Homage to the New Skin by Zai Kuning and John Sharpley

Zai Kuning and John Sharpley are familiar names in the local music circle. Working hand in hand for the first time, they infuse different sonic elements in the show Homage to the New Skin, in an attempt at self-discovery and spiritual enlightenment. We chat up the two guys to find out more about their abstract piece.
First, what musical elements are involved in Homage to the New Skin? What can audiences expect?
John Sharpley: The show is about the coming together of two musicians, Zai and me. Through improvisations, we seek to communicate at a spiritual level. I will play the piano—from the outside as well as from the inside, and will also utilize gongs, tam-tams, special tools and more. Zai will play guitar, the gong, hand drum and sing. Given our different backgrounds, the results of our collaboration have been rich and startling. Audiences can expect the unexpected.
Homage to the New Skin uses skin as a metaphor referring to the boundaries one imposes on oneself, as well as the perceptions inflicted by others. How does this collaboration depict this?
JS: The “skin” separates the inside from the outside. We easily define ourselves by all that lies within our own “skin.” We may define others by what we perceive to be their “skin.” To what extent am I you and you me? Through our improvisations, Zai and I explore connections and divisions, individuality and union. The “new skin” implies the awakening of the self. Music improvisation is a powerful caldron for both one’s inner awakening and the realization of the oneness of all things.
One’s inner awakening? What have you learnt about yourself in this work?
JS: I learn more about myself by learning about Zai. I learned that there is a real person called Zai Kuning. My previous notions of Zai were rather artificial and somewhat defined by the media and other people’s perceptions. I always battle labels such as classical music, fusion, sound artist, East and West. This collaboration with Zai intensifies this battle.
You mentioned there is a oneness to all things too. Are you guys asserting that humans have a common essence?
Zai Kuning: Yes. I describe that commonality as the emptiness or innocence inside us. As we grow up, many things like perceptions, interests and desires are being put inside this void and a “make-believe” world is created.
Zai, how do you personally relate to this show?
ZK: It is said that when a man reaches 40— I’m 42— it’s time for some self-interrogation. And one of the things that needs questioning is the skin or mask we carve onto ourselves. The title metaphorically suggests that I need to strip this skin or mask bit by bit and grow. It’s a process of detachment. I am not religious, but I think if I need to grow and glow from the inside, one way for me to do so is to question my understanding about my attachment and detachment towards things in life.