Mindy Meng Wang and Tim Shiel’s collaboration brings the elegance of Chinese traditional music into the sound world of electronic music. Their performance at Illuminate Adelaide, with Wang on guzheng and Shiel on live electronics, was a mix of tracks from their 2021 EP Nervous Energy, songs from their upcoming album, and improvisations.

Mindy Meng Wang and Tim Shiel © @Nick_Mckk

The 21-string guzheng is considered a very traditional instrument, with a history spanning over 2000 years, but Wang’s performance practice incorporates innovative playing techniques and unconventional contexts alongside her exceptional command of the instrument.

Wang’s guzheng style felt like a natural fit in the more ambient, improvisatory numbers, weaving lyrical, melodic lines through Shiel’s atmospheric textures. The instrument was equally effective in combination with the pop-influenced beats and dance rhythms in pieces such as Hidden Qi and Bodies of Water. Wang’s impressive technique was beautifully complemented by a wide vocabulary of electronic sounds, including samples of acoustic instruments, watery effects and a range of vocalisations.

According to Wang, Chinese traditional music is often narrative in structure, and she invited the audience to create their own stories to their music. Enhancing this narrative quality was the use of visuals projected behind the performers. Hidden Qi made use of scenic, natural landscapes, while other pieces featured contrasting urban imagery. The final song on the program, Body of Water, with its driving drum rhythms, rising electronic arpeggios and gradually-evolving guzheng motifs, was effectively paired with drone videography from the Australian coastline.

Wang and Shiel’s first performance in Adelaide was thoroughly engaging, and it will be fascinating to hear how their work evolves in their future projects.

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