Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bévinda in Taipei III

Last day with Bévinda. Our task today was to finish recording her vocals of two songs: Meu Goloso and Brother (anh/em), formerly called Ru Em (Lullaby to a little brother). Those two songs dated from 1998, at which time I only knew Bévinda as an artist. It would take a few years before she would become a friend and 14 years before the songs find their 'home'. I played them to her during my last visit in Paris, as possible songs for our Fukaeri album. She liked them and immediately penned lyrics for Meu Goloso, in French. She had met  that crazy woman and wanted to write about her. That was then. As we worked on her singing, we/I realised that they were a bit too negative (and a bit vulgar) and didn't quite match the music. I suggested she wrote new words, this time in Portuguese. She had recently met someone and felt like dedicating the song for him.  
"It can be a duet! You have to sing too and write verses in English!" she exclaimed.
I pointed out that the song was a love song from her to her boyfriend. I had no part in that, except musical.
"But that is called interpretation!!! When you sing someone else's song!" she replied
"Except I'm the one writing the song and the lyrics...So where's the interpretation? I have to step into your world and talk about it with your eyes... And I HATE writing about love!!! I never write love songs!!!" I cried out in mock disdain.
"Not necessarily... You can tell it from YOUR point of view."
"That's true."
And I did. The result is a very light-hearted song (the first in a long time, as far as I'm concerned), with a very tribal part in the middle. Our voices blend well together. The style could be call 'urban-world'...
Brother (anh/em) was written as a vocalise. No word. I had written that song for my first album, but it was left to take the dust until now. It was inspired by Bévinda, whose music I had recently discovered and liked. I had never thought she would come to sing it eventually. Another source of inspiration for the song was my mother who told me about how, as a young child, she would hear at night from her room women rowing boats and singing, their voice echoing in the distance. And lastly the song was written out of joy of having met Allex. I was more or less trying to recover from a painful break up with Emmanuel after an ultimate attempt to mend our relationship with a trip to Beijing, which turned into a fiasco.
I was on my way to Karen's for dinner. It was August. A sunny Sunday. The whole city was deserted, as usually during that time of the year. I had passed a poster advertising a concert. "I wish to meet someone with a  sunny smile as this singer" I had thought to myself. 
As I climbed down the stairs to the subway platform, I passed a young man in a tight dark green t-shirt. He raised his head and smiled at me. That sunny smile I had wish to see! Another look at him and I was conquered. Green eyes, broad and engaging smile, and a body to drool about. A girl was sitting next to him.
"Must be his girlfriend..." I thought, then walk further. 
But I glanced back and saw that he was still staring at me. The train arrived. I didn't know what to do.  He stood up and started walking toward me. I felt excitement rising in me.
"But his girlfriend?" I realise there was no girlfriend in the picture.
The train arrived too fast so we stepped from two different doors. But I signalled him to come to me. He did and sat next to me. the first exchanged were the silliest.
But... I realise I have already told that story!
To go back to the song, the combined image of Allex's, the voice of Bévinda's and my mother's memory shaped up the song. It was originally meant for guitar, contrabass and percussion (tablas and bongos). Since I had not guitar player, I decided to do the arrangement for cello playing pizzicati.
The melodic line was an indulgence. I wanted something which would be written in a very classical manner, yet with a Latin flavour.
"It sounds a bit Slavic", Jay said, when he heard the song.
"That's true! I tend to do it unawaringly."

Recording the vocals was a challenge. Bévinda is used to practise and rehearse for a long period of time before singing a song in concert, even more when she has to record it.  
Working with me, without not much means, she had to approach it differently and use her ability to bounce on any element I would give her. It was painful for her. I nearly lost my nerves at some point. 
"But I feel you're judging me!!!!" she cried out. "I feel completely paralysed, unable to sing anything".
I kept my steely focus. "Don't bring emotional drama into the picture". You are professional, you have 20 years of career. You can do it. Concentrate on what I tell you."
She managed it, albeit after multiple takes and felt down the weather.  
"I will have to re-record the vocals when you come to Paris" she said, in a way to reassure herself.
"I think I have what I need" I answered. "It's like making a film. One has to keep in mind the good takes. It's difficult to see when you're in the heat of it."

Listen to:

In the evening, Jay and Duncan came for dinner. Bévinda had prepared 3 delicious salads for the occasion. A merry time it was. Chubby was in his room, apparently too indisposed to eat or drink anything.
After everybody left, I realised I had no picture of Bévinda in Taipei.
"Let's do some pictures!" I told her.
It was nearly midnight, we were exhausted from the day but still managed to catch a few shots. Not serious ones...

Sunday, 27 May 2012


Jay was celebrating his birthday and asked me to come to Kaohsiung.
"Bévinda will be there then, because she's staying three weeks with me!"
"Bring her then!!!"
One day out of Taipei was not unwelcome. For the 2 years I have spent in Taiwan, I had never ventured very far out of Taipei: Y-Lan, JiuFen... That was it!
I have heard lots of positive feedbacks from my friends about Kaohsiung, so I was glad to go.
The trip was short but totally worth it. We arrived by the end of the afternoon. We took the bus, so that Bévinda could have a look at the landscape. But what did we expect? The bus followed a straight route that led from one city to another without much meandering in the countryside, a seamless sight of cities, smaller towns looking so identical it was hard to tell one from another, with the industrial areas spreading around them. At least, we were to take the high speed train on our way back. 
But I felt good when we reached Kaohsiung. The air, the atmosphere were different. I didn't know why, but I liked the city immediately. I was happy to be there. We got off the bus and took the metro, as if we had been living there for a long time. Jay was waiting for us with his new boyfriend, Duncan. 
We were hosted at the Buddhist center where Jay does his sessions - actually, less a Buddhist center, than  a spiritual center. "The house was filled with ghosts. It was scary! You could hear noises all the time, even when there was absolutely no one there! Quite creepy!" Jay had told me. 
The whole story would have been worthy of a film, something between Chinese Ghost Story and The Exorcist! 
I didn't think much about until I was alone in the room. Not any room. The large meditation room. MeiHong, the manager of the center originally intended Bévinda and I to share one room together. But the visit of a nun changed the plan, and Bévinda was given another, smaller room. I didn't know what was to become of me, but I didn't really worry. 
"You'll be sleeping in the meditation room!" MeiHong told me with a smile. She was at first reluctant to host perfect strangers, but quickly warmed up to us. I took as a great privilege to be given the big meditation room. 
"The ghosts are all gone. You should not hear nor feel anything!" Jay reassured me. "But believe me, I did spend some frightful nights there!!!"
Still I was expecting something to happen. The room looked even larger at night. 
"Lock the door", Jay said. I startled. 
"You don't want someone to open the door by mistake tomorrow morning!"
"Oh that..." I half expected Jay to tell me that maybe some lingering soul would want to pay me a visit during the night... I placed a few praying mats against one wall near the window and turned them into a bed. HsingYing, Jay assistant and friend of MeiHong's said she coincidentally also chose that spot when she slept in that room. At that time, the ghosts were still alive and kicking...
It took me some time to find sleep. Indeed I didn't hear any noise. Only a couple of fierce mosquitoes feasted on me, until I got hold of the magic electric racket I had previously seen in the office. 
Still then, I didn't feel at ease. But that was my fault: I had brought a book with me for the journey on the bus. A novel by Natsuo Kirino called Grotesque about the murder of two prostitutes in Tokyo. The cover showed the face of a young Japanese woman, with extremely pale skin, cold, dark eyes and red lips, eerily staring at you. Under the moonlight, the image became even more disturbing... On the ceiling, the shadows of the tree branches moving slowly with the wind became like a dance of spirits.
Jay welcomed me the next morning with a broad smile.
"Indeed, I didn't hear anything" I said between two yawns.
The next day was spent on a small island not far from the city. We had to take the ferry for a very short journey. It felt like being on holiday. We saw the beach, we even bathed in the sea with our clothes on. We all got sunburned, ate splendidly and laughed a lot. That was a perfect day!
I will surely come back again soon.

I'm discovering another side of Bévinda. Until now, we mostly met to make music together, or for some social events, but I never got to spend so much time in a row with her. The common place would be to say that artists aren't easy creatures - and that include myself. But once I had to see her outside the limits of working sessions (which were, it is true, very intense and personal) and step into the open intimacy of the daily life, some little traits I had vaguely noticed in the past came clear and bright under the light. 
I know I'm no easy bird myself, so I cannot blame her to be what she is. However, I more than often found myself to be highly annoyed by this ongoing tension she keeps locked inside, whilst pretending that everything is fine. The best way to avoid unpleasant moments is to keep ourselves focused on our work. Going to the gym then helps me keep some sort of inner sanity. What a life!

Bévinda has been reworking on most of her lyrics. Actually, when I think of it, a lot has been altered since our sessions in Paris. Now she's feverishly rewriting the lyrics for Voguer Dehors. She has been reading Murakami's 1Q84 and understood that the song had to get its inspiration directly from the book. Until a few days ago, I had no idea what to do for the arrangement. I don't write songs from the piano that often anymore, and the structure of Voguer Dehors was quite unusual for a song.  
Played on the piano, the song would call for an full orchestral treatment. But we have no orchestra. So I reverted to a more minimal approach and the result came in one afternoon. It is a weird song. Murakami's is a weird world...


Jay walking along the shore

Jay and Bévinda by the sea

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Bévinda in Taipei I

Bévinda in Taipei. The idea didn't seem real to me. But not surprising. She's one who isn't afraid to jump and see what happens next.
"I wanted to spend a couple of weeks so we can work on our album". It was the right time, she had received a bit of money from her royalties so she didn't waste time and bought a ticket.
And the sight of her at the airport didn't struck me as odd. I guess with the kind of life I lead now, I adjust to any any new situation. She was there, I was happy. The first person from my inner circle of friends and family to come to Taipei.
She felt at home immediately. The near by temples and night market enchanted her. She had been travelling a lot, working as a guide in Nepal for instance, when she would take some time off her music. She even had been coming to Korea a few times. She's quite famous there apparently, to the point that her songs were used for commercials and a TV drama in which she also appeared, albeit as a singer in a club.
She was lucky, it was a sunny day, none too hot. I was happy to speak French and have a friend from Paris in Taipei.

Sebastian invited us to a tribute concert to Li Tai-Hsiang, a renowned Taiwanese composer, famous for many songs he wrote in the early 80's, which have now become classics. I played a few of them on the piano during ChingYao's singing classes, so I was glad to already be familiar with some of the repertoire. 
Li Tai-Hsiang was present for the concert. He came in a wheelchair, with his wife next to him. Aged 72 now, he had been battling the Parkinson disease for the past twenty years already, but would still keep on composing. So courageous and so humbling to see him. He delivered a short speech - he couldn't speak too long, his voice was very weak, contrary to the 
The audience applauded with so much enthusiasm at the end, that he he got carried away and wanted to stand up and sing the encore song with the artists. Everybody was cheering and moved to tears. 
I am glad I could be part of this unique event.
Sebastian and his dancer friend Rei then decided to have a snack, so we went to the Shida night market. I was happy Bévinda have the opportunity to dive to have a taste of the local life here, far away from tourists attractions.
"I want to see the 101 Tower, though..." 
"You will, you will..."

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

French May

So it was Hong Kong again after all. Had my parents followed their initial plans, we would be in Vietnam by now, maybe reaching Saigon. Had that happened, I would be in a totally different situation as well. But why think about 'what if'...?

I arrived in Hong Kong right for a Chic & Glamour evening organised by Johnnie To and the French embassy for the launching of the French May Cinema. Gilles invited me. The event was to start with the opening of an open-air exhibition by French photographer Jérôme Bonnet on the Avenue of the Stars, in Tsim Sha Tsui. Unfortunately, the weather decided to spoil the fun and after a fairly sunny day (though extremely hot and heavily humid) little drops of rain gave way to an authentic Asian storm. Hard to imagine an outdoor social event.
My friend Yatchi had decided to come and see me in Hong Kong for the occasion. Our previous meeting in Taipei was somehow overshadowed by the presence of his partner whose behaviour tended to leave no much focus on anyone but himself... I was extremely touched that a friend would make such an effort. Another dear friend of mine is soon to come to Taipei and stay with me for nearly three weeks... Bévinda!
Yatchi and I met the previous day. We both arrived in the afternoon, so I took him to some places I liked, to the small streets of the city, away from the glimmer and craziness of Central Hong Kong. We visited the Broadway Cinematheque which was finally completely open to the audience after long months of renovation. 
"I usually would come to Hong Kong only for day, on transit! So it's nice to walk the streets and feel the local flavour." Yatchi said. Now that he and his partner are settled in Cambodia, coming to Hong Kong is easy. But finding good reasons to visit is another thing.
I took Yatchi to the Chic & Glamour party at the Grand Hyatt. It was to take place after the Jérôme Bonnet exhibition. Unfortunately for the organisers, a lots of money had gone to the drain with the rain, the violent storm compelled everyone to look for shelter indoors, to Gilles' dismay. Johnnie To was busy shooting a film in Beijing, so his brother (and manager) replaced him as the guest of honour. I had no idea who among the guests was there. I heard the name of Maggie Cheung being mentioned, but didn't see her. The rain maybe??? But I didn't care. It was already quite amusing to observe this parade of egos. People from the Consulate, chairmen of sponsoring companies, local celebrities and socialites... Gilles skimmed the milk for me and introduced me to a selected few, one of them being a charming young man, Calvin Hui, the PR for the French May festival. A thirty-something Hong Konger who also owns a gallery and is the chairman of the Hong Kong Fine Arts Fair... Some would boast about their achievements, Calvin did not and was delightfully modest and friendly.
His partner, a jovial and witty man named Mark brought a bowl of fresh in this parade of egos. Chic & Glamour didn't seem to concern him, for he wore a plain shirt and jean's.
"An is a musician, singer, composer, photographer, model, porn star..." That's how Gilles would introduce me to people. I had mentioned my upcoming project with Norm Yip, and he embroidered the idea with his own wit and imagination.
"You always get people hooked when you mention porn." Gilles said.
Two days afterwards, I was invited at Calvin and Mark's for a Sunday British lunch. Mark cooked the whole meal. A wonder for our palate. Simple but tasty food. Prejudices against how bad British food do not apply to Mark's cooking! Their flat was located in Mid Level. An old white house (one of the few remains of the former British colonial times) on the winding road, surrounded by trees, with a perfect view on Central Hong Kong. The place was tastefully designed and decorated. Art everywhere on the wall.
A selected few were invited: among them a young gallery owner from South Africa and her handsome German boyfriend (a decade older, he met her when she was 13 and started his courtship a few years later. Now she is 23n fully in love with him and they make the most striking couple), a crazy lioness of a woman in a flashy pink suit. "You'll see quite a creature tomorrow. She's crazy!" Gilles had told me before she arrived. Nathalie Decoster... An artist and sculptress from Paris who was to have her exhibition in Hong Kong the next day. Gilles was wearing a colourful set, stripy shirt and green pants, a perfect match the lioness'.
The whole affair started a on a polite note, but got more and more lively as the guests got acquainted to the wines that were served during the meal.
Mark was sitting next to me, at the end of the table, presiding the course of the meal. He kept boasting about me to the point of embarrassment to Gilles' assistant for the French May. She had been designated the seat opposite me so I felt compelled to find strike a conversation with her. She wasn't interested in me beyond reason so I just kept it to the courteous minimum.
So when Mark started wondering about why I should be single and asked her (no, compelled her to say) whether she would date such a handsome man like me, I wished I could just beam myself to the opposite side of the island! (Can't you see, Mark? She just doesn't care!!!)
Such parties are enjoyable but very exhausting. People act all the time.

Lunch at Calvin and Mark's lasted longer than I thought - I heard the word brunch mentioned and assumed it would be buffet style, not a four course meal. I had made an appointment with Norm Yip so we could have a try out for his book The Asian Male. I felt nervous. Gilles knew about it and kept teasing me. When Mark heard, he naturally made it a big piece of news at the table. The other guests certainly didn't really know whether we were joking. Musician? Composer? Model? Nude???? I left the mystery hover and left.
Norm lived at the other end of the island. His was a studio in a warehouse. I felt immediately at ease. Industrial style. Loaded with books of photography. Far from the lush interior at Calvin and Mark's.
We didn't have much time. Barely more than one hour. Would I have time to warm up and feel comfortable? Norm decided not to go too far for the first sitting. Even though I had been training more regularly at the gym, I still felt inadequate. The other models had all such perfectly chiseled bodies, I still felt out of place.
"But your face is far more interesting. It tells lots of stories. And that's what I'm interested in." Norm said.
The last series of shots were better. I started to let down my guard and play with the few indications that Norm gave me.
Another session would have been necessary. But not for this time...
Now I'm curious to see the result of that first session.

Norm had a dinner appointment right after the shooting, but we met again later for a drink (I had forgotten my keys at his studio) and talked and talked...
"Plant eggs"... I shall not be afraid to expand my activities.

"So how was it?" Gilles asked me the next day, maybe expecting me to tell him anecdotes worthy of Andy Warhol's Factory.
"Very chaste for the first session. Anyway we didn't have enough time and the photographer didn't want to traumatise me!!!"
(A couple of days before, I had done a few shots of myself in preparation...)

I saw Gilles today around noon to talk about my upcoming first photo exhibition. We met at his office at the French consulate in WanChai. As he had told me, his office was loaded with art books, press clips, magazines and documents sent by artists for possible exhibitions or show in Hong Kong.
I had spent hours making a preselection of photographs.
"Don't choose your pictures according to a best-loved poll", Gilles had told me a few weeks ago. "Find your own theme, your own way of presenting them"
Between two phone calls and appointments with crazed partners and sponsors (the French May was just starting), he browsed through the dozens of photographs I had brought to him.
"I can see a few main threads in your work: the architectural lines and curves in urban landscapes, shots that verge on the abstract, the patches of colour in monochrome, and the parallel worlds/through the looking glass approach. You have to pick two, or maybe even just one of those themes. Don't be afraid to show less. It's always good to keep people wanting for more."
Precious advice.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

End of a story

Writing about Chubby in my diary had some good and positive outcome. For the first time in months, we talked. I had half hoped he would read it. I didn't know how to find a way to open the discussion. The next day, when I got back from the runthrough of Winterreise, I went to his room. I had been thinking about the many possible ways to find a solution. I had also tried to distance myself from the anger and frustration I felt toward him and decided that I wished him all the best. He was on his chair, with his computer on his lap (as he does every evening, when back from work). I tried to sound cheerful.
"I have found a solution to the situation. I'm going to ask a friend to sign the lease for me, even if he may not be living there." I started. "I suppose the landlord doesn't need to know all the details..." I was even considering taking the whole flat by myself and develop more activities. Jay has sent me a short message saying that he may have an idea.
"I have read your diary..." Chubby said.
So he had. I only wished that he wasn't to upset about what I wrote. That must have felt like a big slap on the face. I knew that it was a difficult moment for him. To explain, to say things, to express himself. 
He took each point that I mentioned in the diary and tried to shed some light. He also admitted that his behaviour could not really tell me what was going on in his mind or his life.
Ryan and I was were chatting online one day and he asked me about Chubby.
"How's Chubby?"
"The same... although it's hard for me to tell. We normally only exchange no more than 4 words every day: 'good morning', and 'good night'. Sometime only two when I don't see him in the morning. Sometime even less, because he's only grunting 'mmmm' when I address him."
Ryan laughed.

I learned that his parents were not actually going to buy him a flat. They wanted him to invest in one, since he was making a decent living now with his position at the LinLin Gallery. Their part was to come up with sufficient money for the down payment. The rest would be Chubby's to pay... A good way to save money was to stop sharing the flat with me and go live with hi uncle's in Banciao. I don't think Chubby really wants to, but he is cornered for his parents would nag constantly him.
"Beside, I don't want to buy the house now. I want to go to London and do my master's degree" Chubby told me.
"You should do want is right for you, and not listen to your parents. You are too young to start getting into the trouble of buying a house. It's important to honour yourself".
The last comment was left without answer. Chubby will move out by the last week of June. Will I hear from him afterwards? Asian parents put some pressure on their children. I wonder if they realise that. I suppose many of them would claim it is for their child's good...