Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Isabelle was my accomplice and everything went as planned. My parents had no idea I was in Paris. Only a few friends knew. I had been talking on the phone with my father a couple of weeks ago, telling him how sad I was not to be able to be with the family for the year-end celebrations. For Chinese New Year, certainly, as my father intended to bring my mother to Vietnam in March. My presence would make things easier for him, as my mother usually gladly follows my lead without much of a fuss. Chinese New Year being late this year – on the 18th of February, I could stay a couple of more weeks then we would all fly together to Vietnam. My brother and his family wouldn’t be able to join. Lots of work but no money.
I thought of a various possibility to stage that little surprise. The first idea was to have Isabelle invite them to her place for tea or dinner, then show up in the most natural manner. My parents are quite fond of Isabelle and her family and the big advantage was that she also lived in Saint-Maur.
So my parents were invited for tea at her place. “Not an easy task” Isabelle told me on the phone. “Your father accepted the invitation but wasn’t sure how your mother would react, so I insisted and offered to drive to their place and pick them up so they wouldn’t have to worry about anything.” My parents have been led an isolated life in recent years, this partly due to my mother’s condition and her unwillingness to go out unless very necessary. I recall how a few years ago she had not even ventured as far as the front door for a good two weeks while my father was on a trip abroad. I would come and do all the shopping for her, get the mail and do all the errands when necessary.  
However, after a few phone calls, Isabelle managed to convince them. They certainly found it odd that she would suddenly feel the impulse to invite them for tea to her place instead of paying them a visit as my friends would usually do in that case. I had come earlier for a little chat with her – I always enjoy being at her house. Her garden is gorgeous, and the interior is exquisitely and tastefully decorated. We even had time to drive to the school and pick up her son Quentin. He was delighted to be part of the scheme.
At the given time Isabelle came back with my parents. I hid in the corridor which led to the kitchen while Quentin stood by the window and would inform me of any movements. And there they were, opening the door, taking off their coat as she was leading them into her spacious and elegant living room. From my hiding place I could catch the reflection of their movements on the glass panel of a large framed painting.
“Please make yourself comfortable. I’m going to bring tea.” I heard Isabelle say. I caught the moment to make my appearance. “Oh, can I join you, then?” I said from the corridor and appeared in front of them. It took a few seconds for my mother to register who the male voice belonged to. She looked at me, squinted a little, then delight showed in her face as she walked toward me for a hug. I observed my father from the corner of my eyes. He was beaming silently. His strong and tight embrace said it all.
“Don’t you ever do thing like that!!! Think of my heart! I could have an attack!”
I promised this would be the first and last time.  “But I do like surprises” I heard my mother exclaim from my back. Quentin was observing the scene with a big smile. Isabelle told me a few days later that he was so touched that he would do the same thing when he’s older.
“Let’s play some music!” Isabelle picked Purcell’s songs. Tea was served. I had brought a delicious apple tart – coming to Paris also means a high consumption of fine French pastries, something I seldom find abroad, especially in Asia.
That’s how we kicked off the jolly season.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Gone guy

It took me a certain time to really understand what Jason was telling me, but it eventually made sense. Lucus had succumbed to a cancer which took his life at lightning speed. At first, when Jason told me that Lucus had ‘passed away in Taipei’, I chose to understand that it was a mistake and that another friend of his, named Lukas had come to Taipei. Then I saw the picture. There was no more confusion possible. It was Lucus and he was no longer among us. Lucus had indeed complained of strong stomach aches,  but as usual in that case, we all - consciously or unconsciously? Thought they would go, and were due to his heavy workload. He was indeed a workaholic – interior designer, he was, overwork comes with the package.

I thought of it as I was lying in bed. Lucus and I weren’t close friends, but we always would have a pleasant time together. He would always call me on his way to Taipei – he was living in Taichung. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to see him the past year. One cannot be there and everywhere. The sadness is for us to bear.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Innocence of wish (I'll be home for Christmas)

As it often goes in my life, things just found their right resolution in a fairy-tale like fashion. I was wondering where I would have been able to go for this out-of-Taiwan visa trip that falls upon me every three months. I was thinking of, wishing for Tokyo. But one look at the state of my depleted bank account just told me a resounding ‘no’. Hong Kong? Always possible as a last resort. Nicolas had again welcomed me to visit him and stay at his place in Kennedy Town, when we had dinner together a couple of weeks ago. The final answer came from Karen who sent me an enthusiastic message regarding the music I had just written for her recently. She offered to pay for a return ticket to Paris, so I could spend the Holiday seasons with friends and family as I had had hoped I would do, during my last visit in September. As I read the words, I nearly heard a heavenly music in the background. It all came so perfectly.
I immediately thought of a little surprise I would do to my parents. A little tea party at Isabelle’s beautiful house, an invitation to my parents to attend and as they would pass the door, the shock to see their son in Paris when he had told them he would unfortunately not be there for the year-end celebrations!
I must have many lucky stars shining on me.

I had been meditating more regularly in recent weeks, and re-connecting with the Hop’onopono philosophy. Cleaning erroneous memories. Fairy tale it may be for the majority of people, but the effect is more than noticeable in my life. I used to call it the innocence of desire. But what Hop’onopono has taught me is that everything is indeed possible…

Friday, 28 November 2014

William (again)

And I saw William again. The cycle continues and I didn’t have much faith in my ability to stay away from him for more than three months. He appeared in my dream one night. The scene was peaceful. He was just there and that was sufficient.
I sent him a little message the following day to which he immediately replied. ‘Do you want to see a movie?’ he asked. The Golden Horse film festival was coming to a close, there still was a couple of films worth watching. He picked Love is a strange thing
We met in the early afternoon. Samuel was flying back to Hong Kong that very day. He knew what William meant to me and was happy to have a glance at the person. He made himself discreet, although the two managed to have a little conversation together.
William had brought some food for lunch. We sat at the table near the kitchen. There was some cold noodles, a dish of rice cooked in a banana leave and some soup. We didn’t say much at first. I was happy to see him, but I didn’t want to start the same topic again. We knew what was going on; I knew he would not leave his boyfriend for me. But we also knew that there was love. What to do with it? William referred to me now as a friend. The idea sent some spikes to my heart. “Friendship is not second best to love”, I stated. “It takes as much effort to be friends than lovers.” Who was trying to convince? William didn’t say anything. I just wanted to see his reaction, to see if he would do something or express any feeling. He nodded and just kept on looking intensely at me.  I asked about his family, his ‘Taipei’ mother, his mother, his nephews. Un-involving talk. After a while, I hugged him from behind. Very soon, he stood up from his chair and embraced me. We stood motionless for a long time.No words were needed. I recalled the night he came to see me after midnight. We had a long walk along the river and he held me tight against him for long minutes. The embrace turned into a long kiss and we moved toward my room. Is that how a friend is to be handled? I felt a heavy weight being lifted up from him. What happened in bed was lighthearted, passionate and enjoyable. May this go on for a long time. How I love this guy...

Monday, 3 November 2014

The dream of the giant spider

The end of am afternoon in Paris, autumn time. An enormous spider, bigger than a dog, quietly climbing on a maple tree. Looking across the street, I saw three turtles scuttling on the street at an astonishingly high speed. I thought to myself that those turtles were indeed very fast, but it didn't strike me as odd. I was standing on the border of the street with Jan and Dennis when I heard a voice talking behind me. It was the spider. "Oh, I saw you earlier on on that tree over there!' She nodded then started telling me how she would always have to try to make herself innocuous in spite of her gigantic size. I did startle at the sight of her, but there was no fear. Just as for the running turtles, it wasn't strange. The fact that I could understand what she said to me wasn't strange either. 
A few moments later, once again in a long, long time, I saw my feet slowly leave the ground and feel my body rise up in the air, effortlessly. At last! I was happy to be able to fly again. Such a powerful sensation it is. Years ago, when I was still a young boy, flying was tedious affair. It would only happen in a state of danger, when I would have to run away from my assailants. This time, there wasn't any a sense of danger. No need to escape from any ill-meaning people. I flew over the three turtles. They felt my presence, looked up, saw me, gave out a piercing shriek and dashed away. 
I glanced at the other side of the street and saw a long stone wall with dark green metal gate in the middle and felt compelled to go there. It was a cemetery. It looked like the one next to my parents’ house, but it also could have been the Père Lachaise cemetery.
After flying for some time along the alleys, I felt an urge to leave the place. But I couldn’t find the exit. Then I realised that since I could fly there wasn't any issue... The weather was moody and grey, so typical of Paris in Autumn.  
It felt so real, even after I woke up.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


As people were carousing outside in their Halloween costumes – I have to look up a revised definition of Halloween costumes as it is now becoming more of a masked ball with a slight hint of its original reference, I stayed home and put on the finishing touches to a new song, Watch your Back

Before that, Adrian and I went to the opening of a photo exhibition held by Lancaster, Adrian’s former love interest. The function took place at one of those artsy-fartsy spots in Huashan Culture Park – old industrial buildings turned into a bobo scene: vintage shops meticulously studied and copied after the European ones, exhibition spaces, cinemas restaurants and coffee-shops. Lancaster’s exhibition was to be presented in one of those coffee-shop / bookstore – the art and photography section was surprisingly well supplied.
They currently had a good selection of books on Shoji Ueda, whose one-hundredth anniversary was celebrated last year in Japan. Lancaster’s photos were extremely well framed – “They must have cost ten times more than the photos themselves” Adrian observed. Some of them were quite beautiful. The subject was his recent trip to India – with Adrian who, coincidentally appears on the shot that was used as the cover for the exhibition. Having been to India myself, the pictures didn’t surprise me beyond measure. It may be cliché to say so but India is such a colourful and photogenic country, it is virtually impossible to make an uninteresting photo. The guests were mostly celebrities and former colleagues – Lancaster used work as a producer in the pop music industry. Adrian was quite irritated by that. “All these people never dare to step out of their comfort zone when they travel, so of course they will marvel at Lancaster’s pictures, as they present a totally foreign world to them.” Well, Adrian is a hipster and a true artist by nature. But I had to agree with him. Most of what had been said at that opening was just a collection of commonplaces. 

Once home, I turned on my computer and listened once again to Watch your Back. A little something was missing. The beat is destructured. I had started the song more than a couple of years ago, when I was  working with Sheu FangYi and her hip hop dancers. One of the dancers, Wei Ting had left a strong impression on me: his feline way of moving and his agility had deeply impressed me. I thought of doing a short piece of music for him. The early sketches remained undeveloped for at least a year. Then I started adding some backing vocals, more percussion and guitar, and shape up the structure of the song. I liked this brutal beat. It would go and stop, giving the impression of disconnected parts of a body.    

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Another An moment...

Why, why, why?
I knew something was very wrong when I had a look at my watch after my work-out at the gym. It indicated four o’clock. I still had time, I thought. The plane was scheduled at eleven past, I would come home, take a shower and get ready to head for the airport at around seven. I had left my phone at home, but there was nothing to worry about. I had printed out my e-ticket. Everything was in order. So I thought.
Once home, I found a message from Shu-Yi. Where was I? Perhaps on the way to the airport…? Why did she have to go so early to the airport? I replied that since the flight was only at eleven twenty, there was no reason to rush. Shu-Yi called me immediately. Could it have been a possibility that they were put on another plane than mine? Of course not. That sounded unlikely. Their plane was at six thirty and it was now five thirty… Did Huang Yi give me any document? No, I replied. We had had our last rehearsal in Taipei ten days before, but we barely spoke about the flight. I had already printed out the e-ticket by then. I didn’t remember anything else in particular. Meng-Yu, one of the managers of the National Theatre took matters in hand. It appeared that the flight information I had in hand was an old one. Didn’t I remember about the new itinerary? I did carefully check all the emails sent to everyone prior to the departure day, but didn’t find any new document to print out, beside maps and some information about the hotel in Düsseldorf. Then the important hidden detail came back to the surface of my memory. And it was then that I realized that another struck-by-the-lightning ‘An moment’ had occurred.  Meng-Yu did indeed call me as early as late June to talk about the change of schedule and now I remember how I even complained about the many transfers. It did strike me as odd when I read on the e-ticket that the flight was direct from Taipei to Düsseldorf. But I paid no heed. Too many things had kept my mind full and busy. If the paper said so, I had to trust it. But my intuition sent me a big warning sign when I looked at my watch at the gym.
Alas, the ticket was not refundable as I didn’t show up at the airport ‘in time’.
“I asked you if you had the ticket and you said you did.” Yi wrote to me. I did, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t the updated one. Huang Yi would have to buy a new ticket. I felt awful. Huang Yi didn’t find it a funny situation either, but he philosophically said that this was a lesson for him. They badly needed a company manager to take care of those matters.  Sending group emails to more than six people could only create confusion. That didn’t make me feel better, even if I knew I didn’t have to bear all the blame.
“You too need someone, an assistant to look after this kind of things” Emily kindly told me. “You’re the artist, the composer. You cannot have the mind for everything.”

I had always been taught to rely on myself and be responsible for everything. But true, my schedule has been sheer madness since the beginning of the year. It was a miracle that I was able to complete everything without any trouble. Maybe my mind was saturated… 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Happy Birthday...

In six days, I will turn 44. A tad too late to die when one is a genius. Some other late bloomer great artists started creating only as they reached their forties...
But that isn't the point. Birthday. Does it mean I'll be celebrating it, go out, party with friends? Unlikely. I'm not displeased with myself. But nothing that I want to celebrate. I still have some dreams inside. I may find it hard to believe in love - jaded? but there is still a glimmer of hope. Music and creativity still enchant me - so do children and the sight of a tree or a plant, walking on the street and observe people, watching the sun going down, hearing the song of the solitary blackbird at dusk... For how long?
I won't see anybody. William, perhaps? The story is still going on - dragging along, shall I say, although I wonder what is actually going on. The idea of love...
I'll switch off my phone, my computer. No cake, no candle, no flowers, no funeral wreath. 
I was reading pages from Elliot Jaques' book Death and Mid-Life Crisis. One word stood out: contemplative pessimism.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

To Australia

I really truly believed that I would never get to go to Australia in this lifetime, not for lack of interest. In my head going to Australia seemed as remote from me as a trip to Mars. Unless there was a project, I didn't see how that would happen. And I had no connection with anybody in Australia...
Meng Yu, the artistic director of the National Theatre called me one day to discuss the flights to Düsseldorf for the Internationale Tanzmesse, and announced to me that I would have to go to Australia. This came as a surprise. What on earth would I do in Australia? The mystery last lopng: über-busy Huang Yi would be working all summer in Australia on a new dance project with two local companies and would not have the time to return to Taipei to rehearse on Double Yellow Line. The only solution was to fly Hu Chien and I to Australia... According to MengYu, there was enough budget for that. 
The piece of news delighted me. It took me some time to let it sink in. I could hardly believe it. Karen used to say: "Be careful of what you wish, for the universe will conspire to make it happen!".
But going to Australia meant that the summer would not be a idle time... 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Special Order

Huang Yi and I in my room. It's evening time. I have just come back from Hsinchu where we shot some scenes at the science lab. We nearly missed each other. I saw a can of the fruit juice Yi always brings whenever he comes to me. A little note from him. I called back immediately. Fortunately, he was only a few blocks away.
I'm playing him some new music for Floating Domain. He listens, selects, approves or disapproves. 
"By the way, could you tell me a little about this next project? It's for next month already, so I would like to form some ideas in my mind..."
Silence from Yi. 
"Hmmm.... Maybe... I'll tell you after we finish Floating Domain. I can't think of it now."
The premiere, then the performances of Floating Domains passed. I was busy finalising, recording and editing the score of Dawn / Spring with Jay. Not hearing from Yi allowed me to focus on the film and not overstuff my already stuffed head.
We're now one month to the premiere. Still no news. A few messages sent to Yi do not produce any result. He must be very busy.

Huang Yi is indeed busy. His assistant, ShuYi has contacted me to get my ID info. She's surprised when I tell her I have no news about Yi and that I'm totally clueless about the project. 

Two weeks to the premiere. Finally, Yi has written to invite me to his studio in Bali and watch fragments of Special Order. I think he trusts that I will be able to come up with the music no matter the circumstances. Fortunately, I have started to sketch some musical ideas in my head.
After 4 years working together, I also know that if there is any need of music, it's never narrative music, more an atmosphere to signal a mood or an emotion. 
This project will be exciting for the audience: four dancers, Wei-An, Hu Chien, Jou-Wen and Yi himself. Kuka the robot will be 'filming' some scenes which will be simultaneously be projected on the screen behind. Kuka's movement are smooth and elegant, like a dancer's. Yi spent hours programing each motion. 
On stage, a wooden table on which most of the choreography has been done. On the left of the stage, a white elevated platform with an old vintage chair.  
The music won't be played on the speakers, but on headphones which will be connected to each of the chairs. From the speakers, only the directions for the dancers will be heard. 
Of all Yi's techno projects, this one is the most exciting. 
I barely have one week to do the music, but it flowed out easily. As a base, I used what I had done for the sound installation of PLAY 2 PLAY last December, a voice sample looped, duplicated, pitched up and down to infinity, on which I added digital sounds, ambience sounds recorded in public places, voices, a string quartet, piano, percussion and harp.  
Since visually the piece will be very cold and unemotional - yet stunning to watch, I wanted the audience to connect it to another world, the music, which will expand the visual experience.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Alexandre Tharaud

The first time I heard about Alexandre was back in 1992. A friend of mine was dating him and that's how I learnt about this focused and dedicated pianist. Later, the name would appear more and more often in music magazines, concert programs, in the medias, and more recently in the casting of Michael Hanneke's Amour.
I have bought several of his records over the years: Ravel's piano work, Bach's concertos, Scarlatti, Rameau and Couperin's keyboard music, Chopin and some chamber music as well. I mostly appreciated the subdued musician he was. The musical text would always be clear and subtle, never a platform to show off his formidable technique. Years after years, our roads got closer through a growing number of common friends. Ying Hsing, who works a music agency with branches in Tokyo, Paris, Beijing and Taipei, had suggested that we met together after one of his recitals whether in Paris or Taipei, but our paths were not yet to cross. 
Eventually, it was Patrick, who had introduced me to Pierre & Gilles last year, who again, would be the mediator when he told me about this new artist he had met: Alexandre Tharaud. 
Excited, I was. Impressed, I was. Thrilled I was. Shy I was too. But above all, I felt this was the most natural thing in the world. We quickly warmed to one another, although I knew these piercing blue eyes were attentive to all the details. 
"I would love to meet your father" he said as we were in the taxi on our way to the restaurant. When Alexandre had found out who my father was his words were: "But he's a famous composer!!!" I was pleased to know that. My secret wish was to hear him perform his music, particularly Trung Dzuong, a magnificent piece written in memory of the boat people who perished as they were trying to escape the hell that Vietnam had become after the fall of Saigon. I knew Alexandre would be perfect.
There had been so many people in common so I wasn't surprised to learn that he was a good friend of Paul Blanchot, the son of my piano teacher in Saint Maur. His own teacher was Germaine Mounier of whom my father would speak highly. All these elements drew us closer together. 
As he was asking us if we had any idea for an encore, he looked at me and said: "Maybe YOU could write something for me to play as an encore!!!" Was it a joke... Patrick thinks I should just rise to the challenge and surprise him with a composition. 
Alexandre was to give a concert with maestro Günther Herbig and the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra for their Germanic May series and an evening entitled The Greatness of Beethoven... even though he was to play Ravel's Concerto en Sol... That became food for joke between us. 
The concert opened with the Fidelio overture. Alexandre then appeared, dressed in a velvet black suit, a delicate figure walking toward the piano. His playing however showed how masterfully in control he was. During lunch, he had told us how Herbig wasn't at all interested in conducting concertos and how, during the concert the previous evening in Taichung, the end of the third movement flashed through a messy section because the trombone player skipped two bars and the old maestro had no idea where he was anymore.
Alexandre was the conductor. He looked at the musicians to create an exchange between soloist and orchestra. My father used to say that it was easier to conduct Ravel than Debussy, for Ravel's is a brilliant example of great orchestration, and even when an orchestra wouldn't play well, it would still sound good. Alexandre's playing compelled the orchestra to rise up to the challenge. The exchange was less between him and the conductor than a direct conversation between him and the member of the orchestra. The second movement was exquisitely performed. If Bernstein favoured an In a sentimental Mood to it, Alexandre made it sound like an improvisational flow with the right amount of Frenchness and abandon to it. 
I was lucky Alexandre had enough time to see me more than just once. Who knows what will become of this friendship. We promised to meet again when I come to Paris this summer. To see his new flat...

Friday, 16 May 2014

They Lie | A diary

They Lie | A diary

December 8th, 2013, Taichung
Adrian, Keith and I were wandering the streets of central Taichung before the opening of the first exhibition of the Hush...! series. We found a very cosy and vintage looking coffee shop which was featured as one of the cool and arty places to visit on a map we were given. Indeed the place was lovely. Taichung has not yet been plagued by this frenzy of modernisation that has seized the other Taiwanese cities, and lots of old buildings have remained. For how long? The staff of the coffee shop took us out to have a look at a very interesting spot behind: an old dilapidated market with barely more than the marks of what used to be the walls decades ago.
As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to do something with it. The idea of a music video came rapidly to me. The marks on the ground reminded me of Lars von Trier's Dogville. Why not do a one take music video with one character on each ghost room, as the camera slowly moves past them? I still don't know yet on which song.

December 10th, 2013, Taipei
I told Zed about my new project and he promptly replied positively. Now, I have to start organising the schedule. Whom with, when, how... and which song? I opted for They Lie.
Like lighting striking, it was clear in my head that the violin interlude in the middle of the song as well as the very ending with the strings and harpsichord would go with a long shot of the sea. Perhaps with me walking away on the beach.
Ching Yao once took me to the north of Taipei to a large and wonderful beach. That was after our visit to Pinga at the hospital.
These scenes at the beach... I don't know why the image came to me so vividly. I may not know, but I will do it. Never contradict a strong intuition!

Since I'm not yet familiar with the city of Taichung, I have no clue how I'm going to find my actors. Time will tell. As I was taking the bus back,

March 13th, YiLan
Now the fun truly begins! First day of shooting in YiLan. We started with the seaside views. Long shots of the sea. A rainstorm was about to explode, the sky offered us a dramatic painting of dark and grey shades, punctuated with flashes of sunshine. Magnificent.

March 14rd, Keelung
I may have challenged myself a lot mentally and psychologically in the past years, but not physically. Beside riding my bicycle, swimming and going to the gym, my physical activities have never pushed beyond the limit of my comfort zone. Not until today!
In the last scene I envisioned for the video, William is the last person I pass at the market. I see him, the market, put down my suitcase, and slowly walk toward him to eventually dissolve into him. Since William could not come to Taichung, I had to find a device. Cherie astutely suggested that I could film him anywhere then match his scenes to the rest with the editing. After all, the music video is a memory. The idea was good, so we looked for a spot where that last scene could be shot. All I needed was a clear sky as a background. He sees me coming from the market, I see him by the sea.
We found a beautiful location in Keelung. During on of our love escapades, William took me to the area and showed me scenic beauty of the seaside near Keelung. We eventually found a spot where people would come to go fishing. The land was shielded from the sea by high walls and giant concrete tetrapods. I didn't realise what was on for me until I walked on the narrow ledge, on top of the wall. The fact that I had vertigo had completely slipped off my mind... On my right, the tide was up, the wind was blowing harder and the waves were crashing noisily against the concrete blocks. There was a gap between the tetrapods and the wall. The sight of it added to my growing discomfort; on my left, there was nothing. The walls were not designed for people to walk on anyway. I would just fall from an eight-meter high wall.  
William and Zed were laughing. They didn't expect me to have fright of height. Put me on a ladder and I'm already ill-at-ease!
That's the reason I admire martial art athletes, dancers or acrobats so much. I thought of the stuntmen performing in all these action films... For me it was just about walking on a narrow ledge.
We shot a couple of scenes. I tried to overcome my vertigo and focus on my simple task.
When Zed showed me the footage, we realise there had been a mistake: I was to walk past William, not stop in front of him! I cursed Zed and climbed up the wall again for a final scene. The waves were now crashing more violently against the wall. Zed had moved his camera away from its original spot so it took him time before he found the same frame again. The sound of the waves covered the curses I threw at him. I was laughing at myself. It was exciting. I was alive, doing what I love!

March 15th, Taipei
Cherie has just announced to me that all the actors she had casted for the video will not be able to come for the planned shooting set on Sunday 23rd, as they will have to attend a dance rehearsal on the same day...
I welcomed the news with unexpected relief. There was too much going on at the moment: the piece with Huang Yi, my upcoming trip to Japan and the music video.
Yet, I can't help thinking of an alternative. To relocate the shooting in Taipei? That would make it more convenient to find the actors, although that would also mean a total change in concept of the video, as everything was generated from the sight of the old market in Taichung... What to do?
Zed was fine with any decision I would make. His only advice was to not rush things. Better wait and do things as we intended.

March 19th, Taipei
My last minute casting call on Facebook didn't produce any result. No one seemed interested enough. Or they were simply busy with their lives. I decided to postpone the shooting to next month, after I return from Tokyo.

March 22nd, Hsinchu
In the science lab... Adrian told me his dad's lab would be perfect for what I need. Weekend days were preferable, since no on would be there. Since were not going to shoot in Taichung yet, Zed and I hopped on the bus to Hsinchu.
Mr. Feng works in a large science complex. I wouldn't be able to say what they do exactly. We walked through and endless series of rooms of various sizes, from one floor to another, looking for what I wanted: a large table. Mr. Feng was shaking his head, realising that the kind of table I had in mind was more likely to be found a chemistry or biology lab. But we found it. In one of the countless empty rooms we saw a metal table which matched my idea perfectly.
The scene at the lab were to open the video, and show me lying motionless on the table, pale and livid, almost like a corpse, occasionally saying some of the words of the lyrics. I asked Zed to use a blue filter to add a more metallic and clinical aspect to the image.

April 2nd, Taichung
At last it is happening!
I always follow this theory according to which the first intuition is always the best. In the life we live, listening to it is the most difficult...

April 3rd, Taichung
Shooting at the old market.
I came one day earlier to meet the new actors that Cherie had picked for me. From what I saw on the pictures she showed me, they were all very young and cute.
"But they're all drama students!" Cherie replied.
Drama... students! I was wondering what I would do with them. Cherie was currently working on a theatre drama for which she had accepted to write the music.
She drove me directly to their school right after I arrived at the train station.
Yes. High school students. Two boys, one, more athletic with a melancholic expression in his eyes, although his outgoing attitude would distract people from it, another one, whom I would later dub Mister Chameleon, a very active and dynamic lad who got the lead part in an important play at the school,  and two pretty girls. None of them was yet eighteen... "Oh but the other actor I have called is a dancer. He is a college student!" Cherie said.
"How old is he?"
The video was dangerously gearing toward a teen-pop vehicle...
The students had neatly displayed their costumes on the table. I had told Cherie I wanted a retro look, although I wasn't sure whether my notion of retro would find any resonance in them.
The only concern of mine was the market where we would be shooting the next day. It may be abandoned but still belonged to the government. Breaking into it was illegal - not that I did mind really much. We only had to climb over a fence to get in, and since it was in the middle of a cluster of houses, no one would see us.
Cherie didn't feel it that way. She was deeply concerned about the safety of the students. Now that I know her better, it is obvious that she is not in the least the transgressive type, not in her thinking nor in her life.
The students climbed the fence happily. It was like a game for them. When it came to Cherie's turn to climb, she shook her head in distress. "I can't do it!" In spite of my attempts to reassure her that she wouldn't risk her life, she still refused to do it. Right at that moment, we heard a voice coming from the other end of the market. An old man had been observing us and asked what we were doing. One of the students told him about the shooting. "Why didn't you get it through my house?" he exclaimed with big grin. Everybody laughed. Cherie sighed with relief.
The students showed an extraordinary focus. I was pleased to work with them. The down side was that they too lovely to look at. I originally had in mind a gallery of characters whose face would show their life and struggles, like the photos of Diane Arbus or Richard Avedon.
Zed was sick. His cheeks were so swollen he looked like a hamster. I deeply appreciated that he would still come and do the shooting.
The scenes looked fine. Ming, the athletic boy and ChengWei the dancer performed really well. ChengWei remained very quiet during the whole day. I took a few on the set pictures. He obviously has some star quality.

April 15th, Taipei
Editing begins!

April 20th, Taipei
Finished the editing with Zed. After he showed me what we have done, I just felt frustrated. The result lacked edge. The images would drift aimlessly, the story line was fuzzy. It was just not exciting to watch. And the final scene with William where I walk toward him and disintegrate as I come closer, made the actual relationship we had together in real life much too palpable. My 'love letter to William', as I would joke during the filming. But that was not the purpose here. Zed didn't feel highly convinced either. He nevertheless left me a copy of the video, so I could watch it again after a good night sleep. But I knew it was not right. I decided to shoot additional scenes and change the angle. Didn't Zed joke about how I looked more like a professional killer while we were editing? That could be the key...
That WAS the key!

April 24th, Confucius Temple
Impossible to get someone at the very last minute for the new scenes.  Whether they are to shy or too busy. I wanted a couple, an elderly man and a woman. I suddenly remembered David Hsiao, a dancer I had met several times, who studies at the TNUA in Guandu.
Why him and not anyone else? I only understood why once he was in front of the camera. Though not an actor, he exuded a natural ease in his movement and action that one would believe he had spent his whole life in front of the camera.
My idea for the video now was the memory of a professional killer. Something between film noir and Korean action films like A Bittersweet Life. David was perfect. I asked him to play it mysterious and menacing, he gave it to me. Even though I didn't have anybody else, his scenes would be enough to give coherence to the MV.
Now the new version was starting to shape up. Zed was beginning to show his excitement as well.
We then shot a series of scenes with me in front of one of the walls that encircles the Confucius Temple and went back to my place to work on the new edit.

April 27th, Taipei
Rain storm today. Zed and I took the bicycle to find spots for the shots of the photographs. Those were the last ones I needed for the new version of They Lie. I had the photos of each characters blown up on paper and use them as visual memory splattered across the city.
I thought we would be done once and for all when we got back to my place until I heard a heavy rain starting to fall.
"Let's go out and film some rain shots. I had this in mind for some time!" I told Zed.
Two minutes later, we were back to the alley where we filmed the scenes with David a few days ago. Rain was now pouring. The atmosphere was perfect. I stood there for half an hour until we had all the scenes I wanted. The video started to look more and more like a film noir. I loved the thought of it.
We were both exhilarated.

May 3rd, Zed's flat, Taipei
As expected, the new scenes completely changed the narrative of the MV. Memory of a killer. David was a client who commissions one ultimate murder. And it turns out it is the killer's brother, or best friend (why not lover?). The scenes under the rainstorm depict his dilemma. And eventually, he decides to throw himself from a cliff into the sea.
"Now, I feel excited about it again!" Zed said as we were editing the newly shot scenes.

May 12th, Zed's flat, Taipei
Colour correction took a long time. The mistake I did was to ask Zed to shoot directly in high contrast image. Jay explained to me that people would usually film in neutral tone and work on the image once in the studio.
"But they can see the desired effect right from the monitor. It would be silly and useless to show the shot in normal tone."
Since Zed and I worked on a non-budget budget, having a monitor didn't even come into ... the picture!
Zed however managed to come to a satisfactory result.
We spent five long hours working on the credit. Everything looked good to me. I was both relieved and excited.

May 16th
"Show us your new MV!!! I still haven't seen it!" Adrian cried out. We were having a very pleasant friends gathering at my place that evening with Patrick, who was spending a few months in Asia and staying at my place during his visit in Taipei, Leona, whom I met through Adrian during the Face Off exhibition and was now becoming my project manager, and Van, whom I had been dating for a couple of weeks.
I had not showed my last labour of love to anyone yet. I was thinking of organising a little party to show it to my friends this coming weekend. But with Patrick being there, I hardly had any time to do anything else than being a host.
I set up the big monitor and connected to the big speakers, for a comfortable sound. All the lights were turned off, and the MV was screened.
There was an awkward silence at the end. I didn't know how to interpret it.
"Well... now you've seen it!" I managed to utter.
Leona said how she liked the song, Adrian mentioned the rain scenes which he found very cinematic, Van was deeply impressed by some shots, particularly the ones at the science lab and at the market. Patrick didn't say anything.
Only the next day did he mention about it.
"I didn't say anything yesterday about your music video... But I must tell you that I didn't really like it..." Patrick and I had been having long talks until the wee hours of the morning these past days. being a strongly opinionated person, he would often speak up his mind in all frankness, perhaps unaware of the violent impact of his words.
But what he told me resonated in me, and despite my defensive reaction, I knew he was right: the narrative was (still) unclear, every scene was put as the same level. He didn't know where I was getting at.
I had to swallow the criticism.
I later told Zed about it and he agreed. Would we have to shoot new scenes, re-edit the video, work on the visual effects...? Patrick said that all the images were presented on the same level, which made it difficult for the viewer to understand what was going on.
"Bring in more details, work on the image and the colour. Blur certain things..." Patrivck advised.
"Let's spend one session reviewing everything" Zed offered.

And the story continues...


Thursday, 1 May 2014


This morning, Ryan was only preparing to pack. Cardboard boxes everywhere. The movers were to come three days later. When I came back with Adrian in the evening, I was shocked to see his room completely emptied. Hardly any trace of him, as if he had never lived there. 

It was a wish, not devoid of some apprehension. To have the flat all by myself. Ryan took a moment one morning to announce me his decision. He and Wasir were looking for a new flat. Ruru may join them, with her teenage son.
Ryan feared that I would react emotionally to the piece of news and was surprised when I welcomed it with perfect poise. Of course they had to move out. Wasir had been living with us for a year now. In the beginning, he was just someone that Ryan was dating and quite of the blue, though not unsurprisingly, he moved in. I was slightly put off by the fact that Ryan never really asked my opinion about it. For a full year, he and I would continue to share the rent when Wasir would not raise a finger to help in any way. A handsome and nice person, it took him a long time to get accustomed to me, perhaps because he knew about the nature of Ryan's feeling toward me before they met.
For many months, I didn't mingle much with the lovebirds. Young love needs to preserve itself. I didn't try to impose. I only made my disagreement clear to them when they started to hint that a dog may be a fourth tenant. 
"I love dogs, but I also know that I will end up being the one to take care of it, since I work at home... 

Quickly, a year passed. I felt Ryan was partly reluctant to leave. 
"The new place we've found is good, but it's never going to be like here" he sighed. "The energy isn't the same. And it's not as beautiful". The subtext was slightly different, but I didn't comment on it.
"We'll meet again! We'll invite you to our new place!" 
I simply nodded. I had not been taking part in any of their outings, so I doubted they would suddenly feel the impulse to have me join them.

It took them a couple of months to find the right flat. It was located nearby, closer to the MinQuan West Road MRT station. A two-storey flat. Enough room for everybody and the dog.  
I had tried to initiate a conversation with Ryan about the necessity for him to honour his own wishes. Loving someone should not mean that we have to spend all our energy following the other's whim. He was aware of that. 
"And be sure you and Wasir are willing to share the flat with Ruru, even if she is a very dear friend. Don't carry other people's life!" 
Ryan retorted that he knew what he was doing and that he was pretty certain he was making the right decision. I had said what I had to say. 
A couple of weeks before the big day, he was complaining about Ruru's shifting mood. "One day, she's one hundred per cents sure, the next day she is having second thought... That drives me mad!" he lamented.

Eventually they're all gone. I don't dare to touch the rooms. I just cleaned and mopped the floor, bought a pot of white paint to cover the stains on the wall. Now it's my turn to tame this room.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Albane, Amber and Armelle...

Just received from my artist page on Facebook a message from a young flute player who answers by the name of Albane. The attractive young woman plays in a trio with her two sisters whose first name also start with the letter A: Amber and Armelle... Flute, cello and piano.
The trio, named Trio Alambra plan to record and release a CD in the coming two years and want to commission work by new composers. The connection was made by a conductor who has performed my father's music and whom I happened to get acquainted with through facebook, as I'm in charge of my father's page there... 
Would I be interested? Once again, I replied by a resounding "Yes! why not!!!"
Two years seem like a long time, but I know it's going to come very quickly. The first musical thoughts that came to me immediately as I was reading Albane's message. A series of sketches which would be inspired by Hiroshige's drawings. I already feel the atmosphere. And I'm thinking: it would be even nicer if a couple of those would feature some singing by Isabelle... I let the ideas grow and blossom. 
I shall see the girls when I come to Paris this summer... Oh... but they live in Corsica!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Floating Domain - the creative process

I will be working with Huang Yi on three occasions this year. The first of them is Floating Domain, a reworking of a dance piece he did for CloudGate 2 a few years ago, eventhough one can actually only see the first ten minutes of the original version, the rest being totally new. I had attended one run-through at the end of the last year. As usual with Huang Yi, I didn't know what to expect. But what I saw left me slightly indifferent: dancers trying to act (not so well, as they're dancers...), dance theatre, soundscaping, musique concrète...  Nothing that really got me excited. Huang Yi asked me what my impression was. I cracked a few jokes and told him in all honesty that I didn't like the acting which made the piece look like some high school year-end production. Too much drama coming out of nowhere... I added that I nearly had a heart attack when that techno track suddenly blasted out of the speakers. Techno? Huang Yi? Was he alright? The remarks made him laugh. He agreed that the acting needed some honing and begged me to be patient. "It's still in progress and the dancers are still not comfortable with acting."
Some scenes did catch my eyes, though. But what on earth would I be able to create for that? Beside the techno track, two pieces by Bach played by Glenn Gould were used. What was I to do in the middle of all this?  

New Year, January, Chinese New Year then February passed by. Huang Yi was supposed to come to my place but he was kept busy structuring the piece in the limited time he had with the dancers. I had been occupied by the photo exhibitions in Hsinchu and Taichung. Only by the end of February did we communicate again. Huang Yi and I finally met on evening to discuss the music. The only thing I had done so far was a techno number to replace the one he had been using until now.
"I had no idea what to pick, so I went on iTune and bought the most popular one..." he said apologetically. He needed me to compose something very quickly so he could start posting trailers for Floating Domain on the web. I followed my instinct and concocted the requested two-minute long track. The inspiration was the dark and moody techno of Gesaffelstein, whose album I had recently acquired on my last trip to Paris. Yi loved it, which again surprised me. His enthusiasm always comes from the most unexpected angle.

Floating Domain (Trailer)

I didn't attend that many rehearsals. The choreography was less connected to the music than a danced situation. 
I sketched some ideas which I later played to Huang Yi. If he couldn't exactly tell what he wanted, he knew what he didn't. I soon realised that the best way to work with him was to play the music to him directly from the editing software, so that he can tell me what he did or did not want and I would edit the music in front of him. It turned out to be the perfect way for the two of us. I discovered that being the minimalist that he is, just 20 percents of the elements used in my music were sufficient for Yi.
"Each time you give so much choice. It's like luxury for me. More than I can actually take." he told me.
After four years of working together, we finally know how to connect to each other creatively.
"When I saw NINA at the National Theatre", Huang told me after I played him the full-length version of the techno track, "I was dumbfounded that a composer could so effortlessly blend so many opposite musical styles. I said, wow, this guy can do anything!"
That was the first time Yi would talk so candidly to me. He said in an interview that he needed time to observe someone before if the person can go on the creative journey with him.

April... The last rehearsals these showed me how Floating Domain was going to look like. I was particularly moved by the puppet scenes with the little boy. There is no puppet. The dancer are just holding the clothes the little boy should be wearing: trousers, a jacket and a baseball cap. Yi always wears a baseball cap... The scene is touching. The boy plays with his father. You can feel the tenderness between them. In another a scene, a different boy is terrified by the heavy bangings on the wall of an alcoholic neighbour...
Yi reveals more and more of his inner self in each new piece.
On a technical level, the music needs some fine-tuning.

Totally finished the music on April 13th after a full night re-editing and restructuring Space. I should call it soundscape rather than music, since it's there to indicate a mood and signal the change of scenes. The piece ends with a tableau Huang Yi named Fireflies. After the long emotional journey that the piece was, the girl is sitting on the floor in complete darkness. Behind her, all the dancers are holding small lights which are slowly flying up and down. Little stars or fireflies. Yi thought such a peaceful moment was needed after the highly charged emotional drama of the work.
I sent the music to Yi in the wee hours of the morning. His reply was immediate - does he ever sleep? It was now perfect for him. He loved it and through the few words he sent me, I could feel his enthusiasm.
Mission accomplished!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Chào bác

My uncle passed away yesterday.
I thought of about two days ago. When I realised that, I knew something was happening.
He had been living with an ailing health these past years, barely able to move, much less walk. Fortunately, he lived long enough to see the marriage of his daughter, the birth of two grand children, for whom he chose their Vietnamese name.
I shall miss him. We were not the most intimate, but he had always been there to support us. He was responsible for my first and revelatory trip to Vietnam for my twentieth birthday. He and his wife wouldn't mind driving all the way from Geneva to any city in Switzerland whenever I would come to give a concert with Michèle Atlani. That spoke a million words to me. His daughter, my cousin Thao is one of the few relatives whom I feel deeply connected to. 

He came to visit me a second time after his passing. He talked about his wife. About the unhappy marriage. But I felt peacefulness.
"Tell her to travel as much as she can. She must enjoy herself now... " 

Just that day, Samuel brought back a bouquet of arums. He didn't realise how meaningful the gesture was. He and William had gone outside of Taipei, to a farm and came back with many of those flowers.
"Arums remind me of the temple when I was a little girl" my mother once observed when she came to my flat in Paris and saw the flowers.