Sunday, November 27, 2016

And Justice for all

My favorite responses to Justice's new album, Woman.

1. From Zedd, who convinced me to sit down with Cross.

2. 'The distortion was so overdriven yet it somehow was melodic.' Yes. Same. Let there be light did it for me.

3. Did Skrillex intentionally say 'roll'?

4. An emotional thread. But yeah, here's music I can live in for years.

5. A most accurate description of Love SOS. My favorite in the album, and the universe.

6. That first note! (And last note and everything in between.)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Road to Justice

10. Hard and filthy are two adjectives Justice fans often use to describe the French electronic music duo’s sound; and in the fandom’s lexicon, they only mean the highest of compliments. My first encounter with Justice didn’t evoke such words, though. Rather it was, Wow-whoa-what is this-oh my Lord! There are layers upon layers of distortion, yes; there are heart-stopping drum beats, yes; but there are also the most appealing rhythm and melodies; and nothing that I would ever associate with noise. Truth is I find their sound akin to classical music. If you gave Let there be light (“Cross”) a violin arrangement, or Canon (“Audio, Video, Disco”) a full orchestra version, they could sit beside your “Bach for Barbecue” favorites.

11. November 18 was duly marked on my calendar. It was the release date of Gaspard AugĂ©’s and Xavier de Rosnay’s third album, “Woman.” In September, Justice released the teaser single, Randy, which got me giddy with excitement. The mellow, melodious and radio-friendly number opens with a quick drum roll, which, if you listen to the entire album, kind of echoes a riff from the preceding track. This sense of continuity despite the variations in tempo and mood of each song has been present in all their albums and you have to appreciate the sonic experience it allows. I guess that’s why they’re great DJs — they know how to keep you on dance floor, if not at least keep your ears intrigued.

12. November 4 on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac. Gaspard and Xavier showcased a Party Playlist. They included The Paradise’s In love with you, which was also in their 2007 BBC Essential Mix. The Alan Braxe-produced song features Romuald Louverjon crying, “In love with you” over and over. When it finished, Annie asked the guys, “What is it about the French sound that is so French?” to which Gaspard replied, “I think the main ingredient is something very sad and happy at the same time… something naively romantic.”

13. In the same show, the Parisian duo shared that their biggest influences are pop music and love songs. Annie recalled their DJ set in Ibiza where, following Zane Lowe’s set, Justice played Donna Summer’s Dim all the lights. “It completely changed the mood,” said Annie. “You’re fearless about playing exactly what you want.”

14. If In love with you is a sweet surrender, Love S.O.S (undoubtedly influenced by the former) is pure helplessness. Here, Louverjon lends his vocals as well, and, as with the Alan Braxe track, the lyrics are economical. It begins with a sound I haven’t heard from Justice before: a siren’s — which stays wailing for a good two-and-a-half minutes and then quiets as Louverjon whispers, “L-O-V-E S.O.S. love” repetitively, as if fighting through the flatline; and the siren returns along with a richer musical texture. I have never had quite a physical response to music — and music alone (not the memory it exhumes or within a social context like parties) — until this song.

15. My assumption is, since English is not their native language, they’re more thoughtful about using it. Lyrics can be incomprehensible, outright weird and annoying, and I’ve stopped taking them seriously. I’ve always enjoyed Justice’s vocals-less numbers, but when they decide that someone will sing in a track, the voice is always part of a harmonious whole. And the words, they are simple enough to be meaningful in a way that mantras are; as in: “Use imagination as a destination” (Pleasure), “Music and lines, rhythm and melodies / so many nights, so many memories” (Stop), and “When you know you’ve arrived and it’s time / don’t shoot low, aim it high” (Randy).

16. Unlike its predecessors, “Cross” and “Audio, Video, Disco,” “Woman” starts off not with a pounding epic-scaled song (like Genesis and Horsepower) but with the dreamy, futuristic Safe and Sound. The space disco vibe is prominent in the album, especially with Pleasure, Stop, and Fire. Those craving grandiosity will find it in the seven-minute Chorus, which also has an element of gospel in it. And Alakazam!, as listeners have noted, picks up where Phantom, Pt. 2 left off — the title may have suggested it, but that tune is like a magic spell’s beginning, middle, and aftermath.

17. Gaspard and Xavier (and granted many other artists) avoid talking about the science behind their art. I try to but fall short. So I’ll resort to more gushing instead. Justice crafted three studio albums in a span of ten years. Slow by popular standards. I don’t mind. I could live for a decade with “Woman.”

—Originally published on GIST


Read part 1 here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

You have one day of total freedom — no rules, no government, no consequences — what will you do?

Harrison Gilbertson has the face and demeanor of a heartbreaker. He walks across the room with the gait of someone who just woke up, hair unkempt, not meeting anyone’s eyes. Everything changes, however, when he smiles. There is a sincerity about him that convinces you of how much he respects his craft and how little he cares about celebrity trimmings like fame and adulation.

The Australian actor is in the Philippines for a promotional tour of Fallen, the film adaptation of the Lauren Kate book of the same title. It tells the supernatural love story of Lucinda ‘Luce’ Price (Addison Timlin) and Daniel Grigori (Jeremy Irvine), who are both sent to Sword and Cross, a reform school in Savannah. Rounding up the list of major characters is Cameron ‘Cam’ Briel, which Harrison plays. Cam is a fallen angel who becomes Luce’s other love interest, or, as succinctly described by Harrison, “the boy who gets in the way.”

Inspired by his role, we wonder if Harrison has committed any delinquent act and been held in detention before. “I should say that I have, just for fun, but no I haven’t,” he says, laughing. Seems like his inner bad boy isn’t ready to come out for an interview. But it doesn’t matter, we’re delighted with the Harrison who lights up as he talks about the pleasures of acting and how he wants his young yet already exciting career to unfold.

(Read the full interview on GIST.PH.)


Except for Dick Gordon, I always fall in love with every person I interview.

Last Monday I met Harrison Gilbertson. The guy geeks out on acting and I regret not asking more questions about his craft.

Before parting I requested that he pose a la Cam Briel (the character he plays in the film he's promoting) for our readers, for fun. In a split-second he transformed. After getting the shots I wanted, I said, 'Wow, you really got into the Cam character; you're not even talking to me anymore.' He quickly changed expressions again, went back to the shy, happy guy, and said, 'Oh no sorry!'

Harrison Gilbertson poses a la Cam Briel


He's the complete opposite of bad boy Cam Briel. In fact he won't do anything slightly criminal if he had one day in a world with no rules.

'No rules, so no gravity? I’d fly back to the Philippines and fly to all the islands.' —Harrison Gilbertson

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Notes on journal-writing

Sundays — mine — are meant for reading under the late afternoon sun, coffee in hand and all the other beautiful
clichĂ©s I work hard to afford. Today I deviate from routine. Not that I planned it. You don’t schedule an itch.

At the café, rather than taking a novel out of the bag, I took out a notebook and a pen. Dear A, fuck you. Nah, I’m better than that. (Nah, you don’t have the guts.) I said I would just draft the letter then move on with my reading.

Three hours later, I was still writing. With that time you’d think I’d fill out an entire notebook, but no, the finished product was a concise letter telling A that she hurt me, that her actions disgusted me — everything I wanted to say, how I wanted it said.

It was perfect. I was so satisfied that as soon as I reread it down to the last sentence and the final full stop, just to make sure the right words were chosen and arranged in the right order, I didn’t feel the need to send it anymore.


Porcelain is too expensive to break, not to mention too much of a mess to clean up. Shouting is cathartic, but the neighbors may not be sympathetic. Kicking puppies will land you in hell.

The paper can take a beating. But besides emotional release, writing cures the heart’s hangovers. In trying to articulate problems and feelings, you dissect them in the process.

When you’re (over-)thinking, words and images float around your head. Somehow the paper, its physical limits and intrinsic rules — go from left to right, from top to bottom, from one end of a train of thought to the beginning of another — force you to chill out and get out of your head to see things from a sobering distance.


Twenty things I should do/have before I turn 20: A handsome, loving boyfriend, preferably Edward Furlong(ish); 20,000 pesos in the bank; make a wish on a falling star; travel to the US; do something important; decorate my dream bedroom; a 23-inch waist…
Things to do before I turn 25: Publish a book, get a notebook computer, drive my own car, have my dream bedroom, earn my first million, have a wardrobe filled with fashionable clothes and shoes, travel to Europe…
Bucket list of sorts:


The Peter Justesen catalogue was one of my favorite reading materials when I was barely a teenager. I remember cutting out a photo of a cute laptop computer and then pasting it in a scrap book. While staring at it, I’d imagine an older me typing the day away at work and then coming home to a nice little apartment at night.

Little did I know that I was creating a version of a vision board. You lay out your desired narrative in images, like what scriptwriters and novelists do, and like what said artists do, you build a story that’s so good it deserves to happen.

It’s not that simple, of course. Otherwise I’d be married to Edward Furlong now (or divorced). The point is, maybe this bucket list, vision board, dream journal — whatever you want to call it — is a contract between our present and future selves. It’s a reminder to find ourselves and stay true to who we are.

Or maybe, these pages of desires are gifts from our past selves, who knew that we’d someday need the comic relief.

Collage by Sean Eidder


The pilot episode of the BBC drama, Sherlock, starts with retired soldier Dr. John Watson talking to his therapist about his blank personal blog. “John, you’re a soldier, it’s going to take you a while to adjust to civilian life; and writing a blog about everything that happens to you will honestly help you,” says the latter.

“Nothing happens to me,” replies John.

Then the opening credits play, and there, ladies and gentlemen, we have a quintessential example of dramatic irony. What will follow, as the viewers expect, is a life filled with textbook adventures — meeting interesting people like Sherlock Holmes, solving mysteries, getting into and out of dangerous situations, cheating death.

In real life, however, “My life is boring” is considered real talk.


English has no match for the romance in this string of Tagalog words: “May pagtingin ako sa iyo.” Saying “You’re special” doesn’t even come close. We say, “pagtingin” — I have a way of seeing you. The power, indeed, is in the beholder.

And while certain human beings inspire intrigue more than others, I believe we can train ourselves to see anyone and any thing, including our own existence — however mundane, however familiar — differently and with that readiness to fall in love. And that’s by writing.

Recording the day’s events, recalling the features of an acquaintance, we perceive the tiniest of details, we see more than meets the eye. The picture won’t always be pretty (side-effect of having a sharp vision), but at least it’s never boring.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Notes on journal-writing (excluded fragments)

(I wrote something about journal-writing for this month's issue of GIST. The theme is fantasy—keeping the magic alive. These are some of the fragments I considered putting in the early drafts.)


Keeping a journal, along with exercising and eating healthy, always pops up on our New Year’s Resolutions. We know of its benefits, but we fail to follow through. A common complaint is, “What’s there to write?” And yet, we also say, as a blanket excuse for our failure to do the things we hope to do: “I don’t have time.” If you’re using up all 24 hours of your day, then you must have a pretty exciting life to write about.


“I can only write when I’m sad,” said M, a new writer friend, echoing many a writer wannabe. “Have you tried using your imagination?” I said. He wasn’t pleased.

“Let’s say sadness is a requisite for writing, then you shouldn’t have any problem at all. The world is full of it!” continued I, in my head.

“Inspiration is for amateurs.” —Chuck Close(?) Will check later.


Rereading a journal entry written with an 11-yearl-old’s handwriting, depending on your mood, can either be funny or pathetic. Although count on it to always be enlightening. Materialism gives way to philanthropy; 'wanting to have' turns into 'wanting what you have'; falling stars don’t make dreams come true.

The master said You must write what you see.
But what I see does not move me.
The master answered Change what you see.

—Louise GlĂĽck, Vita Nova

There's eating, there's sex, there's music, there's video games, there's reading. But have you ever experienced the pleasure of thinking? Really thinking? Ideas having form, getting in and out of an actual train of thought, convincing yourself otherwise, landing on a new plane so different from where you lifted off.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dazed and distracted

Morgan Matson has no qualms about admitting to petty crime in order to be where she is now: sipping Coke at a luxury hotel miles away from home, counting down the hours till she meets her adoring readers.

It’s a long weekend in the Philippines for The Unexpected Everything author — a book signing in Cebu, another in Makati, then an appearance at the Manila International Book Fair. And before all that, the press.

“I just graduated college and I knew I wanted to write, but I didn’t know where to start. I was in LA at the time and we had mailboxes with a shelf for bigger packages in our apartment building. One of my neighbors ordered a catalogue for extension classes at a university, and I just took it. A month later I was back in school,” a giggling Morgan tells GIST.

Through those classes, Morgan was able to build a portfolio, get teacher recommendations, and other requirements for graduate school. Most of all it allowed her to get into the writing groove. “It all started from stealing that catalogue and I feel really bad now,” she continues with a trace of guilt. “Sorry, neighbor.”

Our conversation wanders off into music, musicals, apps, and social media — somehow betraying our age (she’s celebrating her 35th birthday in the country). She’s a slave to technology and is as easily distracted as any young professional out there. Though it may not seem like it given that she’s already published four thick volumes of fiction, all of which are best-sellers.

All the books I could’ve written if I weren’t on my phone all the time

“As soon as I come home, after this trip, I’m going to go off Twitter for two months because I’m going to write my (next) book,” she says, adding that Twitter and Instagram are two of her biggest productivity offenders.

In fact we may not be reading The Unexpected Everything if the notoriously addictive microblogging site hadn’t been “out of order” three years ago. “I was on a book tour for Since You’ve Been Gone in Washington DC. Normally I’d just go out for lunch and have my phone with me, looking at Twitter. But it was down, so I’d gone to lunch by myself, carrying a book with me. My mind was wandering and I started thinking about growing up in (a political environment) — ‘What kind of girl would that be, who’d grow up always having to be aware of everything she says and how she is perceived?’ And then I thought, ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ That’s where the idea came from,” she shares, then after a short pause, cries: “What were all the other books I could’ve written if I weren’t on my phone all the time!”

Change “writing” to your choice endeavor and “Twitter” to your digital addiction and you’d be exclaiming, “Same!” to Morgan. Her struggles with being organized and passion for pop culture make her very relatable — something that can be said about her characters as well. You’d see in the pages of her novels girls and boys going on road trips, making playlists, and chatting via messaging apps, complete with emojis.

Since reading Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), and Sarah Dessen (Along for the Ride) — authors whom Morgan names as her influences — she’s aspired for the same accessibility in their stories. “There’s a little bit of magic and (fairy tale) in them, but they’re mostly based on realism,” she says. “These women gave me the confidence to think that maybe I could do it, too.”

A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

You don’t need the brooding bad boy who treats you badly

Her first attempt at writing YA fiction was, in her words, “so bad,” that’s why she pursued the night classes and, eventually, graduate studies. “I find that structure helps me a lot. I work best when there’s someone who’ll say, ‘Okay, write ten pages and bring them into class next week,’” explains Morgan.

One thing she reveals she can’t learn in school is the formula for generating plots. “You wish it happens the same way, so you could recreate the circumstances that lead to new ideas,” she continues. “But inspiration is like one of those rabbits that, in trying to chase it, goes further away. You have to just be living your life not trying to find a new idea, and that’s sort of when one pops up.”

With The Unexpected Everything, the theme may have been inspired by politics, but Morgan is not the storyteller who’d deliberately tuck commentaries in her books. “I can’t think that way when I’m writing,” she says. Upon reflection, though, she notes that her characters exemplify her beliefs. “All the love interests (in my novels) are nice guys. Through them, I’m kind of saying, ‘Don’t settle for less, young women. You don’t need to have the brooding bad boy who treats you badly. There are really good boys out there. Give them a shot.’”

She adds that the book has a different view on friendship as well. “There are so many books where there are friends turning on each other, with so much drama and infighting,” continues Morgan. “Your friendships can be wonderful things that make you happy. You don’t have to be friends with someone who makes you feel bad.”

My books aren’t movies

Many successful contemporary YA novels are famous for their action-packed storyline and fantastic worlds. And right away they’re branded a success when they’re optioned for a major motion picture. We ask if it’s a dream; Morgan replies that it might have been a few years ago. “Some books make great movies. You go, ‘Oh I see this, I see everything.’ And I’m not sure that my books are movies,” reasons Morgan. “Their climax is emotional. It’s not necessarily big and dramatic. It’s someone admitting something — sometimes to themselves, which does not make for a great movie.”

It’s not to say that she’s shutting down any prospects of an adaptation. She’s even entertained our subtle prodding for her to pen a stage play or a musical; she has a background in theater and loves music, after all (Morgan highly recommends Sing Street). “It’d be interesting to do that for your own book, sort of tear it apart,” she affirms.

Before getting too far ahead in the future, we stir the conversation back to the present, to her book tour. “The fact that I’m here halfway across the world because people read my books and liked them, that blows my mind,” the young novelist says about her adventure so far. “I love meeting readers because so much of your working life is you alone by the computer in silence.”

Finish something

“My mother is still like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want a regular job?’” shares Morgan, stressing that her mom is as concerned as the next parent whose child has just confessed that she wanted to become a writer. It’s also her message of consolation to aspiring writers — don’t be discouraged despite the little support. But she’s quick to caution them on making hasty decisions, suggesting that they find a job where they can exercise their talents and at the same time earn a living.

“Sometimes it doesn’t have to be one or the other,” she says. “You can always do both until you can do just one. You should want to do different stuff before you write full-time anyway, because you have to get as much experience as you can. Pursue your dreams, but be practical. You can’t write if you’re worried about making your rent.”

Morgan herself worked at a publishing house as an editor and wrote on the side before becoming a full-time writer. She only quit her day job after selling her first book — which she finished with great difficulty. “First books are really hard because you have to figure out what works for you,” shares Morgan. “You’re learning it all at the same moment. But I’ll also say that don’t just focus on writing. People don’t think about the fact that you’re going to need something to write about.”

What she has discovered four books later, however, is that it doesn’t get easier on the next novel. But as challenges are a given in anything that’s worth undertaking, Morgan’s biggest piece of advice is: finish something. “I clearly remember that moment — ‘Oh no, I’m going down the hill; I’m going to finish this book.’ And then I knew I could write another book because I’ve done it already,” she recalls. “That’s how you know you could write a book: because you’ve written a book.”

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Last name

Morgan and Me. It was raining.
This afternoon I had my copy of The unexpected everything signed by its author, Morgan Matson. I gave her my card so she won't misspell my name and, after reading it, she said, 'Oh your name is so beautiful'.

Before I could finish my 'Thank you', thinking she found Razel quite cute, she exclaimed, 'Even Estrella (she pronounced it Es-Tre-LA)—that means "star", right?'

No one has told me that before. Razel is quite an ice breaker, but Estrella (except for that time when our Physics teacher asked us on the first day of class, as a way of getting to know each other, the origin of our names) didn't really generate any excitement.

I always tell writer friends that I don't have a writer name. Something sonorous, something resonant. This blog was, for a long period, under the pseudonym Diwata Nakpil (good times). And I've been fantasizing about marrying someone with a last name that would, when attached to my first name, make that sound that a latch makes upon locking the door. That click. That feeling that lets you know, it fits; it's safe.

Embarrassing that, no matter how old and mature you think you are, you still need another person to be your mirror and light. Convinced by her that my name is 'so beautiful', I'll look at my byline with a kinder attitude from hereon.

Morgan Matson. That rolls off the tongue. It has lots of things going for it—alliteration, assonance, consonance. Wonderful writer name. Wonderful girl.