Thursday, 26 November 2015

Good day Vietnam!

At last, in Vietnam. At last I am coming, not as a visitor, but as an artist, a musician who will do something there. I nearly thought that this project with Arabesque would never see the light. I had not heard from them for weeks. Yes, they were busy performing, anh Lộc was in Canada with Tuấn Anh to prepare for the new show by le Cirque du Soleil… I myself was busy composing the music for the film… As usual, that is in my life, things would only unfold at the very last minute. One week before by supposed departure, Anh Lộc called me to make sure about my dates – from the last week of November until the first days of January: five weeks, barely enough time to actually be ready for what I had been envisioning in my head. One motto that has come to me more and more frequently these past years: no need for control, as it is not necessary to plan anything too accurately, as things will come and structure themselves perfectly at the given time.

I had just set foot on the Vietnamese ground that I was called for a meeting two hours later with Trân, who is the Arabesque company manager. We met in front of the house where I was to spend the coming 5 weeks – a small windowless room in an unkempt, messy flat. The good point: it was located right in the center, near the Bến Thành market. “I hope you will not hate us for the room” Tran wrote to me. I was ready for any situation. The room, though dark, offered the basics: a bed. A very large bed. There were two windows opening on nothing but the next door motorbike garage. I was to share with five other people. So much for privacy and intimate time… The alley which led to the house was very charming, a remain of old Saigon, in the midst of all the aggressive renovations that were currently going on all around, a line up of pocket sized houses with their façade painted in this typical faded light green and wooden shutters. How much longer would that last? A year at most perhaps… A big sign board with a drawing of a modern building which was to replace the old houses was hanging on top of the entrance. Like so many other Asian cities, Saigon is following the same path which will turn it into another faceless metropolis. Bland modern buildings and shopping malls.

Trân took me to a restaurant located behind the opera house. My Tau, it was called. I / You.

We discussed the plan for the coming weeks. What I had in mind. I had sent them some sketches of ideas, however, I think my vision will materialise as we go.







The owner of My Tau was a elderly woman from Huế. I had told Tran I would need a speaker from Huế for the Hàn Mặc Tử spoken words segment – an endangered species we are... Would that woman suit my idea? No. In fact she had been in Saigon for too long and could barely speak with the Huế dialect. “I’ve been in Saigon for too long!” she admitted. Nevertheless the food was delicious. My first genuine Vietnamese meal in months!


Monday, 23 November 2015

Protège moi


“I will come to your place, write the lyrics and record the vocals, but I don’t want the production company to use my name for the promotion of their film. I like the idea of being anonymous.” Those were A. ‘s words. She had postponed our session a few times, busy as she was helping for a music festival and also getting back on her feet after a couple of months not being herself because of some newly discovered disease which compelled her to stay in without much energy to do anything. I thought it was hepatitis A but it was more serious.
At twenty to midnight she was there. I was dead tired already, but happy to finally do this song with her. The instrumental track was ready. I had recorded the strings a few days before and it really sounded good. Jay of course had heard it and liked it. I was curious to hear the final result with the singing.
A. had only scribbled down ideas for the lyrics. The following hour was spent matching words and melody. At past one in the morning, we attempted to record the vocals. “Let’s print a first draft. If there is anything that requires some changes, I will do that at my studio” she told me. Indeed, my equipment was very basic: a simple but very efficient ZOOM recorder. I had to hand-hold it. No frills. That allows me lots of freedom as I can go anywhere and record what I want before bringing it back home and editing it on my computer. A. did a few takes until the melody came out of her mouth effortlessly. 
Finally the song was taking life. I had nearly given up. When I learned that A. was sick, I searched for another singer, she introduced me to one, Zoe, whose music I already was acquainted with and appreciated. We exchanged a few emails, she agreed to do it, seemed to be quite happy to join the project, I got in touch with her record company, then nothing. The record company eventually wrote to me that Zoe was busy preparing for an upcoming tour and deeply regretted that the collaboration could not work out. I didn’t know what to believe. I had received many of those letters, which are written in a positive and polite way to disguise the blow of a negative response. When A. heard about it, she made time to come and help me. It was perfect for she was the one I originally wanted for the song. Jay was very excited to know she would be the vocalist. As A. retired from show business – at least from the name she was known as, she wished to remain anonymous. She gave me some fake names that I could use. I thought that coming up with a real alias would be better. What about AXA? - An x A. ? She loved the idea. The song bears a name in French: Protège moi -  I felt that strange impulse to have those two French words in the chorus. A. liked it.
New songs will certainly come later next year. I had written lots of music that has not been used, and will make excellent material for new songs. At 3am we were done with the recording. A. went home to work on something she had to finish before the morning. When will she stop? I felt so grateful to her generosity and her love.
I was so exhausted myself, I decided to do the editing after a few hours of sleep. 
Writing this soundtrack has been a challenge, two weeks ago, I honestly believed I would never manage to come up with any satisfactory result. But as some master said, it all come as a reflection of what is going on inside. Let go of your ego, forget the old woes and forge the path you want to walk on. Once I had decided to take matters in hand and defend my point of view, things became clear and I understood what I had to do.
This year has been quite a testing one for me.


Soon I will be able to focus on the next project: the Open Space Project in Saigon.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

13


Morning time. Just read a message from Simon: “Did you hear about the attack in Paris? They fired at people in front of Le Cambodge!” I immediately checked the news online. Le Monde, Libération, all the major newspapers were headlining it: several gun attacks in the city, mostly in the district where I used to live, between Bastille and République. Le Cambodge was our canteen, just five minutes away from my former flat on the Canal Saint-Martin. More than one hundred victims in a deadly firegun attack at the Bataclan, a concert venue which was also one of my favourite. Voiceless and speechless. The whole day was spent checking whether everybody was safe and sound. Felt even more devastated when learning about deadly attacks in Yemen and Beirut the same day. 

Friends kept sending me message to make sure everything was right. On Facebook a list was created to let people know who was alive and fine. I couldn't repress tears. 

Did they choose November 13th for a particular reason? What’s behind the big web?   


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Nothing comes to light

I just talked with my father on the phone. My mother has had a cataract operation yesterday. The doctor said it was a common operation nowadays, however, my mother waited too long, which made the task a little more intricate. But he was confident.
I received a few words yesterday evening that everything went well.
If things could stay simple… No. My father was reading the doctors instruction and found out to his disarray that my mother had taken the bandage off her eye, thus causing further complication. She may have gone up to the bathroom and 'discovered' the bandage on her eye and took it off.
He immediately called a taxi and rushed her back to the hospital. The eye had got infected. The doctor was furious, yet understood the situation: my mother was also suffering from the Alzheimer disease. Certainly she forgot that she had just come back from the hospital where she had the operation and wondered why she had this bandage on her eye. Were we in
Vietnam, it would be easy to have a relative come and stay to watch over my mother. But my father is alone and cannot possibly take care of everything by himself. I admire his courage and perseverance, knowing that my mother’s condition is bound to get worse with time. 
The thought is distressing. I felt so powerless, living far away from them.






Friday, 30 October 2015

Scoring...

I have been working on the score of Warmth for the past two weeks now, and finally realise how challenging it is to compose a score for a film, as opposed to dance, theatre, or even songs. It may also depend on the role the director allows music to play in the film. My part came much later in the process, so the music can only be descriptive. That is the hardest for me. I have read how Bernard Herrmann used to compose his scores for Hitchcock: he would discuss the role of the music at length before the shooting, he would be present during the shooting. His music would influence way the editing or even the story would be told.
As I said to a friend yesterday, I feel I am just writing musical prêt-à-porter for the film. Jay is open to what I may suggest to him, but since the film is already shot and edited when I came into the picture (no pun intended), he had also already built a map of musical references in his head, consciously or not, which makes it trickier for me to find my place in the film.  
I encountered a similar situation during my last failed collaboration with Jo two years ago: the music of Captive Queen was to follow the structure of Sibelius’ work bar by bar, which left me no room for expressing myself musically. Captive I was too. I also know that I didn’t have the technical compositional means to rise up to the challenge. A Stravinsky I ain’t, alas!

Jay has faith. I am still searching for new ways to give the film a truly personal sonic mood, away from the usual boring and formulaic cute piano music, and make Jay proud of his new work.








Thursday, 29 October 2015

TIQFF - 2nd edition

Thursday, 29th October 2015

TQIFF this week. Taipei Queer International Film Festival. The second edition. This year is attracting even more people. Jay is very happy, although it is a neverending task to get people interested and compel them to attend one, if not more screenings.
Tonight’s film was Tiger Orange, am American film which received people’s attention as it stars Frankie Valenti, formerly known as Johnny Hazzard, an adult film performer who got his years of fame in the mid-naughties. His performance was surprisingly accurate and well handled, for a film which story was fairly predictable. The simplicity of the plot and the good casting made for a very enjoyable film. Now the question that lingers on many people’s mind, and certainly Frankie Valenti’s is regarding the future of a former gay porn-star. I remember that play I saw in 1996 at the Actors Playhouse in New York, an off-Broadway venture which success grew with the years: Ronnie Larsen’s Making Porn which featured then hot former straight, gay-for-pay porn actor Rex Chandler. The play itself wasn’t that great, too clumsy and self indulgent, but was some sort of path of salvation for some adult film performers who wanted to go ‘legit’. Maybe as a result of my catholic upbringing, I have always been wishing for those performers to find that salvation. Actually, if I have to dig a little deeper, it would be more accurate to say that I have always sided with the outsiders, people who are ill-perceived by the others (as I have been as well) and would always look for the that one unknown aspect of their lives that would prove the mass wrong.  
Frankie Valenti’s performance in Tiger Orange may earn him more film offers as he displays genuine acting potential. I do hope he will be able to cross that line and prove that one’s past does not necessarily define one’s future.
Still related to (gay) porn, the documentary about Chuck Holmes, the founder of the now infamous Falcon Studio which provided joy to many men across the globe and ‘helped’ change and redefine people’s perception – or self-perception of the gay man. Though interesting, the documentary was written and filmed in a very standard way, which didn’t make it very compelling to watch.
Even less compelling was The Second Life of Thieves, by Malaysian director Ming Jin Woo. The idea was interesting: the same story told from two different points of view, something that has been done many time, since Rashomon. However, that story is told by a former lover, and the lover’s daughter who each has a different perception of memory of the events. This could have been enough to make a film, however, the director injected a subplot about the murder of a Burmese girl, some hints about the corruption of the Malaysian government. Cinematography is good – the silent moments and landscape would have been enough to express the full scope of the emotions. Unfortunately, the film seemed to go in all directions – Ming Jin Woo admitted that the original story was different and the film morphed into something different in the course of the shooting. There were some touching moments and some of the actors blew life into their characters, in spite of the chaotic directing.  


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Don't dream it's over

I don’t dream much anymore. No, that isn’t correct. I do dream. I still do. I remember them, though fleetingly, but find it harder to narrate them.   

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Lady be good

First piece of news as I stepped out of the plane from Paris: I would no longer have to go to Shanghai in two days, as the whole DunHuang Project has been terminated by Ms Tang’s husband because the music I wrote did meet their expectation, nor did, in that case, the songs that Mr. Wang sent them. I was too tired to be angry. I was just relief. Delivered from another hopeless case with a talentless rich and deluded lady. But I was not surprised. Simple deduction: Ms. Tang freaked out as the deadline was approaching. It had been convenient to state that the music was too difficult, too arty, not commercial enough… but the real reason was that she could not sing and was not to face the fact. Certainly out of a flash of common sense, her husband decided to cancel the project. I will take the time to really rest. Yay!

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Spring of the Immortals



The one thing I will truly miss as I leave Kokkino Nero is the Spring of the Immortal. That magical spot did save my life. Going there every morning was my little ritual to stay alive and sane-minded. More people would come everyday as it was summer, - mostly Polish tourists, Kokkino Nero being a cheap holiday destination. I wonder what will become of this little paradise when tourism carves a new face to this still undeveloped region, and hotels, holiday resorts and amusement sprout like mushrooms. Amadeo says that there will be nothing left of its innocence in less than five years. May he be proven wrong!                 
I shall try to come back next year. The connection with the gods, the elements, the blue dragonflies, the cold spring and its red sparkling water… 





Saturday, 8 August 2015

Last days (in Kokkino Nero)

Last show tonight. Soon all of this will be a very 'colourful' memory. Jackson Pollock, if you ask me. I received this morning alarmed emails from Jay and Shandy regarding the music of the DunHuang Exhibition Project. Even though they have a faint idea of how busy I am, they aren’t totally aware of how impossible it is for me to do anything else here. I have no equipment, no musical instrument, the (cracked) software I use for the music editing isn’t compatible with the new Windows 10 version… (why on earth did I upgrade to Windows 10???) I can only structure everything in my head before I fly back to Paris and actually record the songs.
I have shortened my stay in Berlin. I thought of canceling the trip, but I do need a change of mind. I trust myself to be able to handle the work within two days, before the deadline: 15th of August!

It is 7pm. The dancers are rehearsing and honing some moves. We have found a new microphone for Karen. She will be miming most of the songs, except the prologue which is spoken, and four songs that she sings with the hand mic. She surprised everyone yesterday when she performed those songs with aplomb, perfectly in tune and in rhythm. Had something shifted in her psyche? Perhaps her exhausted demons have given up after all these weeks of hard work, and she is finally letting go of her resistance. Or is it the adrenaline of stress? Whatever the reason, everybody was delighted. We shall find out whether it was lottery or something more lasting and tangible. 
There are some heavy, dark clouds looming in the horizon...


A relaxed moment between rehearsal




Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Greek gods III

The mistake wasn’t repeated twice today. Rainstorm was announced by the weather forecast. We were supposed to do a run through. The sky was, as expected, cloudy and heavy.
We had barely done the prologue that Amadeo told us to stop. A few raindrops were starting to fall. The man had understood that he had better not risk everybody’s life once more.
The musicians and dancers were kindly thanked for their presence and patience, then sent back home.
“Let’s go have something to eat!!!” Amadeo cried out. He seemed to be in a very good mood. When the big boss is happy, everybody can breathe.
Ironically, the storm didn’t come and remained in the distance. From the seaside restaurant, the lightning would light up the sky, creating a spectacular spectacle for those who bothered notice.
Most of the team joyfully indulged in a heavy consumption of syporo, the local liquor. They danced and threw dishes on the floor, Greek style.
With a few drops too many, Amadeo started talking more and more, as he usually likes to do whenever he has an audience. As always, no one dared to contradict him. Most of us present at the table were long time friends, students, collaborators or all three. They knew that once the machine was turned on, there was no way to stop it.
In spite of my aversion to Amadeo, the man somehow fascinates me. I can totally relate to this visionary thirst that has driven him through his life. I must admit that somehow I envy his command over the people who work for him. (Perhaps some reminiscence of a previous life as an army general...) I also see an extremely lonely man who is scared of death. My reaction to him may be mirroring something I have detected inside me. I also have my vision, I have built this world of mine that not so many people can understand, but many respect. I have friends and collaborators who follow me through thick and thin. I can’t help thinking of that last concert at La Bellevilloise in Paris which went so disastrously that I couldn’t even pay the musicians the ridiculous sum I had promised them. They understood and maybe they forgave me. However I do not wish to drag people in such a situation again.
And I’m lonely too. Sometime I catch a word, an expression of Amadeo’s. Of course he is ‘human’ in spite of the hardship he is imposing on us. His long soliloques give tell us all.

I told Karen about a custom we have in Asia: whenever we are to perform anywhere, we have to pay our tribute to the local divinities, pray to have their blessing. Be it Japan, Taiwan, Thailand or Vietnam, we have always done that. Once, during the performance of Second Skin at the CloudGate studio with Huang Yi, we forgot to do so, and the answer didn't take long to come: when the rehearsal went very smoothly, right before the performance, the iPad I was supposed to use to control parts of the music and the costume stopped to function. Prayers came too late. The divinities were angry.
I suggested that the whole team gathered together before the last performance and gave thanks to whoever, whatever god or divinity there was - Mount Olympus... the Greek gods...? Didn't it occur to anyone? When I think of it, it isn't just an Asian custom. They do so in Western countries as well. Karen welcomed the idea. "I never thought of that!".




Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Greek gods II

Our director Amadeo is one mad man, whose the vision of greatness and perfection can drive him to totally oblivious of others, and, most dangerously, to ignore their safety.
We were to film the number Zorina tonight. At 9pm, lightning began to strike. The sky was heavy with dark clouds and the sunset was indeed beautiful. They had just managed to film the song once when the first raindrops started to fall. That lasted a few minutes. We covered the equipment and brought the music instruments indoor. Amadeo told us to stay put. Maybe the weather would get better soon, he hoped. Maybe we could resume the shooting.  After just twenty minutes, Amadeo felt confident that we could get ready again for the shooting despite signs of an imminent storm coming back to us: wind blowing harder, lightning striking again, a perfect illustration for the lyrics of the song: “She’s the daughter of Heaven / Sister of the Sun / Fire is her lover…”
I was taught in primary school to calculate the distance of the rainstorm: count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, each second roughly equals one kilometer. Tonight, there was barely five seconds between lightning and thunder. Then four, then two…We were right in the eye of the storm. Yet, still no rain. With the wind and the lightning, Karen indeed looked like a goddess of the Elements. “Give me more emotion! Give me more love!!!” Amadeo was yelling incessantly in the microphone. “More attitude! More love!!!” Our poor ears...
I was still counting. The lightning was lighting up the pitch dark sky. Now, nine seconds between lightning and thunder. Would the storm be blown away by the wind? This was getting dangerous. We were surrounded by metal. Seats and stands were all made of metal. One lightning strike and it was a direct ticket to the Underworld. Amadeo was yelling the same instructions in the microphone. “More emotion! More love! More attitude!!!!” Karen bravely kept on with the number until heavy rain suddenly began to pour. Finally, but perhaps too late, Amadeo answered everybody’s prayer and called the shooting off. Again, we dashed everywhere to salvage the equipment. Within seconds we were all soaked.
Amadeo loved the sight of everyone running under the rain, dashing right and left on the stage. He was cheering happily with Karen. All of this for the sake of art! His soldiers weren’t scared to sacrifice themselves for the show! 

Mad man and his vision.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Heaven on the mountain

Mimi and Thomas kidnapped me to go hiking on the mountain. I had heard people telling about that walk in the mountain as a magical, fairy-tale like experience, so I was looking forward to a day off in order to go there and reconnect to myself.
If these two months in Kokkino Nero have been very challenging if not draining work-wise, I was also happy to leave behind all the distraction of the urban life and focus on my task. The few moments which kept me sane and revitalised were the mornings at the Spring of the Immortals. Tired as I was from all those sleepless night, the magic water would recharge me and help me release all the exhaustion. If I could have this in Taipei!!!

Thomas drove us past Karitsa, a little village located above Kokkino Nero, on the mountain. From there we had to walk, climb and hop from rock to rock, clinging to trees or dead branches before reaching a pond on the mountain top. Unfortunately, the constant sun dried up the waterfall. But we could still swim in the pond, alongside the frogs. Blue dragonflies whirled around us. It was simply heavenly. 




Friday, 31 July 2015

The Greek gods I

They announced a summer rain storm. We had covered up all the equipment, sound desk, speakers, light projectors and microphones. Around six, it had not rained and the sky was clear and blue. It may have rained elsewhere, maybe the gods are with us and we will be able to do the show.
At eight, people started arriving. The mood was up. Musicians and dancers were in high spirit. At nine the show started. I hit the Tibetan bowl. Music started. Bach, Marcello and Vivaldi for the overture about the courtesan in a Venetian palace, then the songs. The lighting designer and I looked at each other after the third song: there had been a beautiful lightning in the background as the video of Neptunia was playing. The effect was gorgeous. But we were on our guard. Toward the end of the first part, raindrops began to fall; Karen moved to the side of the stage to finish her song. The audience noticed the rain but didn’t flinch. They were obviously enraptured by the show. “If the show was to go on, I didn’t want to do the next numbers with a ruined hairdo” she later joked. Amadeo was delighted. The lightning struck more and more often. We called the show off, as Karen was beginning her last song of the set. “Sorry, the weather forecast predicted the rainstorm, please come back tomorrow!” Amadeo’s voice resonated through the speakers. Withing a few minutes, the equipment was covered up again. The mood was high, despite the frustration.
An opening night we shall not forget.


Mount Olympus in the distance. But not so far away...

“The rainstorm came from Mount Olympus” Adam said.
Never forget the Olympians. How could Karen not think of that?

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Off

I am positively exhausted. We did two run-throughs in a row despite the late hour. The first one was terrible and left everybody in a state of high tension. Amadeo didn’t spare anyone. Nobody spoke during the short break in between. It was nearly one in the morning when we began the second run-through. But I could feel the energy was better. Tired, dispirited or unhappy as we may have been, we all gathered our strength. It went, if not perfectly, then at least better than the first time. Amadeo’s tone eased down. We could sleep with a lighter spirit the few remaining hours we had left. It was past three in the morning.

I have often worked until late to finish my work, but I always kept a happy mood, happy as I would usually be doing what I love. Amadeo’s way, even though I may understand the reasons, is more reminiscent of the old fashioned ‘hard-labour school. Or gulag.  

Monday, 27 July 2015

A dream

I made this curious dream about Isabelle. We were having a meal and I suddenly realise how old, swollen and lined her face was. Richard, her husband was present to, although his appearance had not changed. Where was the beautiful Isabelle of not so long ago that I knew? Her face would continually morph into something different, but still retaining her basic features.
During the same dream, I was in a foreign city, trying to keep track with a group of friends. I kept pushing the wrong doors and ending up in a totally different place, as desperate and clueless as an ant caught in a maze.


Outside Amadeo and the light designer were still working. It was already nearly three in the morning.  

Friday, 24 July 2015

Five year old boy

I woke up with a long forgotten feeling. The sensation was a familiar one when I was a child. It disappeared as I would grow up. The very last time I felt that way was when I was serving my military duties. A feeling of powerlessness. That there was nothing much I could do but wait until it was over.
I was a five-year-old boy. Another day at the kindergarten had just finished. I was waiting in the hall for my mother to come and pick me up. I believe we were in late autumn or winter, because night had already fallen. But as a five-year-old child, the sense of time is elastic.

It came over me without me realising it. It said that the coming twenty five years would be hard ones, but that I would be alright eventually. I would be in a state of a blur. A protecting veil?
I didn't realise it then, young as I was. It came back to me much later. But I subconsciously knew where I was heading to. Life is just a game, even though many of us aren't aware of it.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

in July...

Friday 3rd: musical afternoon with Julia. The only one I will have with her during this stay. We played and sang Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Granados, Richard Strauss, Schumann, Grieg and Ravel. Julia was in good shape vocally, but doesn’t have the same energy anymore to sing for an extended amount of time. I struggled sight-reading Ravel's Sheherazade. Beautiful songs, but the piano part (a piano transcription of the orchestral score) was quite impossible to render.

Earlier that day... Met up briefly at a café with Vanessa and Hans before he took the train at Gare du Nord. I had not seen him since he returned to South Africa. Vanessa was the one who organised the reunion. Hans needs to get out of his shell. He has been spending most of his time doing real estate and teaching at his school. Still lives with mom. Not much of a private life. No time for it, he claims. But he knows very well... 

Saturday 4th: Meeting with Sébastien the sound engineer of the Lost Star project. A very likeable and friendly chap. We found out we had one key people in common: Julia! And the Steve Karen had been mentioning was none other that Julie Darnal’s husband. How tiny the world is…
We went through all the technical aspects of the show. All was well. I felt so happy to be in
Paris and have those two weeks or so to myself, seeing friends and family. Only the third day! Hooray!

Later that day: An e-mail from Greece: Adam told me I was needed back sooner in Kokkino Nero. Karen was in dispair. The musicians are at loss. Things could be dangerously catastrophic...

4th of July with Evelyn her family and some friends. My first Fourth of July with Americans, not that it really means much to me. I was happy to see Evelyn, and especially her daughter Imo. She’s grown into a beautiful, extremely smart and sensitive girl.
“Imo had been wishing for you to come" Evelyn told me, "but she said she would understand if you couldn't have”.
Salmon, potatoes, corn and an apple pie on the menu. “That’s the tradition” Evelyn told me. “And also talking about how great
America is” she added with a twinkle.  

Sunday 5th:A distressed call from Karen this morning which left me more than slightly annoyed. Her voice had sounded tense on the phone. She needed to see me at once. Things were out of control. I know the lady, I know the problem: insecurity. Once I had gone, she couldn't find her marks and panicked. The musicians were unable to do anything, as she relied on me 'the composer' to tell her what to do. I told her the only solution I could see now was to prepare all the backing tracks, music and vocals (especially) so that she would hear on stage exactly what is on the album. I would of course arrange some space for the musicians to still play at least something, but it basically a playback show. Why do I keep thinking of Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain?
I am to fly back as quickly as possible. Adam would get me the next flight. I still hope I will be fast enough in my work to secure some time to see a few friends.

I was really looking forward to be in
Paris to celebrate all the birthdays, my nephew’s, my mother’s, Philippe’s, mine, the premiere of ‘Thin Ice’ as well as my brother’s wedding anniversary. It would have been the first time in seven years or so.
We had a little family gathering today. Mathilde wasn’t there, as her presence was needed at some lingerie fair. “It’s rare when the four Ton That are together” my mother said with delight. Remembrance of time past when my brother and I had not yet taken flight from the family nest.
My mother’s condition has sensibly declined. However, when her spirits are up when I’m there. Even though I am fully aware of her condition, I don’t let it alter my rapport with her (just like I don’t like to talk like a retarded when communicating with a toddler).
Vanessa dropped by for an hour and proudly announced to my father that the series of concerts of his music which she had been organising for more than a year had finally been accepted and will take place at the end of the year. My father of course was very glad when he heard the news.
My brother insisted that I tried to stay until the 12th included. The decision doesn’t depend on me, but I keep my hopes high. My heart was heavy. Time with family is precious and I was upset I had to sacrifice it someone’s vanity project. Angry thoughts were zooming in and out in my mind like flies. 
As Karen had pointed out too often than not: I was paid for that job, and therefore was expected to do as I was told.
Wednesday 8th: Dinner with the Sanfilippo sisters, Vanessa and Cynthia. Could it just hang in the air, so I can enjoy it for a longer time? 

Sunday 12th: So I managed to convince Karen's entourage that everything would be alright and that there was no need to worry. (take a deep breath and once more with feeling)
Our last encounters were tense to say the least. I know that I should not accept any job offer if I don't believe in it. In my case, easy money is certainly not an option.
We celebrated both Vu An and my mother's birthday. Garden party, grilled steak provided by my brother. Vu An once again showered with presents. I even got one myself: a Bose portable music speaker. My brother has been quick to understand that I liked that object. The timing couldn't have been better: it would offer a few moment of solace in Greece!
The family mood was happy. But I was too cross with Karen to fully enjoy it.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Part of the process

Part of the process.
Sunny goodbyes. Amadeo gave me a bottle of a very special drink. He, Karen and Robert were all smiling happily as they were waving to me. “It’s a bummer that you are going away, but you will come back for the final preparation before the show!” Sylvie had said. The taxi took me to the airport in Thessaloniki, two hours drive away. The sky was blue, the air was warm. I ate a horrible tasting beef patty at the airport restaurant – 'Goodbye' it was named, served by not-too-kind waitresses but it didn’t matter. I felt good. Yes, back in Greece in 18 days.
The last rehearsal went very well. The musicians seem to know what they are doing, feel the music and get the spirit of each of the songs. Karen was very enthusiastic about the live arrangements. “It’s so rich and layered” she exclaimed after one rehearsal. Amadeo too, demanding a director as he is, showed signs of satisfaction. If everybody is satisfied, then I am satisfied.
“I’m so glad to be in Paris. Each time I’m back, it’s like waking up to a happy dream.” I said to Sébastien this morning after our tech meeting for the sound. Yes maybe that was a tad too enthusiastic. I had more than two weeks in front of me to just enjoy myself, see my friends, be with my family.
Part of the process? I guess it is a way to get philosophical when things don’t go the intended way. A mail from Adam, the producer of the show informed me this afternoon that the two rehearsals that followed my departure were disastrous. “The musicians don’t know exactly what they have to do. We need you to come back earlier. On the 14th at the latest” the email went on.
That is a bad sign. The musicians all seemed to be good and professional. I gave them tons of notes, took time with each of them to explain what I wanted. What else could I have done? The one thing missing – and it was crucial, was Karen’s singing. She had been practicing her moves with Amadeo and Robert, she sat with us during the rehearsals, read through her lyric sheets but had not sung a single note. I know she needs to feel a secure environment in order to sing. Being alone with the musicians and not being familiar with the sound of the new live arrangements must have distabilised her. I shall learn more from Karen when she is back in Paris.
Part of the process.

The other grey cloud came with an email from Shandy. Jay said he didn’t have a good feeling about the project and may not do it… I am starting to feel the same way. The music had been sent to the singer. The verdict from her was that the four songs were too heavy, too stressful, too similar - cello on all songs, she noted (it seems that the lady cannot make the difference between cello, violin and erhu, as the cello only appears on one song…)
Shandy ended the email writing that the music was too arty and that it should appeal to the general audience. I sent her a polite reply, explaining that the singer’s reaction was an understandable if defensive reaction to something completely foreign to her – after all, her credentials as musician were practically non-existent, so I wasn’t surprised. I suggested that they listened to the song again to get more familiar with it and let down their defences. The DunHuang Caves are not a holiday resort, I wrote back. Making easy-on-the-ear pop music for the exhibition would be as out of place as having a Lady Gaga song opening a show about Baroque music.
Another email confirmed my impression. They weren’t totally convinced by the music. Their explanation was confusing but I cannot force them to like it.
“I will let it sit and wait for them to listen to all the music again and make a decision” I wrote to Jay, who served as the intermediary between the two parties.
I felt bad for the musicians, for they gave me time for the pre-recordings, I felt bad because I wouldn’t be able to bring my parents to Vietnam at the end of the year.
One never knows. That’s my current state now. The day has been quite turbulent and nothing good can come out of it right now.

I must try to change my mind and not let my anger get the best of me. I was in Paris after all. Part of the process… 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Music of the Sphere

Skylar, one of the dancers who arrived earlier than the others to help and also enjoy the little haven Amadeo has built, took me and Marie to what they call the spa: a spring coming from the mountains with healing virtues. YaYa, the neighbour, a ninety-something woman who loves to dance at any occasion has been going there several times a week for her whole life. Her energy and strong constitution is proof of the benefit of the spa.Legend has it that Alexander the Great would come there to recharge and relax. 
There was a spot where one could sit and immerse himself in the water. The water is extremely cold. But the iron and the magnetic field in the area create a sensation of heat. “Your balls will be on fire” Amadeo had said with a mysterious smile.
After ten seconds in the water, I knew what he meant. I didn’t know whether I felt cold or hot. As I sat there, I heard a high pitched sound coming from my right, a spirit humming to itself, a continuous oooooh going up and down, like an ethereal voice calling me. There was no wind, so I couldn’t find any explanation to it. I told Marie who at first didn’t believe me until she sat there herself. Skylar didn’t hear anything. I immersed myself in the water several times, and even with my head in the water, the sound was still to be heard, unaltered.  
"You heard the music of the Sphere" Amadeo said.



  

Monday, 22 June 2015

If music be the food of love...

Third day with the musicians. Six of them: keyboard, guitar, violin, bass, percussion and drum. Cheerful and jovial as they were, it took some time to know each other musically. I would play them the songs then get them to write down the structure and the chords, and rehearse part by part. It is always a challenge to transpose a studio recording for the stage, and to make the musicians move from ‘doing a lot’ to ‘doing the necessary’ for the music. Musicians in general love to jam and get wild on their instrument. Rock, jazz, funk, latin… There’s something primal and orgasmic in being the musical alpha male. In that sense, I function more like a classical musician when I compose my songs. Once their frustration of doing too little is behind, they realise how each of the notes they play greatly contribute to the architecture of the music. We have reached that stage now. The keyboardist was very moved when I showed him the piano part of Star in the Sun and the way the chords were to be arranged. An outgoing man with a mane of grey curly locks, his fingers would itch and feel compelled to fill each bar with as many notes as possible. Little by little, the spirit of the song descended on him and the look in his eyes showed me that he understood. When right after, the musicians played the whole song, there was a beautiful atmosphere in the room. Finally, we were making music!







Friday, 19 June 2015

In the land of the Gods

I was dozing in the car when my eyes opened and I turned my head on the right. “That’s Mount Olympus” Kosta the driver said. The name didn’t fail to create a strong impression in me. My parents had a couple of books about Greek myths. It didn’t take long before I was completely taken by those legends. Driving past the sojourn of the gods moved me deeply. Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Hermes, Poseidon, Athena, Hephaistos, Hades, Demeter, Persephone, Artemis, Ares, Dionysos, Hebe…

It was not Thessaloniki. There was a two hour drive to reach the little village where Amadeo had renovated an old ruin five years ago and turned it into a little haven for himself. Between mountains and sea, not far from the Macedonian border. “Alexander the Great passed this region before going South to conquer Greece.” Amadeo told me. When mountains meet the sea, when history meets our reality.

“Today, you will just recharge and relax.” Karen told said. I was still very weakened by the recent fever and the long hours on the plane. The weather was strangely much cooler than I thought. I expected some 40C to jump at my face and was pleasantly surprised and relieved to feel the cool, sunny and dry air as I walked out of the plane. The high fever and summer temperature in Taipei had somehow traumatised me physically.
The ride to the small village of Kokkino Nero had a cleansing effect on me. The sight of the mountains and the sea acted up on me like forgotten words of wisdom and the tension accumulated during the past weeks slowly dissipated from my city-boy mind.










Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Thin Ice

Thin Ice, the music video I shot for one of Jan last January is finally finished! Zed and I couldn’t believe we managed to do it both editing and colour correction in just two sessions.
“Colour correction can be done in just one hour when handled by professionals” Zed told me. “But they charge accordingly!”
Professional or not, I was pleased to see the finished MV. Since we did the shooting in January, I did only have a vague recollection of what we did. And as usual, ‘accidents’ happened: Zed’s laptop crashed and three images kept playing in a loop. Sick as I was, I instantly recognized it as something we had to use in the video. Zed tried in vain to recreate the loop without. But why try to recreate when it was there under our eyes? I took my camera and filmed the loop on the monitor. The loop became a leitmotiv and a key element in the MV.
The final result is quite close to what I had envisioned. I hope Jan will like it!




Sunday, 14 June 2015

Reunion with AnPu

The highlight of the day was my joyful reunion with AnPu after four years. I am not sure how I would have managed to get in touch with her again after all these years. Common friends whom I asked to send her my greetings would forget to pass on the message. The email address she gave me years ago didn’t seem to work. Phone messages were not answered… More years would have gone by if it hadn’t been for Adrian who, before he left for the U.S. threw a little dinner party at my place and introduced me to a couple of musicians of his acquaintance, Coen, a young folk singer who had just been signed by Sony Music and Dino his musical director. As the conversation progressed, it appeared that the latter had been AnPu’s keyboardist on her four albums. There isn’t such a thing as fortuitous coincidence.
Words had reached me that AnPu had decided to retire. That sounded as plausible as hearing that a bird was no longer willing to fly.
“I wanted to retire from that pop icon business and start anew under my real name” AnPu explained.
Zed attended the same high school as she did and remembers a lively and very opinionated girl who wasn’t afraid to stand out, be weird and different. Though older and wiser, she has retained those qualities and being political is to her what a good makeup and hair are to most of her female peers.
There was so much we wanted to share and talk about. But somehow, there was no need to fill the voids or the silences.  

We both have plenty of projects we wished to do together. I told her about my idea of having her star in the Shiny Heart / Dirty Mind music video. Shooting would take place in September or October…


Thursday, 28 May 2015

un Espace Vert

Bubbles of joy and excitement when after months on a project, I can say “It’s done”. I have secured a few days with Zed to only focus on the editing of Un Espace Vert. It was my first time shooting everything by myself. Zed had been extremely busy, shooting MV’s for Mayday, doing commercials for various companies… But he had lent me his camera when I went to Paris so that I could I shoot scenes there with Bévinda, Isabelle and Vanessa. I seem to have done fairly well since his friends praised Un Espace Vert for its cinematography!
I could have made 5 different versions of the MV with all that I have shot. I originally wanted to go to Niigata to film scenes with Sawako, as well as London, to do film Kirstie and extend the project with more scenes of Justin. I told Zed that the whole project could become a video installation, where the audience would enter a big room, and a video with each of the performer would have been projected on the walls, or appear on monitors of various sizes… Maybe that will happen one day… I haven’t forsaken the idea…

Fortunately – or not, I didn’t have the time to go to
Niigata and London. We had so much, it was almost painful when came the time to select the shots I wanted. “This one is so good… And that one too… But the other is so beautiful…”

A couple of days before we started the editing, Aurélien and his boyfriend Navi came to help me shoot the last scenes, mostly projections on the footages I had already shot. Dream within the dream… Navi, who I was introduced to me as a dancer, had his camera all along and discreetly shot behind-the-scene images. One final scene had me lie on the bed with a projected image of Isabelle on my back. When Navi gave me all the files, I found that he was also an extremely talented photographer and that he had also captured a few moments of the shooting session, one of them a long traveling shot of me on the bed. I was so surprised by the way he caught me on camera and the used the light of the projector. Excited and entranced, I made those fugitive images the concluding scene of the MV.

Watch:
Un Espace Vert (click on title to open)



















Monday, 6 April 2015

Home

As I said to friend the other day, the more I travel, the less I know where I am. I woke up in the middle of the night yesterday and it took me a long time before I could remember that I was back in Taipei, sleeping in my bed, in my very own room. My mind knows for a fact where I am, what I do, but it feels like the connection between my mind and myself is lost sometime. What if what I know and see is just an illusion and that the other dimension is slowly starting to make itself known to me?
Perhaps I am getting tired of playing that human game, just like when a child realises that the game he’s been taking part is just too silly and leaves.

Much as I love Paris, I had reached my limits: one and a half month. My father said told me on the phone that my mother wept after my brother and I left. We had spent a lovely afternoon, the four of us again reunited, just like it used to be, and certainly that must have reawakened some deep memories of golden time in my mother.
“Please tell her that you’re not going anywhere” my father pleaded. That was a bad idea. If I did, then she would think that although I am in Paris, I don’t bother to visit her. She had said so once already before this last trip. I was sitting outside on a bench near the Confucius Temple with my laptop, making one last call before taking the plane the following day. What she said startled me. If sometime she gets confused about where I live (Hong Kong? Tokyo? Taipei?), she usually knows that I am not in France. The disease must be progressing slowly and now her changeable emotional state of mind is dangerously playing with her memory.
“In three months” I told her. “I will be back in three months, that’s not a long time”. Will that be of any comfort when she has no sense of time? “One day is like any other day” she often likes to say.


Once in the plane, all sense of longing vanished, as if I had finished playing a scene in a play and getting ready for the next one. The emotional reality of Paris disappears as soon as I find myself up in the sky. 


Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Ton That family

The last family reunion before my return to Taipei. Unusually this time, it was just the four of us, the two parents with the two sons. That had not happened in a long time, as my mother remarked.
The plan was to use the Kärcher machine and clean up the front yard as well as the concrete staircase leading to the front door. My parents enjoyed having their two sons taking care of the house together. The task lasted for a few hours. My mother kept us company, watching us from the on the perron, making comments as we worked – “All this moss and mold look like a spinach puree”. Maybe did she feel for a moment that it was like thirty years ago, when my brother and I were still living with them, teenage boys as we were.
After more than three hours, the front yard was immaculate, just as it was… thirty years ago when the house had been newly renovated.

My father had prepared some sweet lotus seed soup which we ate with great pleasure. It was a simple afternoon. Simple things bring the greatest joys, and my heart is aching a little.