Person

Peter Gordon

Grayscale photograph of Peter Gordon, Bill T. Jones, Arnie Zane, Keith Haring, and Willi Smith

I first heard about Willi Smith from my friend the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, who would say his beloved Willi Smith jacket was all he needed for traveling. Willi and I met in 1984 on the set of Secret Pastures when I composed the score.

I later traveled with him to Dakar for location shooting for Expedition, a film that would have no dialogue, only music and sound effects, and for which Willi gave me complete carte blanche in the composition and production of the music. I brought an early model Sony F1 digital audio recorder with me to Dakar and had a recording session in which I played a duet with a kora player I had met when he performed with the Theatre National Sorano Dancers in the film. While the work schedule in Dakar was very demanding, we also saw the sites. One day a trip was arranged into town to the National Gallery of Senegal for Willi, the video artist Kit Fitzgerald, my wife, and me, and others on the team. A collector of African art, Willi was unsurprisingly engaged in the collection. At one point, however, everyone stopped: there was a bust of a man’s head from Ethiopia, from the 10th century or so, that looked exactly like Willi.

The soundtrack for Expedition was later recorded and mixed in London, where the editing and postproduction of the film was taking place. Aside from the kora, I played all of the instruments on the track. I invited my friend David Cunningham (Flying Lizards) in as coproducer, and we set up shop at Eden Studios in Chiswick, London, with the studio’s engineer, Neill King (who would later work with the Smiths).

Willi worked and functioned in the world of fashion and design, but he was an artist who respected and admired other artists as creative equals. He brought art to the masses and the masses to art, but the bottom line is that his clothes feel great: for working, creating, and just living. Kit still wears her yellow WilliWear winter coat, and I still have a number of my own WilliWear garments, including the suit designed posthumously by WilliWear for our wedding. Willi once told me that he was going to go to Hollywood, and that he would bring me with him. Now that would have been something.

Grayscale photograph of Peter Gordon, Bill T. Jones, Arnie Zane, Keith Haring, and Willi Smith

Peter Gordon, Bill T. Jones, Arnie Zane, Keith Haring, and Willi Smith. Photographed by Paula Court, 1984