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Architect gives up day job for rock music

Update: February, 22/2009 - 00:00

Architect gives up day job for rock music


Renowned architect Nguyen Son is turning away from concrete and stone to pursue a new outlet for his creativity - rock music. Thanh Nga tunes in.

On a chilly winter night, the wind blows a long spell. I suddenly hear a song and its words bring me to my neighbour’s house.

"Mua dong truon qua ngoi nha lanh gia. Nguoi dan ba dung om con khoc nho mua trang. Ngay hanh phuc da qua, oi cai lanh xe long dem voi voi."

"The winter creeps over the cold house. The woman stands, embraces her daughter, cries because she remembers the moon season that has passed. Happy days are over. The winter becomes colder and colder."

Impressed by the lyrics of this song, I decided to find its author. Eventually, though he is very busy, he is able to make an appointment to speak with me.

Architect of sound

In architectural circles, the name Nguyen Son is very well known. But in music, he is a brand new voice.

Born into poverty, as a teenager Son had to sell coal to support his family. He walked the streets of Ha Noi with his cart and sold upwards of 600kg a day. He slept between four and five hours a day, but he was always late for his studies. Because of this, he gained the nickname Son Muon, or Late Son.

He eventually overcame these difficulties and graduated from the Ha Noi Architectural University. His scientific works have been published in magazines by the Architectural Research Institute and the Ministry of Construction.

Son was the runner-up in the Golden Ha Noi Architect Contest, which was co-organised by the Viet Nam Architects Association and Ha Noi’s Chief Architect Office in 2002. Now he’s the director of a renowned architecture firm, and has designed many successful projects, such as hotels, offices, high-rise buildings and entertainment areas for provinces and cities.

Son’s poems and music originated from his hard childhood. A childhood deeply rooted in the old, tropical almond trees and ancient homes on Kham Thien Street. Memories of climbing up these tropical almond trees appear in his songs.

Son also designed the disk cover and all of the images on his CD.

Son says, "The music is not a play; it’s my heart-to-heart friend. It shares my sorrows and my happiness, and helped me to forget the stress of my work."

The song Nguoi Dan Ba Trong Dem Mua Dong (A Woman on a Winter’s Night) that I heard belonged to the record Khong Gian Mu Khoi (Misty Distant Space), which he introduced at the beginning of this year. The CD is a mix of rock and ballads, so his songs are both gentle and strong.

The disk includes 12 songs selected from over 100 that Son wrote when he was in school. Son’s songs were created with a heart full of dreams and aspirations. The song Mua Dem (Night Rain) is very anxious, while Mien Hu Ao (Unreal Space) is gentle and soaring. And Chi La Hat Cat (Only a Grain of Sand) offers experience and subtle observations.

On this disk, his younger singer, Tung Lam, sings Tuoi Hoc Tro (Student Age), which won second prize in the Tieng Ca Hoc Duong (School Singing) competition last year.

The melodies and lyrics always find a way of blending into each other. They create a musical space in which every person experiences his thoughts and feels his life from a different point of view.

Nguyen Thu Thuy, a listener, says, "When an amateur musician composes a song, I often hear some mistakes, but for Son, this is not the case."

Music critic Nguyen Quang Long says, "I was really surprised to discover that Son’s soul is filled with music. His range moves from magnanimous sharp notes to tormenting bass tones. His singing squeezes the emotions out of his soul."

Son wrote the song A Woman on a Winter’s Night to give to his mother-in-law, and he says that the song is taken from a true story.

Son understands and sympathises with the burning pain his mother feels when she doesn’t have a man next her. She must fight against loneliness, and her life has been very hard because she had to bring up her daughter alone, he says.

However, Son says that the true meaning of the song is that the woman has to figure out a way to love and keep her man with her. And she must realise that her baby needs a father.

Son says, "For me, music is as natural as breathing. I only have to remember to record it."

Each song is a short story, a chapter in his life, whether it be a fervid love story, a gaping wound or a secret confidence. It’s possible to find yourself in all of his songs.

Singer Quang Viet, who performs one of Son’s songs, says, "Each of Son’s songs has a wealth of meaning, and singers with a profound understanding of this can show this depth to listeners."

Son says that he is not a professional musician, so the music is still limited.

"I write to show my feelings; however, the most important thing that I gain when composing is the ability to share my art with other musicians."

Son often composes at night, and while driving. The feelings burst out and he only needs 15 minutes to record them.

Listening to Mua Dem (Night Rain), you can see each separate raindrop.

Son’s friend has a garden home on Truong Dinh Street. After the night rain, Son and his friend went out into the garden, where they saw ripe guavas falling all over the ground. At midnight, they saw a hydrangea flower blooming, and together they watched it. Then they strolled aimlessly along the street. They found a couple stooped in a corner in order to avoid the rain, and Son began to think of himself as unable to seek a happy home.

When Son was in his final year as a student, he wrote Noi Nho Khong Ten (Nameless Melancholy), which appears on his disk. It was written after he left his girlfriend, and event for which he nearly paid a heavy price.

"Khong con mau xanh chi co minh anh vi vut bong do dai loang loang uot"

(Without the colour blue, he falls down the slippery street)

Son closes his eyes and rides his motorbike in the rain. He falls down, and it is like the foolishness of his first love.

The song is very popular with today’s youth. At present, more than 10,000 people have accessed it via the website nghenhac.info, but only a few people know its composer. Son’s songs are also favourites on websites such as nhaccuatui.com and viet-guitar.vn.

Son says, "I’m very glad because I’m only an amateur musician, but many people have found my songs."

Notably, Chi la hat cat (Only a Grain of Sand) is a song which Son wrote for himself. It contains his life’s belief: that fine living is always desired, even though every day life can be very complicated.

"Chi la hat cat le loi tren pho dong nguoi. Dung lam cay doi mat ai den. Chi la hat cat cuon trong bui mo cua giong bao cuoc doi lang quen."

"I’m a solitary grain of sand on a crowded street, but I won’t make somebody’s eyes hurt. I’m only be a grain of sand swept up in life’s storm".

Although life is very complicated, Son always looks for new and fresh emotions. "If I don’t try to do that, my soul will become callous," Son says.

"Bao ngay qua ta di tim minh. Qua thung sau hay nhung dinh non xanh. Toi van di van di miet mai. Qua tram mien lau trang lo xo. Van tim loi ca."

(I always find myself day by day in deep valleys and green mountains. I go and go through hundreds of heaving white reeds. And I find singing.)

Talented riffs

Son is a talented person. He knows how to write poems, draw and compose music. He is even an outstanding martial arts master, and won the silver medal in a karatedo event at a national competition for students in 1991. He beat Nguyen Ngoc Anh, who is head coach of the Viet Nam pencat silat team.

Son is also interested in painting because it is an art that is attached to his architectural side. He makes oil paintings, and he loves the roofs on Ha Noi streets. When he was a boy he often pedalled around the capital to contemplate them, and they remain a primary image in his work. Son’s works were displayed at a National Fine Arts Exhibition in 2000.

His collection of poems, Gio Dong Hanh (Travelling with the Wind) was issued by the Labour Publishing House. Moreover, he won a prize in a national poetry contest in 1991. However, these days Son spends most of his time with music, after his architectural work. And it’s because of this that his disk, Misty Distant Space, was born.

Smiling and singing his way out of a difficult life, that is the way which Son chose. And you? — VNS

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