The past weeks went by standing still.
Looking back, the only impression I have is of a stagnant black void.
Some of the time was occupied with Jay's quarantine hotel documentary. I would look forward to going to his office and work with him on the editing, or to having a day of additional shooting here and there. He kept me busy with a commercial for the Tourism bureau in Japan, my flat was used for the shooting of some of the scenes, I provided some of the clothes, wrote the music. All this went by, as if taking place in another life. The passing days were illuminated by the films I would watch in the evening - amusing image when one thinks of it. I explored more of Kurosawa x 2, Suzuki, Tarkovsky, Welles, Truffaut... It's exciting to think of all there is to discover.
I ended things with Mike - whatever was left to be ended. Our relationship was just empty spaces between us, albeit affectionate empty spaces. I wrote a long letter to him, after weeks of overthinking - a letter (well, email) as his command of spoken English wasn't sufficient for him to grasp all I wanted to say. But then, when it's about ending things, mayeb the short way is the best... His response was short and succint, as usual. He agreed it was time to part. Good luck and au revoir. Voilà.
I do miss the presence of friends. Communicate, share, talk, exchange, listen to, someone who listens, who understands...
Cinema really did save my sanity.
Saturday, 19 December 2020
The past weeks went by standing still.
Saturday, 28 November 2020
November is Noirvember!
My CinéSalon home festival goes on. A few noir and neo-noir classics for the month. That genre has always been a favourite of mine. I could watch Orson Welles' Touch of Evil again and again!
Delon in Le Samourai is iconic, as is Lee Byung-hun in A Bittersweet Life.
In Drive, Out of Past and Angel Heart, Ryan Gosling, Robert Mitchum, Mickey Rourke respectively, are perfect as the existential, enigmatic heroes who seem to have no history, who do not look like the effusive type, but who are haunted by their past.
And what about those lethal women, namely Lana Turner in The Postman always rings twice, Jane Greer in Out of the Past, doe-eyed but coldly calculating Angie Dickinson in The Killer? Marilyn Monroe who opens her wounds and her disturbed psyche in Don't bother to knock or Peggy Cummins who is as viciously demented as she is alluring in Gun Crazy?
And Steve McQueen is the epitome of cool in Bullit! To think I had never seen that film until now... Lalo Shriffin's score is a delight.
November is Noirvember!
Sunday, 1 November 2020
To see and not to see
Second and last screening of Ròm yesterday at the Golden Horse Festival. I still kept the hope alive that, by some divine intervention, it would be the original version of the film that would be screened this time, although I knew I was deluding myself.
Big void. Friends came to see the film, many of them were genuinely impressed. Of course they had no clue what the film went through, that what they saw was the authorised [truncated, watered-down - censored] version of a film.
It was a shock to me, as Huy had told me that all copies sent to festivals were of the original version. So I discovered it this week and my heart just stopped beating for a while, then began to race furiously until the end of the film.
I had never seen that amputated version of Ròm. I knew Huy had made some changes, that 'only' 20% of the film had been cut off and reworked to fit the Censorship Committee's requirements. Maybe we should consider ourselves fortunate, as originally, they wanted 70% of the film's content to be changed. "No mention of gambling or poverty in Vietnam. Why promote such a negative image of the country? Give it a happy ending" Huy was told. "Then we will definitely support your NEXT film.
Trần Anh Hùng saw his film banned in Vietnam when he did Cyclo. But at least, the film was released as it was internationally. Ash's The Third Wife also attracted lots of scandals and controversy - supposed defensors of morality and children's rights who actually who turned out to be ennemies of her family in an act of sheer envy and vengeance and cried out words of pretense shock at seeing an under-age actress having to endure the shooting of sex scenes... before they had actually seen anything. Fortunately, the film enjoyed a surprisingly long life at festivals around the world and even be released theatrically in any countries. And Ash is a no-nonsense, strong-willed girl. There isn't such a consolation for Ròm. The film may have won an award last year in Busan, and even if I understand how Huy is gingerly walking on a tight rope between the Vietnamese government, his ambitions and his artistic aspirations, I find it unfair to still wave the Busan-winner flag, without making it clear to distributors that the version of the film is vastly different.
Perhaps is it easy for me to talk about integrity, as I am just the composer. I have less to lose than Huy or his producers. But I'm also wondering what path you allow yourself to walk if you accept to yield. What will become of the next film? Indeed, Huy is now enjoying a huge popularity. Wowy has become insanely famous this year. What's next for them? What path will they choose to take from now?
Best for me is to let this bitter pill go down and see what's in store.
Monday, 19 October 2020
"I will be a long journey". I don't remember who said that. But I also felt that it might be the ultimate journey...
Perhaps I saw all of this in my dream because I watched Tarkovsky's Solaris yesterday, and also because I had a phone conversation with my father after the passing of his elder sister a few days ago.
It's not life meets imagination. They're both contained in one.
Sunday, 18 October 2020
Music makes the people come together - in my dream
Dream in music last night.
It started with a scene in Dennis' living room. His Pinoy friends were there and he wanted me to play the new arrangement I did of a Filippino song with his singing. I opened my computer and played the music, when I realised the singing was no longer his, but some very weird-sounding voice...
I returned to my room, and found myself in another building, from which I could see the interior of neighbouring flats. In one of them, my friend Thibault was proudly telling me that he had started taking cello lessons. He wanted to demonstrate, seized an instrument that only vaguely resembled a cello, and began to play a piece with just one hand! I beamed myself in his room, which was actually an office. The room suddenly turned into a big conference hall and there was a group of people dressed in white. They played a baroque piece, among them some musician friends like Benoît who plays the double bass. Suddenly I saw my mother among them and my father who played on two wooden recorders that looked more like toys. I knew he wasn't really playing, because I knew he couldn't play the flute! But he kept on joyfully with a twinkle in hie eyes.
That was it. I woke up, but felt happy to have seen beloved people in this dream, making music together - in my dream.
The first time - and only time I met aunt Phi Lê was thirty years ago, when I went to Vietnam for the very first time. It was my birthday gift from my father and my uncle for my 20 years.
Aunt Phi Lê lived in Saigon. She was one of my father's elder sister. I immediately felt comfortable with her. She was gentle, sensitive and very easy to talk, for the young Parisian born Vietnamese boy that I was.
I would often find her in the kitchen and she was surprised to see that I was a natural in a kitchen - her sons weren't really the domestic type, to put it mildly.
Her husband would sit all day long on a wicker chair near the house entrance, talk to everyone, comment on everything, and barely move from his spot, whilst drinking beer and smoking cigarette after cigarette.
I really admired her for her resilience. She came with me and my uncle when we all went to Huế to celebrate my grandmother's ninetieth birthday. It coincided with my being in Vietnam, so it was even more meaningful. I met hundreds of cousins, aunts and uncles, twice, thrice removed, friends of my father's, friend's of my uncles', friends of friends of the family...
But it was with aunt Phi Lê that I felt the most comfortable. I shall always remember her amused expression as I would share about my life in France, about how I lived it, what I thought... Even if it didn't make much sense to her, she would always be open and understanding. Perhaps it was a special treatment for the nephew from the foreign land. I don't know...
Then she more or less reluctantly went to the US, as the family had an opportunity for a 'better life' there, although I thought she would have been better off staying in Vietnam, with all her friends, relatives, all her life...
I never saw her since. Only heard from her and got short greetings from her through my cousins. Then, Alzheimer struck a few years ago. Needless to describe how life was for her and her family, especially the two daughters who had to tirelessly take care of her. So much for the 'better life' in America...
The very last time I saw her was through a Facetime conversation between her and my father, when my parents came to Vietnam last year. It wasn't much of a conversation, but I thought saw a (not a pussycat).. a glimmer of joy in her eyes when my father talked to her. I took a picture of the moment, but I don't think I want to post it here.
My cousin just told me that aunt Phi Lê has left us. I can only feel relief for her, for everyone. I can't help thinking about my own mother. It's sad. But it's also a deliverance.
She is now at peace and freed from earthly troubles.
Sad and relieved.
Monday, 12 October 2020
Displacement - Quarantine Hotel
DISPLACEMENT _ Quarantine Hotel: The full score for Jay's documentary is done! The last piece, which will play for the final section of the film, was composed and recorded just earlier on this morning before I left for Jay's office. I had the illunination after watching Jóhann Jóhannsson's documentary The End of Summer yesterday night. It realised I didn't need to look any further as everything was already there in front of my eyes: those long and slow sonic landscapes of strings and synths that I would regularly record for so many projects could just be used alone to express this state of uncertainty we go through during this years' pandemic. I played it to Jay who immeditately loved it.
We're still working on the editing, and the process is a very enjoyable one for me. There isn't much going on in terms of narrative. Jay's camera just follows Teresa Ma, the owner (and the film commissioner) and her staff going through long days of work after she decides to turn her hotel into quarantine hotel. As exciting as boiled cabbage... But somehow, combination of the slow, ambient score (some, featuring Goh Nakamura's atmospheric guitar from the Be Water sessions - rien ne se perd, tout se retrouve!) with the images gives an otherworldly impression. Jay welcomed my idea of setting up a near-science-fiction atmosphere with the music, as the current situation, if we think of it, is indeed very much one from a science fiction film.
The film is taking shape now! I really enjoy doing the editing. CC, the hired editor - the third one, for this project, said that she on the contrary found editing a tedious process and was surprised to witness such enthusiasm from me. She also got the chance to see a more playful Jay at work...
Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Rain in 2020
Lee Yong Chao's film will be the third documentary I work on this year - if one excludes the ill-fated Be Water, Yong Chao is a director whose work I have followed for many years. I got the chance to see three of them at the theatre, albeit at festivals, as such films seldom get any theatrical release. Even with minimal means - sometime with just an iPhone, he never fails to capture beautiful, striking and meaingful images. It's in his eyes, in his blood. His photographic work is also stunning. Not only are the photos charged with depth and many stories, they also carry a melancholy tone I relate to.
Rain in 2020 focuses on his family in Myanmar during the rainy season this year, 2020 being what it is. Yong Chao follows his younger brother and his two lively sons. Through them, he reflects on the state of the country, the incompetence and false hopes of the government, and the life of hardship of Burmese people.
I won't have much time to compose the music - just one month, as Yong Chao wishes to send the film for submission to the Berlin Festival. "But even if you think it will be impossible to complete the score in time, I still want you to do the music for it", he added. He had just finalised two long-feature documentaries, the other being given to Thomas, who is his usual collaborator. Thomas was very happy I could finally work with Yong Chao. I was relieved their working partnership wasn't an exclusive one.
I have already began writing and recording some musical sketches. One movement is even already finished. But as ideas for Yong Chao's film keep coming to me, I also have to complete the music for Jay's documentary, as the commissioner expects a first cut by mid-October...
Tuesday, 29 September 2020
Chạy, chay, cháy, chảy, chày, chãy
Or how one single sign or accent can change everything...
A friend of mine from Malaysia was listening to the soundtrack of Ròm and got curious about Wowy's song. He googled the meaning of the title.
"Is it about being vegeterian?"
I burst out laughing.
It's "Chạy" not "Chay"!
Monday, 28 September 2020
My dreams are getting very interesting... or weirder and weirder.
Two days ago, there was Woody Allen who was playing clarinet with a new band at the gym where I was training - well, we know how the two are connected. For some reason, he left and made sure to turn off all the lights, leaving everybody in pitch-black darkness. We cursed Woody as we were preparing for our next raid against a gang of yakuza, and couldn't even find our way out...
The night before that, I was composing a piece that Herbert von Karajan was supposed to conduct, with soprano Anneliese Rothenberger singing the main part. I had even written the text (in German) and as she was sight-reading it, she couldn't help laughing and correcting my grammar mistakes, under the unconcerned eyes of maestro Karajan. Then I thought to myself: "How could I POSSIBLY be working with Anneliese Rothenberger when she has has already... PASSED AWAY? It must be another one of those dreams", I said to myself. "But... it's happening so maybe I'm not dreaming after all... but... she IS dead isn't she? And is Karajan!!!!"
Yesterday, I was controlling all the lights of a massive fifty-storey building... from a corn cob! "It's so cool!!!" I exclaimed. "Just like Christmas decoration!". And I kept on pressing on the corn knobs of the corn cob...
And a week ago, I was chatting with my friend Isabelle, when suddenly I found myself naked on my bed, trying to put on my underwear and conceal an embarrassingly huge hard-on, while Isabelle kept talking gayly, totally unaware of my little struggle...
Friday, 18 September 2020
At the Eslite bookstore... From one end of the music section, Aretha Franklin getting vocally orgasmic parising the Lord in Amazing Grace, and from the other end, well... Nana Mouskouri (painfully) attempting that infamous Carmen aria...
Life is full of contrasts.
Wednesday, 26 August 2020
A couple of weeks ago, I went to one of the very last foundries in Taipei to design my first business card. I never had any, and would usually scribble my contact on a torn piece of paper! Not very business-like I guess... It was Thierry's idea to go to that shop, as he had previously had his name cards printed there several tims. "A tad more expensive, but the result is really worth it" he said. It was amazing to find myself in this environment... Indeed, I could as well have it done on the computer and it would be much cheaper. But the quality and craftsmanship can't be matched. And this taste of the 'real thing'.
To think they used to print newspapers that way every day in the old time!
Today, I received through Thierry the quote for those business cards, and I think that I am going to reply with a resounding NO! 6,000 NTD. That's perhaps too much of a rip-off for a struggling composer such as I, especially when we know that at best those cards take the dust on a desk, or that people throw the them in the bin once they get home... There's always the other possibility to design them on a computer and have them printed for a very cheap sum, especially in Taiwan.
Another one of those hipster things.
Then tea master Sarah Wu asked me why I didn't ask her father to do it. I had completely forgotten that her father was running a foundry as well. "1500 for 200 pieces" she said. Indeed... That's cheaper. Thierry wanted to write to the foundry to find out what made the price rocket up like that. "Perhaps for the simple reason that I'm a foreigner" I replied.
Anyway, now may not be the best time for those things, since I have no money left, but I will certainly think of it again when times get more prosperous.
So much for the hipster rip-off!
Saturday, 15 August 2020
William encore et toujours
The birthday of William today. Someone very special to me. It's a tale of wonder how certain people appear in one's life. The tale follows its own trajectory, reveals so much about us, about what can be, could have been, what sometime will never be except in one's imagination or fantasy, but I thank the universe that it is never dull.
This photo was taken during the shooting of They Lie. I asked William to be in the music video, as I like to include in my work people who are dear to me, important in that moment life, sometime for a longer time. I like the idea of them being part of my creative path, where they can exist without physical or emotional limit.
Bon anniversaire, mon bel amour, ma déchirure.
Wednesday, 5 August 2020
Jan and I have been friends for 33 years now. And we started of as penfriends - And letters we certainly did write! I fondly remember how my enthusiasm at having such a receptive friend would compell me to up to five or 6six letters a week, sometime even twice a day!
So it is as a nice little nod to those youthful years that he sent me a postcard (for my fiftieth birthday). Thank you Jan!
Ever since my childhood, the name of Beirut has more often been linked to images of war, terrorist attacks, bombing and devastation. And it's even more devastating to see that it goes on now, more than thirty years later. The once beautiful city has been hit once again and this time, the blast of the two explosions could be felt up to 80 km away from the city.
What can one do... The state of people's life was already overwhelmingly distressing, between the pandemic, the civil outbreaks and the corrupted government.
I don't have friends there, but I strongly feel for everyone.
Tuesday, 4 August 2020
Nói chuyện với ba
"My teachers, Jolivet or Rivier didn't teach me composition. They only made suggestions, they showed me possible paths to go." He paused again. "Composing comes from within..."
It was nearly two o'clock in the morning, I was falling asleep on the phone, but felt glad to have this connection. When I'm visiting them, my father really enjoys our conversations during lunchtime, teatime or dinner time. I know opportunities to talk and discuss about matters that interest him are now rare. His friends have been passing away one by one. The remaining ones are too old to go anywhere. Companionship comes from my mother who remembers less and less...
"It's my father, your grandfather, who told those simple thing on his deathbed: what really matters comes from the heart... I tried to live my life and make that the most natural thing" he continued.
"That's what you taught me too." I said. "Connection with others, friends or people we don't know."
"Not something that feels natural" my father added. "Many people do good deeds for how it is perceived by others"
Monday, 3 August 2020
We were living under martial law somewhere in Asia. Every word, every move had to be validated by a committee.
I was to serve the military again, and waiting for my fate in a large hall with other people, among them Serge Gainsbourg. I had to present my songs. I showed them a dead chicken - a song is a dead chicken in that world... But the dead chicken I displayed didn't pass the commission, so I returned to my table - we were all sitting at vintage schooltables.
Serge Gainsbourg's chicken wasn't more successful either. His was deemed too disco a dead chicken.
Then one of my comrades said to me: "We should have sex in front of the committee and when I'm about to get into you, you turn on the big white light!"
Where that idea came from, I don't know, but I looked at Margaret Thatcher who was sitting on the stage, deep in a conversation with her peers and shook my head. "Will not do..."
As I would wake up and fall asleep again, more elements added to the dream, and made it harder to remember. I just know that eventually, we were doing Chinese calligraphy, and that too turned into dead chickens.
Oh yes, I watched Barking dogs never bite yesterday, that might explain...
Wednesday, 29 July 2020
And I think of all the young film directors whose first feature films were to be presented at festivals this year, and now have to live in this state of limbo...
Friday, 24 July 2020
with the musicians
Ah, the wonder of the internet... to be able to collaborate with musicians around the world, even if I still prefer to be in the same room with them, just because the vibe and the connection are different.
I have lots of fun working with those musicians, but they also inspire me so much!
Wednesday, 22 July 2020
Initially, the idea of me arranging a hip-hop song was met with some reserve. I remember a first call by Wowy who voiced his concerns that I may not be able to understand the spirit of the genre...
I just let him talk, told him not to worry and let me do the music. We said goodbye on an un certain note.
Sunday, 19 July 2020
Ròm on CD!!!!
Saturday, 18 July 2020
Creature off the dark
Friday, 17 July 2020
Wednesday, 15 July 2020
Tuesday, 14 July 2020
Saturday, 11 July 2020
Friday, 10 July 2020
Wednesday, 8 July 2020
Tuesday, 30 June 2020
When two years ago, Trần Anh Hùng wrote to me to introduce me to this film project and recommend me as a composer, little did I know that I would also befriend a wonderful person, a passionate and open minded young man filled with crazy ideas, someone I truly enjoy spending time with. I remember the first time we met: it was in Paris. I took him to Potemkine, one of my favourite places. Potemkine publishes DVD and blu-rays of restored classics or modern films, some of which they also finance. Their shop offers a great selection of DVD and film soundtrack (how much money did I spend there), as well as serve a great coffee (and cakes!). Huy just loved it. We spent long hours there, and I played him all the music I had just composed for his film. It was a moment I shall always remember. His eyes lighting up as he was listening to each piece, then telling he knew exactly how to use the music.
Monday, 29 June 2020
Naked dream (again)
Sunday, 28 June 2020
Friends and family
Friday, 26 June 2020
Bay về nhà
Thursday, 25 June 2020
Last visit to my parents before I fly back to Taipei. The contrast between the sadness of our separation and the lightness of being that afternoon was overwhelming.