Monday, 28 November 2016

Post / in / out / cloud / soon

One glance on my left and I see big fields of clouds. I never get tired of contemplating them. Unexplored territories, ever changing, like our imagination.
I'm flying to Hanoi from where a car will drive me to Ninh Bình, where they're filming Between Shadow and Soul. I need to immerse myself in the landscape of what they call the Ha Long Bay on land. Not enough time to give much thought to the film. Only a few musical sketches that quickly passed my mind without leaving a very deep imprint. I feel slightly nervous, naturally, as the project is the first real long feature film I will be scoring for. The four previous ones I did in Taiwan didn't lead to much: one film which was never completed, much less released, three made-for-TV films, two of them directed by Jay Chern. But I saw them as good practice. I know what to do, and what not to do. 

 Now Ninh Bình... And also to see Thọ again. He was the force that supported me during the past weeks of hardship with Sébastien and that woman Sylvie, as we were tirelessly working on the [FEEL] in/out 2016 event. Just knowing that Thọ was thinking of me and eager to see me again was enough of a thought to soothe my mind and boost my perseverance. Just a few hours before we lie in bed together again and drink each other's presence.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Between shadow and...

I just came back from Ninh Bình, a small town in the north of Vietnam. It is past midnight now in Saigon. A GrabBike has just dropped me in front of 75 Trần Quốc Thảo, where I have been staying for a little more than a week. I feel contented, hopeful and resolute, confident that things are now going to be great again and end 2016 on a hopeful and brighter note.
A few days ago, I met with the producer of a new long feature film called Giữa bóng tối và tâm hồn (Between Shadow and Soul) that is currently being shot in Vietnam. As I read the first email she sent to me, I was surprised to learn that it was Trần Anh Hùng who suggested that she contacted me. 
He apparently is supporting the project and his wife, Yên Khê is playing one of the leading female roles. A film supported by them could not be a bad one!
The first encounter went very well. I felt like stepping through that door. The story, about a fourteen-year-old young bride who has to face premature adulthood and married life deeply struck a chord in me. Ngọc, the producer suggested that I took a day or two and come meet the director, Phương Anh, who goes by the name of Ash, as well as the whole team. It didn't take long before I accepted the offer. We had not really started anything for the [FEEL] in/out event in Saigon. I had time. 

Called the Ha Long Bay on land, Ninh Bình  is breathtaking. I think I have found the place where I will spend my older years.

Just two days to meet Ash, the director, the whole film crew, the actors. They had been filming for about three weeks already. I was driven to a hotel by a road. I had been dozing on and off on the way from Hanoi, occasionally waking up to see an eye catching landscape, a small village, rice fields or mountains in the background...
Large hotel, fairly new, looking like so many hastily built hotels to accommodate a growing number of tourists. 
"We will meet at three to go to the site. There will be a ceremony because Tina, the assistant director saw the ghost of a little girl sitting on the bed in one of the houses where we will be filming tomorrow..."

A perfect way to start...

And I'm also happy I found the time to pay dear old Tim a visit at the hospital. I really feared for his life and was glad to see he made it through, even if his state of health if far from stable. 
That man is really an adventurer. From Australia which he hates, to years in Hong Kong, and now in Hanoi with this young lad...

Friday, 4 November 2016

Ninh Bình.

It seems that the giant outdoor karaoke in the hotel courtyard will last the whole night, although at this rate, with all this off-key yelling, their vocal chords will perhaps beg for mercy very soon. Despite that, I find this youthful ebullient joie de vivre very charming.
What is less charming is to get up early tomorrow for a shooting at 5:45 a.m. ...


Friday, 30 September 2016

Up Down Suite

Roller-coaster. I had just finished a studio session for the SILK x 21 project. We recorded the vocals and strings, cello and violin, for Spirit, one of the fourteen pieces that now compose the entire project, then the spoken vocals on four other tracks. The session was conducted by Micky Yang, whom I had not properly seen since his wedding, some seven years ago. We worked together on the recording of the musical Auntie, and the experience was a joyous one. The studio was located in the Neihu, an area I genuinely detest, on the fifth floor of an industrial building near the freeway. 
I went there in advance with James, who was to do the spoken vocals. Micky was preparing the microphones. The room was large and comfortable. During all these years I had been working whether at home with my old and now defunct computer and my little ZOOM recorder, or at a friend's who has a room in his flat turned into a mini studio. Never in such comfortable conditions. I enjoyed every single second of the full afternoon I spent there, enjoying it as a night in a five star hotel after years in dodgy motel rooms.
Shandy came to meet the musicians and meet Micky who will also do the mixing of the music. She looked radiant and happy to be there.
"This movement, Spirit is one of my favourite!" she exclaimed. "I felt connected to it as soon as you played it to me, remember?"
I wrote Spirit twenty years ago, as I was touring with Michèle Atlani. The melody, with its Slavic and nearly religious tone came to me one day in Marseilles. Nothing was done with it until the wedding of my brother. I harmonised it for 5 voices and added a cello part. We performed it as a part of a short mass I composed for the occasion in the church near my parents' house in Saint Maur during the ceremony. It was then that it took its full shape. When I started writing more music for Silk x 21, it struck me that it would find its right place in the musical journey I was bringing to life.

We decided to postpone the mixing of the music to December. I was going to go to Vietnam in November, my computer was dead, and it would take me some time to find a way to retrieve all the work that is stored in its hard disks. The unfortunate demise of my dear old computer is perhaps a blessing in disguise as it now compels me to move on to the next level and upgrade my life. How it will is another question, but I will soon find out.

The day ended on a totally different note. I received a short message from Jan announcing the passing of his father. The piece of news was like burning coal in my hands. I didn't know what to do of it.
Multiple images rushed past my mind. My first time at Jan's place in Pforzheim, Germany, when I was seventeen. Our trips across the Black Forest. The lively talks during dinners, their elaborate and witty word plays, his hearty and communicative laughs, engaging and warm personality, the way he and his wife Ursula woke up and startled Jan out of his sleep one morning to sing him a birthday song on the guitar...
Jan's father, Manfred was like a second father to me. He welcomed me into his own family without any question. Spending time at their place was always a joyful feast.  
He passed away in his sleep. Exhaustion, heart failure. His wife realised it during the night. Then I recalled that I thought of Jan and his family earlier in the morning: I was doing my laundry and suddenly my head got stuck with the image of Maren, Jan's sister, then Jan, then his parents. I didn't make much of it. We had mentioned the possibility to spend one last Christmas all together before they would sell their house beautiful in Pforzheim, and rejoiced at the idea.

I was sitting in one of the armchairs of the studio, torn between the joyfulness I had felt during the day and the saddening news. 2016 has given a lot of its bittersweet fruits. Too much of them.

The Ton That and Stümke families in Paris - 2014

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A peaceful afternoon at the Lin An Tai Ancestral House. Apparently, one of the oldest residence in Taipei. That said, it has been heavily renovated to the point of looking like a period drama film set. Nevermind, as this beautiful place really has given me lots of inspiration for a short film or a music video... Let's see what comes out of it. Better visit it during the week days. And it's not far away from my flat. Temples, parks, museum, river... It may not be fancy for people who like to go to shopping malls, bars and designers' stores. But that is totally fine with me. I like low-key local vibe of it. So lucky was I when I found this flat! Now many friends want to find a place to rent in the neighborhood.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Monday, 29 August 2016

I'm gathering all the light and healing atoms around me for Tim Cribb's recovery. He is currently in a seriously critical condition and need all the good and positive vibes possible.

A few last photos with - of, my parents before I leave Paris (again) - before I come back (again).
Taipei, then Saigon... then where else...?

Sunday, 28 August 2016

As we were about to leave my parents' home, after a final joyful dinner together with them, my brother, his wife and my dear nephew Vũ An before my departure...

My nephew: I will miss you very much, Bác An (Uncle An).

Me: I will miss you too, Vũ An 

My nephew: (showing me his stuffed rabbit Lapin) And Lapin will miss you too. 

Me: I will miss Lapin a lot as well! (heart melting)

Saturday, 20 August 2016

2:00 a.m.: Battle of noise: on this side of the street, some classical music lovers play Rossini's William Tell overture at full volume, on the other side, others play Prince, also at full volume... Who's going to win? 

Nos après-midis du vendredi

Another one of those Friday musical afternoon with Julia and Isabelle. I play the piano, they sing, in duo, and also in trio - sometime... Bach, Fauré, Mozart, Granados, Vivaldi, Brahms, Handel, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Turina, Strauss...
And we've been doing that for so many years - ever since I met Julia, actually. And I will always make time each time I'm in Paris to see Julia on Fridays.
Having Isabelle is a luxury. Her luminous soprano voice is pure enchantment.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


 As I was about to get off the metro, I saw a man opening the first pages of a book, a worn copy of Bulgakov's Master and Margherita. One of my all time favourite novels.
"You'll have a great tune reading this book" I said.
The man looked up from where he was sitting, probably surprised that a total stranger would address him.
"I said, you will enjoy youself with this book. It's a really great novel!"
The mean stood up. Tall, in his late forties, tired looking or worn out by life, with longm greyish hair and a baseball cap on his head. He got off the train with me.
"I just found this book" he said, with an accent I couldn't immediately place.
"That's my favourite novel" I went on.
He smiled again, his eyes glimmering with pride. "It's a Russian novel... I'm Russian." He showed me the other book he had in his beg: Emmanuel Carrère's Limonov. Our short exchange ended. We had to take different directions. He stopped, glanced warmly at me and extended his hand. A friendly and firm grip.

"Yes, Master and Margherita is my favourite novel" I thought to myself, as I was walking in the long metro corridors.  

Sunday, 14 August 2016

I made that very nice dream last night where I was playing the piano with Gus Van Sant. We were improvising (something wildly chromatic I wouldn't be able to replicate once awake) and he was humming a strange melody for his new film.

I like those dreams...

Thursday, 11 August 2016

I took my mother to Normandy for a couple of days. My brother's friend Sybille has a countryside house there and I thought a bowl of fresh air and change of scenery would be beneficial to my mother - we thought that my father would also come but understood that he would enjoy a much-needed little break just by himself. My brother had already been spending some time there with Mathilde and their son.
We ordered a taxi to drive us to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. My mother has barely gone to Paris in the past few years, except for the occasional lunch or dinner in the 13th arrondissement's Chinatown.
"Oh! Jardin des Plantes! Rue de Rivoli! The Louvres! ..." My mother still could recognise those Parisian landmarks. She was as excited as as little child. "It has changed so much... I remember when..."

The journey to Normandy was smooth. Conversation was in a loop: Where was father? Where did we go? Where was home? Finally we reached our destination, a small town in Normandy where my brother was supposed to pick us up. A little visit to watch Vũ An riding a poney, then back to the house where we rested and prepared dinner. My mother played football with her grandson, we played cards and other games, we read stories for him, had long walks in the area. The landscape, if not strikingly beautiful was very calming and peaceful. 
I don't know whether we will have other opportunities to go out of Paris like this again.
My mother kept asking about father. She now barely spends any time without him. Being in a strange house, out of her familiarity must have caused some disturbances. Nevertheless she seemed happy to be with her two sons and enjoy extended time with her grandson.
To me, that is priceless.


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Waltzing back in time...

An afternoon stroll at the Jardin du Luxembourg. The month of August in Paris is particularly delicious for whoever stays in the capital, as most Parisians have left town for their summer holiday. 
The afternoon was already quite advanced - five o'clock, the light is at its most beautiful. My ears caught the sound of music playing from the other side of the garden. I slowly walked towards it - it came from a gazebo where I could distinguish silhouettes of people dancing. The music playing was a waltz. Waldteufel, perhaps... As I came closer to the gazebo, I realised the people, especially the women were all clothed in the 1900 style. The gentlemen didn't all make the effort...It was so delightful to watch. For a moment, the 21st century vanished and I was transported to a scene from a Jean Renoir film.        

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The neighbours upstairs seem to be passionately in love... It's a concerto for two shaggers every night. And blimey, does the lady have some pipe... Die Königin der Nacht...

Friday, 5 August 2016

A very pleasant evening with my dear friend Alo Paistik, that I like to dub my 'blond Viking god' - to his greatest embarrassment. He is to begin a new PhD in Berlin about some obscure documentary filmmaker (obscure to me, that is). The everlasting student - I don't know how many he will do in his life... über-brainy he is, but also excellent and handsome company!
The deadly combination.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Last night again the neighbours were making love, violently, happily, noisily... Their moaning was echoing throughout the whole street!

Un grand moment de solitude...

Monday, 1 August 2016

Summer in Paris

Ulysses and I just finished our first song together, entitled Summer in Paris... Actually, no, those are the opening words, the real title being Sacred Paper, which I never seem to register. It started with Ulysses scribbling down a text, then asking me to improvise something on the piano. Within thirty minutes, we came up with sufficient material for a song. I wrote down the musical sketches I had done and handed him the sheets. The next two days were spent trying out various combinations until Ulysses was satisfied. He was very excited about writing a song and wrote down the final version for the music score, a full day in front of his computer trying to figure out how to use a software. He is so excited about the process that he is already developing ideas for a second song. Just a few more days before he goes on holiday in Savoy to spend the month with Benoit and his family... Time is running out!

I have enjoyed every single minute spent in Paris. Three weeks have passed now, true, enjoyable and relaxing holiday for me. I see my parents every other day - at least I try to keep the rhythm. My mother is well. The Alzheimer's disease hasn't progressed too much. Her conversation can get stuck in a loop...

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Monsieur Engel

Mr. Engel had been our neighbour since my family moved to Saint Maur some thirty-two years ago. He was a mechanics, always there to offer help to anyone who'd need it. He enjoyed that. I remember him, a tall and slightly hunched brown-haired man, his eagle-beak nose and soft, clear eyes. I also remember his young son who was the sexiest man on the street when I was a young teenager. 

Mr. Engel had been in depression for the past year. His wife as well apparently, since the day her little pet dog passed away. From what my father told me, she would barely talk to him and would seldom leave her house. He tried to endure the silent treatment but his state of mind deteriorated. He would still be very glad to give a hand to anybody who'd call for him, despite his old age and declining vigour. That was his outlet.

Then it happened. Three weeks ago, he shot his wife and shot himself afterwards. It was brutal. We all miss him. My father is devastated. It is the second suicide on the street after Mr Laurent, his neighbour, whose house is exactly opposite my parents'. He hanged himself a few ago. Depression too. 

But we must and will remember the gentle man who was always so happy to come and help. Engel means angel in German.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

My mother: Do you want some biscuits? They're very good.

Me: No thanks! We just finished dinner. I don't feel like eating anything sweet now ...

My mother: Do you want some peaches? 

Me: Ahhh.... I'm really not hungry....

My mother: Do you want some medicine? I can share some with you! 

Friday, 1 July 2016

Trần Anh Hùng

I have to thank James. It's the Taipei Film Festival at the moment and he told me that Trần Anh Hùng was in town. What? Trần Anh Hùng? James said that he was one of the guests of honour of this years' edition. "And I have to serve as an interpreter to a Japanese director Trần Anh Hùng wants to meet! Trần Anh Hùng is going to have a massage later today because he feels exhausted, do you want to drop by and say hello?"
Bien sûr I accepted. Hùng was greatly surprised and delighted to see me. We both couldn't believe we had not met for 12 years! The last time I saw him was on the street of Paris, during the Gay Pride. He was having a walk with his baby son Cao Phi in his arms.
We set a date - for two days after, to spend some time together.

I took him to some favourite spots of mine in in the city, which he loved, then settled for a good four hours in this old Japanese tea house where we journeyed from one tea to another, and got drunk in the process!

What a joy to talk with him, after all this time. Someone who, naturally is so passionate about his work. Murakami, movie making, David Lynch, my dad, Harvey Keitel, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Lee Byun-Hung, Tanizaki, Jonny Greewood, Seiji Ozawa, Picasso, Jo Kanamori, Jonny Greenwood, the life and isolation of an artist... so many topics were covered, we didn't see time pass.
Spending time together like that would have been unthinkable for me twelve years ago. I was then so in awe of him that, even when invited for dinner at his place, I didn't feel the confidence - and certainly didn't didn't have the experience, to debate so freely about all those topics. 

I don't think it will be twelve years again before I see him. My intuition tells me our paths will cross again very soon.

Monday, 20 June 2016

I will always love you

How I managed to keep it on for so many years, I don't know. The only valid reason is what people call love. It is true, each moment spent with William was a happy, relaxed and fulfilling one. I didn't care about whether he wasn't ready to leave his partner. I didn't wish him to do that - if I didn't, then how could he even be able to take any decision... A few more last-minute cancellations and the announcement that he had moved into a new flat with his boyfriend triggered me to take action. Not that I was going to ask him to decide between me and his boyfriend. The past four years have been a more than clear indication that the choice would never have been in my favour. However, something was relevant to me in this new turn of events. It was, as he claimed, for his job. But it also signified that he was not going to make any change in the way he conducted his life. I was always going to be the trumped card in this double life of his, be a shameful secret he had to hide in the closet.
I wrote a short message to him. It had been four years this years, when we first laid eyes on each other at the hot spring. The memories are vivid, visually and emotionally. It was time to leave and this farewell was a resolute one. No more contact, no more Facebook nor Line. The mention of those modern ways of connection makes it sound as meaningless as a TV game show. Deep down, I was still hoping for a reaction from him. Something could still be saved. The unexpected twist at the end of the story... He wrote back.
"I will always love you" 
A pause and Whitney Houston's voice started yelling in my head. And I laughed long and hard. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

When one doesn't listen to one's inuition (The DunHuang saga continues)

I was asked by Shandy to attend a meeting with two persons from the Beijing DunHuang Academy at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel as she was in Japan and couldn't make it in time. My intuition told me not to waste my time with that, but I had not other reason to refuse. '

I came with a translator, a woman from Malaysia, and one of Shandy's many assistants - there would be a new one each time I would see Shandy...
I had never seen the Mandarin Oriental, and my first impression was that of a heavy architectural pastry, something between a Gothic manor and a Disneyland castle. The meeting was at 2 o'clock sharp, but the two persons arrived forty minutes late. It was nearly time for tea, and the cakes would prove excellent!
Three people from that academy were present: a seemingly affable middle aged man who said to be the 'initiator' of the company - the one who handles the money, obviously, a tall and icy young lady who was the classic dance director - her cold beauty would have been perfect for the role of the black widow in a Johnny To film. The third person was a Taiwanese lady in charge of the international projects. This one?
We sat around a big table in the dining room and I told them about the genesis of the music I had composed. They listened, but wouldn't make eye contact with me. Bad sign.
Then came the moment to play them the music. It was suggested that I picked the one piece which would best represent the whole project. Second bad sign.
They listened to three pieces, each time asking for something 'different'. I had the feeling to be auditioning for a part and asked to show joy, sadness, anger, drama... 
I saw no reaction. The icy lady asked a few questions which clearly indicated that she had come to the meeting with notions of what she wanted to hear. Her remarks reflected that. I wasn't surprised. I suddenly recalled a performance given by a DunHuang academy from Hong Kong which bored me to death with its self indulgent display of the star players' skills. I also remembered a tall icy lady who certainly did strike me as a big diva. So, they were the same and one academy. Had I known that, I wouldn't accept to go. The game was even for us anyway. Neither of us liked the other. But the DunHuang couple remained extremely courteous, although very cold and distant. The translator didn't feel at ease. Shandy's assistant felt her presence was useless. And I was happy to have eaten some delicious cakes - a tad too sweet, though, to my taste.
As David Bowie said, an artist should never work for somebody else, as it is extremely dangerous to fulfill other people's expectations. The past year has been a glorious illustration of that. We may not be in the Bowie's position to make such an aloof statement, but he is right.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Brief encounter

I was standing on the platform of the MRT, on my way to the TNUA in Guandu to see a dance show. A boy and his mother approached and lined up behind me. The boy, who was perhaps eight years old looked up at me and gave me a warm smile, just like an old friend would. Once in the train, as people were rushing in, I indicated two seats where he and his mother could sit. The journey to Guandu was a long one, and the boy kept looking up at me. No words were exchanged, but I enjoyed the silent connection with him. The person who was sitting behind them left, so I took the seat. The boy realised I had disappeared, turned to see where I had gone and smiled when he found out I was just behind him. How I wish I could have taken a picture at that moment. It was the most wonderful smile. The old lady next to me saw our interaction and very kindly offered to yield her seat, so I could be sitting with my son. At this, the boy smiled and answered that I wasn't her father. Confused, the lady gazed from him to me and decided that it might be better to mind her own business.
How I wished...
I fell asleep. The boy too. I nearly missed stop and dashed to the exit. The boy opened an eye right at that moment and managed to wave goodbye from his state of slumber, give me one last smile, then fell asleep again almost immediately.

Monday, 11 April 2016

So we met again in Tokyo after three years. Jo and Sawako were taking part in a conference about Miyake at the National Museum. But of course it was unthinkable that we did NOT see each other.

I have no idea when we will work together again. Jo explained that the dynamic in the company changed dramatically after the original dance partners left NOISM. "Now they're all young. Great dancers, but nothing in their mind. So the creative process is very different."
Yes the time when we created NINA or PLAY 2 PLAY were magical times. I wonder if as we age, it is possible to retain that momentum. Creativity and inspiration, yes, of course. But I have to agree the original members of NOISM were great and inspiring people, beside being extraordinary dancers. I can still recall the shock and dep elation when I first saw them perform in Paris. I was sitting on the first row, and the choreography had Jo come to the fore and he was dancing in front of us. A dialogue. Or love at first sight... All that happened afterwards could be the stuff of a novel. Still, here we were now. Looking back with longing. 
We have to make it happen again... 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Love Profusion - The Shooting

Two days of shooting, one day for the editing, and another day for the colour correction. I had never done a video so quickly.
This time I wanted to keep the story very simple: a girl and a boy love each other, the girl has another lover, and so does the boy.