Cocoon is one of three musical performances making up the show Meeting Points at OzAsia Fest. The aim of the series is to break down barriers by combining the talents of artists from across Asia and Arnhem Land with the contemporary styling of the Australian Art Orchestra.
Cocoon was the first of the series featuring Mindy Meng Wang from China, a musician and composer and guzheng virtuoso. The guzheng is a traditional Chinese sting instrument that looks like a hybrid between a harp and a guitar. It creates those twangy high-pitched sounds that we all associate with traditional Eastern music.
In preparation to seeing this show I did a couple of things: I googled what a guzheng was, read the OzAsia description of the show, and then, upon reading words such as contemporary and reinvigoration, I googled modern guzheng which sent me down a rabbit hole of guzheng Justin Bieber covers.
I wasn’t prepared for what I got, which was a musical performance on a level that I couldn’t really understand. I already knew that each composition was tracing Wang’s journey from her childhood living in Lanzhou, China, to a period of exploration and experimentation in London, before coming to Australia. But, at the time watching it, I did not really understand what was going on.
My untrained musical ear is accustomed to the familiar melodies of Beiber and the like. The multilayers of different sounds and elements from the guzheng as well as percussion, wind and string left me completely overwhelmed. It did not seem to follow a beat or a rhythm I could relate to or really lose myself in.
After leaving I was at a bit of a loss as to how I could unpack and access what I had actually seen. Cue the google search: my rabbit hole of exploration expanded in to the realm of free jazz.
It made me realise that music doesn’t necessarily have to follow the rules that I have in my head to make sense. My inability to relate and lose myself that musical moment is more to do with my comfort for predictability. Art is a concept to be altered, interpreted and is a tool used to break down barriers.
Breaking down barriers was the aim of this performance and when I read that initially I didn’t realise what those barriers were, nor that they were inside me. Isn’t that the great thing about living in the festival state? Barriers are broken down with every show; we just need to open ourselves up to what they are.
Image: The Clothesline