Mindy Meng Wang 王萌 and Tim Shiel’s collaborative venture takes a new approach to electronic music by bringing together an unexpected combination of instruments, styles, and cultural influences. Wang is a skilled guzheng player (and in Shiel’s admiring words, ‘a bit of a rebel’), and her inventive use of the traditional Chinese instrument complements Shiel’s electronic artistry. In what is now a common story when it comes to creative endeavours in recent years, the Melbourne duo developed their project during COVID lockdowns, sharing and reworking the music that would eventually become their acclaimed 2021 EP, Nervous Energy – 触即发.
Performing live, they are relaxed and thoughtful, taking tracks from their tightly crafted album and spinning them out with passages of meandering improvisation. They also experiment with more recent, unreleased material. Their music is easy to listen to, and conducive to a detached, contemplative frame of mind. There are moments, however, when we are compelled firmly back to the present as a song reaches its crescendo: the two on stage bent over in concentration, fingers flitting over screens and strings.
Watching Wang at the guzheng is particularly interesting, and between tracks she takes the time to explain a little about its history, characteristics, and cultural significance. Both performers converse easily with the audience, happy to discuss their process of creation and collaboration. Shiel’s iPad may lack the visual drama of a two-metre-long stringed instrument, but (as he demonstrates for us while Wang tunes the 21 strings of the guzheng) his equipment presents its own unique opportunities and challenges, especially during live performance.
Wang explains that traditional Chinese music is often narrative-driven, and encourages us to consider what mental pictures these songs conjure. A large background screen supplies a visual element to their performance, showing footage of beaches and city streets. These suitably meditative clips, some filmed by friends and some by Shiel himself, are a window into the kinds of images and feelings the pair hope to convey through their music.
The two speak fondly of their record label, Music in Exile, which aims to promote culturally diverse music in Australia, and which was especially important in helping to support artists during COVID-19. Shiel and Wang are proof that there is great potential for innovation in collaboration and cultural exchange.
Mindy Meng Wang & Tim Shiel performed for one night only on 30 July 2022 at Nexus Arts as part of Illuminate Adelaide at Lion Arts Centre.