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.