Nervous Energy 一 触即发 is out now! We chat to Mindy Meng Wang 王萌 about the release and more.

Image: Supplied.

Chinese/Australian avant-garde composer Mindy Meng Wang 王萌, and her Melbourne-based contemporary Tim Shiel have unveiled their first collaborative EP Nervous Energy 一 触即发. Released via the new not-for-profit label aimed at profiling musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds, Music in Exile, kick-started their new Building Bridges series, aimed at keeping individuals connected and inspired during lockdown.

Over the course of 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions ebbed and flowed, the duo worked ceaselessly on developing new material, first recorded by Meng Wang on her 21-string traditional guzheng and then shared with Shiel to be reworked into something neither had imagined possible. The result is four compositions that oscillate from breakbeat to minimal house influences and laid-back dub and pop sounds, underpinned throughout by an acoustic instrument almost two metres long and thousands of years old. It is a hymn to the world Mindy inhabits, a place where tradition is forced to adapt alongside changing values and different cultures.

Nervous Energy 一 触即发 is out now! Read our interview with Mindy Meng Wang 王萌.

Tell us a bit about how you began your musical journey..

I was traditionally trained in China on Guzheng, so I just played traditional music back then. Then I went to England to study Western music and composition, where I started to connect my knowledge of Chinese traditional and Western music together. I first visited Australian in 2011 then started spending more and more time in Melbourne every year and eventually moved here around 2015. In Australia, I expanded my music to different genres such as jazz, contemporary, experimental, improvisation, electronic, pop etc.

Congratulations on the release of your new EP! The tracks encompass an assortment of sonics mixed between traditional acoustic sound entwined with house influences, breakbeat and relaxed dub sounds, how did you arrive at this sound?

Tim has brought a lot of this into the EP. We had to work remotely in 2020, before we had even met in person, so a lot of work was done by sending files to each other. I think I provided more of the "melodic line" and Tim did all the rest for this EP.

You each bring something unique to each track, how do you work off each other and how do you create that cohesion?

We communicate a lot even when we can't work together in the same space last year - keep sending files, listen, feedback, talk..... I think Tim has contributed a lot to nailing the theme for each track. I guess those tracks were inspired by the melody and the moment when he hears the melody is when other sounds came into his mind.

Working under the Music in Exile label, a not-for-profit supporting musicians from refugee and migrant backgrounds, couldn’t be more important at this time where COVID restrictions were in place and this is a direct response to stay connected and creative during lockdown. How did the genesis of this collaboration come about?

From my experiences of working with MIE on different projects, I have to say Joe (who created MIE) also has the best intuition of which artists could work magic together! He started a project called Building Bridges - with the aim to connect a traditional musician to an electronic musician and let them create something together, and then he introduced me and Tim, and we just got on so well and music flows out effortlessly between us.

How do you form meaning within each song, particularly focusing on the titles given for each track?

From my perspective, the songs are very narrative and I can see visuals when I play the music. “Body of Water” is full of energy that about to burst out soon, giving people a feeling of speed and modern technology. In the picture that emerged before my eyes, I almost could see an intense decisive moment in an electronic world. Tim’s music made my blood surge immediately, and I couldn’t help but hold my breath, my muscles tightened, like a wild leopard about to jump out from the dark, or balancing on a string up high in the sky. I use the Guzheng to create a meditation of tranquility in the chaos, try to calm my emotions and fast heartbeat. The gentle melody brings rational control and pulls everything back to a perfect balance.

“My Love Is Not What Is Was” has a unique feeling of you are in an exotic modern city. The whole melody is shrouded in psychedelic colors, like the neon lights you saw through the rain-drenched windows. So many complicated thoughts are behind the voice, ague, almost a bit lost and weightlessness. The wandering melody seems to be peeking into everyone's heart, stating the uneasiness buried in our heart-directionless and tangled in between gains and losses. The music changed color later and brought us to an emotional climax.

The way that each track plays out it’s as if a story is laid out, between the changes from start to finish can you elaborate on the importance of storytelling within your body of work?

Definitely - I think that's the influence from my Chinese music background. Music is a narrative for me. It is the determination to take actions and break through the boundaries, the desire to change and the courage grows from the heart.

How important are the imagery and visuals to you when it comes to conveying the story and meaning present on this EP? With particular focus on the singles you’ve already released?

Sleeping Tiger On The Bund is a story of a modern female hero/fighter in my heart. Unlike the cat woman in western culture, I see a tiger girl that retains her power and is ready to attack and fight anytime. She is full of mysterious eastern power and beauty; her feminine strength and lightning speed overcomes any power with softness.

Hidden Qi is filled with powerful, firm but flexible energy. Like the inner strength -Qi of a Kung Fu master in the legend, the Qi hidden flows in his body is free but controlled, like the qualities of mountains, rocks, stars, and rivers. I developed the melody on the bed of a calm drone which is produced by bowing the Guzheng. This is then layered multiple times with a loop. The whole song takes people to a dreamland surrounded by clouds and mist, as if you are floating in the clouds and you saw a martial arts master practising from afar. He jumps so light and moves so fast and sometimes disappears in the trees, the energy wave of his Qi shocked petals off the flower.. flying in the sky…”

You’ve already released two singles Sleeping Tiger on the Bund 蓄势待发 and Hidden Qi 隐.气, how do you choose what tracks will be released as singles and why were these specifically chosen?

We think they're all strong tracks, but very different so each single demonstrates the versatility of this EP.. and of course, it’s a group decision.

Your EP is a response to the limitations placed on us over the past year, dynamic sound for a time that for many was quite mellow. How did the creation of the EP help you at this time?

I think it gives us something to do, something we enjoy doing, especially when it was boring and depressing. Also, it connected people so you feel you are not alone. The making of the EP required a lot of communication between myself, Tim and the MIE team. It created a warm community and we are all working on the same goal. It is powerful, especially during lockdown and it's really positive.

Nervous Energy 一触即发 is the first product of a series, a fusion of traditional and contemporary sound. What can we expect next?

Tim and I have just started! We will make more music together and explore different stories, genres and energy. I think whatever comes out, it will be fun, energetic and catch a moment of where our lives are at.

If you had to pick one song off Nervous Energy 一触即发 to play to someone who had never heard your music to make them an instant fan, which song would that be and why?

Ha! I would pick different songs for different people. I think if I don't know the person I will pick the Sleeping Tiger on the Bund because it contains a part where you can hear how Guzheng sounded traditionally, but also has a powerful and energetic feeling! Very good for power walk and to dance to!

If Nervous Energy 一触即发 was a piece of visual art, which artwork would it be and why?

Our music partner in China actually created a comic to release with this EP. A wild ‘fox girl' comes to the city from the jungle to protect the “music” (being some sort of music energy source). The image of the fox girl is printed in my head now, it's super colourful and vibrant.

Which song from the EP are you most excited for listeners to hear and why?

I love them all and they are all so different, so I am super excited for listeners to hear.

Australia has a diverse and vibrant music scene, who are some of your favourite Aussie acts?

So many! Especially as my interests are so broad, from classic to pop, electronic to experimental, Western and Eastern.

The current pandemic has obviously put a halt to touring and performing live, what are your touring plans post pandemic? If any, what can people expect from one of your live shows?

Tim and I are already starting to take gigs for festivals. I think maybe 2021 is still more of touring in Australia, but we are very confident we will take our music to Asian countries, maybe Europe and the US too when the time is good. Our live show will consist of our written songs and some improvisation. We are working with percussionist Alex Roper to create more dynamics for the live show.