Attending a selection of this year’s OzAsia performances will be like jumping into a time machine to witness a festival from the future. Robots, virtual singers and advanced musical genres are some of the attractions of the 2017 program.
For artistic director Joseph Mitchell, this year’s OzAsia is about surveying the innovative side of Asia’s contemporary art scene. His third year in charge of the annual festival will see productions such as The End flip traditional genres.
“The End is an opera with no musicians, no orchestra and no singers but with one of the biggest popstars in the world singing her first opera,” Mitchell says.
The popstar in question is Hatsune Miku, a virtual singer who will perform an opera composed by Keiichiro Shibuya.
The End (photo: Kenshu Shintsubo)
“It’s a 75-minute libretto where Miku is questioning whether or not she’s actually a human like us or different,” Mitchell says. “When she figures out she’s not, she questions: what is death, is it something she will ever experience or not, will she live on in an eternal void beyond humans who are mortal, and will she be lonely in an eternal existence as a digital being? There’s a very operatic sense around virtual characters and artificial intelligence and that plays into the work.”
Another of Shibuya’s work is the world premiere of his piece Scary Beauty, which will be performed by a robot as part of the new Meeting Points stream.
Skeleton from Osaka University’s Ishiguro Lab (photo: Justine Emard)
“We’re presenting a chamber opera by an artificial intelligent robot called Skeleton,” Mitchell says. “It will be the first time a robot has been front and centre in a chamber piece backed by live musicians to perform to an audience.” Hong Kong visual artist and musician GayBird, on the other hand, will perform work from the future in Music in Anti- Clockwise, created with Adelaide’s Zephyr Quartet.
“It starts with GayBird on stage in the future, playing music that doesn’t exist yet, and then over 65 minutes, the musical performance winds backwards. The Zephyr Quartet slowly joins him on stage, and they go all the way back to [perform] the original series of string quartets. It’s from the future to the past, which is really interesting.”
It’s not just humans and androids providing unique collaborations but musicians from different genres: much-loved indie rockers Regurgitator will collaborate with Eja and Mindy Meng Wang to perform an electronic, funk and punk version of The Velvet Underground’s debut album (The Velvet Underground & Nico). Gujang player Mindy Meng Wang will also perform her solo composition Cocoon and collaborate with the Australian Arts Orchestra (AAO) for Meeting Points, the new stream that will see artists from Japan, South Korea and Arnhem Land perform with the experimental orchestra. Wang, who has toured with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, now resides in Melbourne and frequently collaborates with that city’s rich musical pool of talent.
Mindy Meng Wang
“I was really interested to do a project with her [Wang],” Mitchell says. “I wanted to push the boundaries with what Shibuya, Bae Il Dong and the AAO would do. We got together and had this meeting and thought, ‘Let’s create this big series of new contemporary music, one piece from China, one from Japan and one from Korea’. The AAO is the chamber, and the visiting artists will write the composition and drive the artistic narrative of each piece in an interesting way.”
Traditionally, each OzAsia Festival would focus on a particular country or region of Asia. Mitchell has ditched this regional focus for the last two festivals, as he prefers to explore the scope of contemporary arts from across Asia and Australia.
“I think it was important to focus on regions in the first 10 years of OzAsia because it was growing its presence, building up relationships internationally, and various communities around South Australia,” he says. “For a festival to be accepted as part of the community it’s in, it has to be a kind of narrative that kickstarts it for local audiences to buy in. Most of the international arts festivals around Australia would have started with very community-based roots.”
(photo: Trentino Prioiri)
Once OzAsia passed the 10-year milestone it was time to move on, as those communities had been established, according to Mitchell.
“We are the only international arts festival in Australia focussing on Asia, and now that we have so many great relationships we can draw on all of those and any festival will have great work from all of those countries plus more as a bedrock of the festival every year. There is always something from the Indonesian community, the Malay community and the Chinese community. I like the idea that we are Australia’s major arts festival that engages with Asia.”
OzAsia Festival artistic director Joseph Mitchell
One thing Mitchell can’t control is the weather. In recent years the Moon Lantern Festival has been plagued by weather issues, as has the hub Good Fortune Markets (which will be replaced this year by Lucky Dumpling Markets), which had to cancel some nights due to the wind and rain. Last year there was talk to move this year’s festival back a few months.
“This year we’re staying with the same dates [late September to early October]. It’s become a bit risky with the weather over the last couple of years, so we’ll see how this year goes.”
Thursday, September 21 to Sunday,
Explore the full program at ozasiafestival.com.au
Header image: The End (photo: Kenshu Shintsubo)