude was something I had come to make do with. He could be dry and funny at best, or annoying and stubborn at worst. However I grew quite alarmed to see how his life was going: he developed serious acne on his face with the stress he accumulated from his strenuous work, his eye-sight was dangerously diminishing on the left eye (or the right eye?), he hadn't been dating anyone in ages (I guess it takes some time and patience for him to open to someone), and getting drunk wasn't something alien to him (I saw him gulping down a couple of bottles without much of a flinch or a flush). His inability to communicate created a big wall between us, in spite of my efforts to include him at dinners or gatherings, to write to him and bring back presents from my trips. Then I started to feel resentment grow in me. I was aware that my way wasn't his way, but it seemed that remaining on his solitary island kept him safe. I went through serious financial problems and asked him to even out our rent (I accepted to pay more than he, because he said he had a limited budget for the rent and couldn't afford to spend more). He claimed that he had to help his parents and also badly needed money. But I saw a new Dolce & Gabanna leather jacket hanging on the balcony one evening, then pairs of fashionable jeans. "Seeing how hard he works, he deserve to treat himself with something expensive sometime", I said to myself. 
Yet I had the unpleasant sentiment that something wasn't quite fair. He had been taking full advantage of all the things I had provided in the house without contributing much (well, yes an occasional quarterly meal, which is maybe a lot already if one stands from his side), he broke a precious handmade white plate that Jo and Sawako had sent me from Japan without any word of apology. It was less about the plate than his refusal to muter a simple 'sorry'. Acknowledge. I would  try to accept all that as part of his personality: a moody, solitary (stingy) and taciturn young man. The atmosphere in the house was usually dead silent and stagnant whenever he was around (except when he had n a merry good mood with the help of a few drinks) 
"He may be young, but he's behaving like a middle aged man!" Jay remarked.

So when I heard the news, I was confused. His parents have no money, and yet they can afford to buy him a flat?
"When would that be?" I asked him some time later, when the piece of news sank deeper in me. 
"Later... In one month? Two? At the end of the year?" I asked
"We haven't found anything yet. My parents said I could live at my uncle's in Banciao, until they find and buy the flat" Chubby replied.
"But if you move out, you have to give me time to figure out what to do!" 
"I know. That's why I told my parents I won't be moving out now. I said I had to discuss about it to my housemate." Discuss what? I thought. The decision is already taken. I only have to accept it and find a solution.
"That's kind of you", I replied dryly.
"I'm sorry"
"Are you really? Why should you be? You're going to have a new flat. It's all good for you. Why would you care?"
"If I didn't care, I would leave right now." "That's the least you could when you put someone in such a situation. Something called courtesy, especially when you have been sharing a flat with someone." I replied in my head.
I didn't answer anything to the last comment. In my head, thoughts were spinning rapidly. What was I to do? I couldn't possibly move out as well. With what money? How can I open a bank account in Taipei? I wasn't even a resident permit in Taipei. Finding a new flatmate? Who? How to make more money? 

I had been talking with Jay earlier and ranting about Chubby. Jay's advice was that I had to move out. 
"Not now!" I exclaimed. "It's not really the best time! Maybe later this year. We will see"
It was ironic that it was Chubby who would move out first eventually. 

"So what do YOU want then? Stay here longer? Leave now?" I went on.
"I will stay at my uncle's."   
"But it will take some time before the house is ready. I suppose you'll have to do some renovation. It's unlikely that the flat will be spotless and immaculate when you buy it."
"That's why my parents told me to stay at my uncle's." Chubby answered. 
"So when do you want to do that?"
"As soon as possible."
"Which means that 'when you say later' means , it means 'very soon'." I felt a silent anger rise in me. "Do you think I can stay here, even if you move out? The lease it under your name..."
"I will ask the landlord. I think it should be fine."

I guess the situation isn't easy for Chubby either. I have the feeling that he didn't receive much affection in his life and it's terribly difficult for him to connect to his feeling. I only wish we could have discussed more, these past months. But what to do when the door is closed?
Sharing a flat is a curious experience. I shared my intimacy with someone I didn't know, not friend, a lover nor a relative. I had called him Chubby because he was so thin. But Porcupine would have been a better name. I should stop to find reasons and explanations. I will move on, find a solution and go with the flow.

"I'm moving out on May 20th" Chubby said as he was about to go out. "The landlord says it's okay for you to stay in the flat, but you have to find a new flatmate. If not, you have to move out at the same time as me."

The end.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Cinema in my life!!!

Slowly, all the things I dreamed of years ago are materialising in my 'real' life. Cinema is taking more and more place in my work. Pierre est heureux is in post-production now. There are still some adjustment to be made in the music, and yes, one more song. I thought of it the other after reading an e-mail that the director sent me. The narration is very distanced, so there is a need to connect to the audience through the music.
I won't be singing the song, and am thinking of asking Deserts. I haven't talked to her since last September. I still wonder whether the song should be in English or Chinese... 

The shooting of Rowboat is finished. CJ is exhausted. The editing will start next week and I guess I will have to come up with something very soon. I had ideas in my head. They're more ideas of ideas than actual music. I think I will only use two musicians for the viola and cello parts, Piano, percussion and harp, I will play myself.


I was in my bed, about to fall asleep. The day had been long and exhausting, but I felt happy to be involved in all these projects. I had just read a few pages from Le Cabinet des Fées, a compilation of fairy tales which was published in the 18th century. Emmanuel had given the three volumes as a gift (he knew I loved tales, so he would take great pleasure in offering beautiful editions of books of tales whenever he had the chance). 
The lights were off, but the room was lit by the street lights. I closed my eyes and heard a car pass by. The sound it made turned in my head into a palpable grey matter. I seized it and focused on its energy; and from grey, the sound became bright and positive. It was the first time I felt I could do that. I was astonished. Was it a dream? No.
I tried again as another car passed by.


"You have to meet this bloke! He's a terrific director of photography and camera man!" Aurélien told me once. Zed Wang, his name is. He just came back from years of study in the US. He actually was supposed to study business but he lied to his parents and enrolled in a cinema school!
When his father discovered the truth, he was, quite understandably angry with his son and refused to talk to him for months. Now they have accepted the fact - what else could they do? Zed is passionate and full of ideas. We met a few weeks ago at my place, just for a drink but  very quickly were in the midst of it with tons of ideas and projects we wanted to do together. Aurélien had thought of Zed for the video of Being Human, which he wishes to direct. Now we were talking very passionately and happily.I told him about my plan to direct a video for Nothing come to Light, with Wei Wei as the main character. I played him the song, which he loved immediately.
"Play it one more time!" he asked when it was over.
I told him the images I had in mind for the song.
"Yes I can see it very well! Your song speaks for itself" he answered.
True, I'm very visual when I write music.
"Let's start soon!!!" Zed said.
I haven't told Wei Wei about Zed yet. I will wait until the Winterreise performances are over to do so.
Zed also suggested to film the performances.
"I love to watch movement. I really want to do something with dance."

A few days later, Zed said that he had just met someone he really had to introduce to me.
"He's a film director. Animation film. He was looking for a composer and I played him your songs. And he loves it!!!" Zed told me on the phone.
"Okay, then tell him to come over and we can talk and eat and drink!"
An appointment was set and the two showed up at my door on that day.
The director, Wenchung Lu has studied at the University of Disney where Tim Burton also learned his skills! He showed me some of his work, stop-motion animation shorts. It was bizarre, Gothic, dark, witty... Needless to say, I was in heaven.
Wenchung requested to hear some other songs of mine.
"Yes, we have to work together!!!" he said.
He is working on a long feature film The Way of the Marionette. A story about vampires, robots, flying mice which will be filmed in 3D!!! I saw the storyboard and was more than excited to be part of it. We were all very excited.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Playing the piano

Had a run through of Winterreise today. I know the pieces fairly well now, but I still freak out and yield to panic whenever I have to touch the instrument in front of people. There are some old demons to slay. It's less about the muscular effort to make my fingers run on the keyboard work than the strengthening of the my shaky self confidence when it comes to play the piano. Performing classical music has always been connected in my head to the sentiment to earn the privilege to belong to a very select elite. Giving up the path of becoming a concert pianist then (have I ever thought I would become one?) was a relief for me, but also felt like a fall from grace.

I had not played classical music on stage since the recital with Julia back in... 1997!!! However, classical music has always remained in my life with our weekly musical afternoons, my daily piano practices ever since I bought my piano and also highly enjoyable sessions with Ulysses. It's good to be back at it for a performance.

Winterreise was a perfect way to rekindle my friendship with ChingYao. We will never be as close as we used to be, but at least the energy is flowing again.
I had a few sessions with him to coach on his German pronunciation as well as musicality. Despite his beautifully honeyed voice, he's strongly lacking in understanding of the musical text. Nicole Fallien had warned him about his pitch when she gave him his lesson. He hasn't worked on it.
"Because I started music much later than the other students, I had a lot to catch up. And that has always terrified me. Something which seemed simple for the others demanded days of practice for me. It always freaked me out" he explained. "I have to repeat and repeat again until I have it in my voice"
I had suggested him to study music theory. I had offered to help him. But since that particular session with Ulysses more than a year ago, where he would stumble on the same mistakes for something quite simple, I believe that he had felt reluctant to walk that path again.
I try my best to help him. But I can't go dive deep in the music with him. That would demand daily sessions in order to go through all the details in the music, and I have the feeling he's avoiding that. So far, what matters is that the voice sounds good enough, and that we are in tune with the dancers. I guess that for the Taiwanese audience that will be more than enough.

Photos by Zhang XiaoXiong