The Human Symphony

Strangers talking to you on the street


We were enjoying a savarin when a lady started talking to us. The conversation was sparked by a "Ah yes, that's good!" This incredible lady took us on a journey telling us that she was an archaeologist specializing in ancient diseases. But that her real unfulfilled dream would have been to be a volcanologist. She even had an app on her phone to track volcanic activity around the world in real time. We were treated to a real lecture from this Vancouver Islander, apparently a regular at this Vancouver tea room. She revealed that she was originally from Europe, had lived in Japan and was a widow.


People talk to us, people talk to me. It's incredible how much they open up. Do they know that I respect their word? That I will never reveal anything that could put them at odds? That they can trust me? Is that why they give themselves up to me so naturally?


I made a pledge to myself when I embarked on my career in journalism. It was crucial to make that pact with myself. I think I had it in me even before the journalistic turn, by the way. And I will never forget a lady I was taking care of in Paris, when I was doing home help.


She was not a very nice person, she even accused me of stealing money from her when she went shopping. I think that her butcher had tricked me, but anyway, I gave her back the difference. I don't really know if it was personal, if she didn't like me, if she didn't like my skin color, if she didn't like people or not anymore, but in the end, it didn't matter because she made me live an important moment and that's the most important.


While I was out shopping, while I was coming back panting from having climbed I don't know how many floors with my load, she asked me to sit down for a moment. And she opened up. She told me about her difficult arrival in Paris for a girl from the provinces. She told me about the difficult stages of her life. I felt a kind of relaxation in her attitude. It wasn't nice, but she had to open up about it.


The next day or two, I learned of her death from my employer. I was and even as I write these words today, I am genuinely moved. Perhaps relieved for her, that she was able to confide in someone about this before she left.


Then there is this lady on the Skytrain platform, who started in the same way, on a trivial subject, the presence of works that cancelled the trains from 11:30 pm. This Filipino lady then offered me to sit next to her to continue the conversation. I then learned that she was working at the hospital and that she had knee pain. She said that she was usually shy, but that after the experience of the confinement (which was light in Vancouver compared to the rest of the country and other countries), she finally found it pleasant to talk to someone like that.


She also asked me if we had met before. It's funny because this question came back to me in many different places and countries: one day in Paris in a supermarket, another one in Reunion Island and another one in Australia. It's funny to often sound like someone you know, no matter where you are, no matter what language you speak.


Conversations on the Skytrain


The other day, Yew Meng and I were in a moderately full Skytrain. We could hear behind our backs, a conversation between two young people who were obviously having their first date. This place was quite singular for this kind of discussion.


We listened to the questions and answers, a little stiff of these new lovebirds. There was something rather mechanical in the exchange, perhaps due to stress and emotion. The questions ranged from a simple interest in a color or bread (no, neither of them was French, though) to much more intimate and hard-hitting questions for a first date: Do you talk easily about your emotions?


Why I work on a podcast


Sound is important to me. When you think about it, the appearance of the telephone created, at least for my generation and the previous ones, a very important link with sound. You could perceive tones, it was a beautiful symphony of silences, noises in the background, prosody.


Today, some people are terrified of answering a phone call and take refuge in chat rooms and other instant messaging systems. This world where only notifications animate the atmosphere, when the phone is not on vibrate, is subject to so many misunderstandings and misinterpretations. It is also because the vocabulary is very poor. I was recently reading George Orwell's "1984" (yes, you can nail me for waiting so long to read it) and the novlanguage is there. I am, however, a supporter of the language evolution camp: it is evolving. But it still loses words, and therefore meaning, in the process.


It's strange in a way because technology is more and more advanced so that we can see and hear each other, but socially, we shut ourselves off more and more, we refuse the image, the voice in favor of cold digital messages. At least, the little words scribbled on paper at school left a more personal trace with handwriting.


The gamelan workshop


Publik Secrets, a collective of artists, organized a gamelan workshop as part of the ExplorAsian festival. We were lucky enough to attend, in Hadden Park, not far from Kitsilano Beach. This instrument has always fascinated me.


The gamelan is native to Bali and Indonesia. Its sound is produced by striking either metal or wooden cylinders. It cannot be played in isolation, it is part of an ensemble. The other instruments in the ensemble are percussion, gongs and other instruments that I cannot talk about, as I am only conducting a discovery workshop.


The artists Robyn Jacob and George Rahi introduced us to the instruments and showed us how to play them before we performed. We learned a simple suite. Something very organic happened to me. These vibrations were very soft and powerful at the same time. The sound was relaxing and hypnotic: I was totally absorbed in the sound and the moment. Of course, there had to be some concentration to not make a mistake, but beyond that, the experience took me a little further than that. As I repeated this simple sequence, I began to make a little swaying of my body: it was like the ebb of waves, like a breeze that animates a leaf. There was a gentle movement in me.


Then we played the suite, doubling the strokes and varying the volume. We alternated whisper and presence, rustle and radiance. I felt what I love about music: the organic side of the instruments. For me, nothing beats playing an organic instrument, whether it's wood or metal, and more than anything, nothing beats seeing these artists playing these instruments in the flesh. Of course, that doesn't stop me from enjoying the heavy bass of a good metal music song.


We stayed in the area, invited to watch the ensemble rehearse. It was timelessly beautiful, it was a musical tale, it was an animated painting with sounds. You can see the sounds if you concentrate well. Colors but also forms. This was a painting with a lot of depth, several planes and incredible actions. Some of the patterns really reminded me of the patterns used on the fabrics of the region (Indonesia, Bali and Malaysia): there was a kind of rotation, similar to the leaves that roll up.


At that moment, I felt like everything was a fabric: music, community, time... Fibers that intertwine.


I started music by ear, playing on a small children's piano. I was lucky enough to have a year of lessons with a very good teacher and learn classical music. He was quite flexible and a good teacher: he proposed me to transcribe the music I liked (so rock) on the piano so that I could play it. Then I met Dominique Amouny, an extraordinary teacher of Carnatic music. He set one of my songs to music. But above all, he introduced me to Indian singing and quarter tones, which I love.


I was very happy that people stopped, listened and absorbed this music. Some took pictures and videos, applauded at the end of the piece. I was happy to see the interest of the public for art, for such a beautiful and different music, to see this thirst for culture and sharing, this listening of the human pulse through music.