Thursday, January 24, 2013

interview #10 - greg wildes



The Mr. Becos interview series continues with Greg Wildes, a musician, instrument builder, laser maker and traffic offender who currently lives in Hong Kong.

Mr. Becos: So, you were in a band where all of the instruments were gas tanks and car parts, which is kind of easy to imagine. But you were also in a band where all of the instruments were skis. Please explain.

Wildes: Serendipitous use of available materials, that's the short answer.  I wanted to sidestep conventional music and explore a more organic way of people making sounds together.  Are gas tanks really easier to imagine than skis as instruments?  What could be more straightforward than a one string ski, me being from Maine originally? Besides, skis were a lot more practical than the electrified piano string board I left behind at my mom's house. 

Ski instruments weren't even my idea.  Dr. Ahmed Fishmonger (aka Seth) had left one at a house I moved into in Somerville, Massachusetts, and, it just so happened, there was a pile of old skis in the basement.  The next thing I knew, I had talked a bunch of friends into forming the Ski-A-Delics.  My engineering advancement was to use Fender Rhodes electric piano pickups for amplification to get a nice fat electric sound.  

The Gas Tank Orchestra was quite different in some ways, and more about the resonance.  I moved to a neighborhood in New Orleans where old car gas tanks were lying around everywhere on street sides, from folks avoiding the disposal fee at the dump.  I intuited they'd make great acoustic bodies for whatever I could think of to build onto them.  I used piezo contact pickups on the gas tanks to capture their resonance, and built not only of stringed, but also reed, brass, didgeridoo, kalimba, and percussion instruments.  I had band members change place after every piece, so that everyone had a chance to learn all the different instruments.

And so why not just play guitar?  I did that too, but it didn't satisfy my curiosity.  I've followed a trail, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, sussing out nuances of vibration and resonance in simple electro-acoustic instruments   I like to focus on elemental aspects of sound, not so much towards writing music or putting on a premeditated show, but rather, try to channel a sort of pure direct communion of people and sound through music making in the moment.  It's a never-ending, if sometimes frustrating, pursuit, with little if any reward of fame or fortune, but it's what I live for.

Mr. Becos: You've also been involved with something called SHARE for a long time. What is that all about? I attended one of the SHARE events one time and came away confused.

Wildes: A first time visit to SHARE is like my favorite scene in Apocalypse Now where they are looking for the commanding officer.  It looks and sounds like chaos, but it's not, really.  There's a core of facilitators who help folks plug in their audio/video equipment while everyone jams, all at once, every Sunday night, since 2001, with satellites nowadays all over the world.  It's a great place to try out hardware/software/instruments you've been working on/with and meet up with like-minded people to experiment and discover.

Mr. Becos: I once saw a laser you had built that responded to soundwaves. If one of our readers wanted to build an awesome homemade psychedelic pulsating light show, how would they put together this kind of device?


Mr. Becos: What are two great things and two horrible things about life in Hong Kong?

Wildes: Our son. He was born here in Hong Kong and will turn three this April. We live in rural house by the beach where there's plenty of space.  Next fall Aldin will go to the local Buddhist school in Tai O, where class is taught in Cantonese.  Hopefully, he will develop language skills that greatly exceed his parents'.

The isolation. I live in a remote place, even by Hong Kong standards, far from friends, extended family, and most of the people and places I've ever been familiar with.  It's a chance to start over, where anything might be possible.  Where I'm at right now is a good place reassess and develop a way to move forward.

The isolation.  We don't speak the language and don't have much in common with the other expats who mostly seem to be either airline pilots or work in financial services.  There is a small cultural scene, but it's pretty hard to really connect beyond seeing the same people at gallery openings.  The cost of living is very high here.  People tend to have serious jobs and not so much serious fun.

Traffic cameras. If you can't remember to drive past these cameras with your foot on the brakes, you'll be sure to get a speeding ticket in your mailbox. Out here, on Lantau Island, all four of the traffic cameras are on the downhill side of the road.  Of those four, two are on a steep mountainside, and of these, one is actually in a passing zone posted at 50 km, which is only 31 mph.  WTF!  I've got two tickets from that one already.  The vibe here often feels overly cautious.  Local drivers, for the most part, clearly appear to have internalized this cautiousness, as I have witnessed on numerous occasions while passing them on mountain roads and especially while watching them attempt to drive in reverse.