Oh, the places you'll go — by bike, hauling an enormous double-bass behind you
Seattle double bassist John Teske turns to a Georgetown metal shop, Haulin' Colin, with a most unusual bicycle-trailer commission.
Seattle Times arts writer
John Teske and Wilson ShookBike-trailer celebration concert, 8 p.m. Saturday, Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave., Seattle; $5-$15 (www.gallery1412.org;www.johnteskemusic.com).
You wouldn't normally ask a chamber musician, "What's the maximum altitude gain you'd take on to play a recital?"
But 25-year-old double-bass player John Teske is not your average chamber musician.
He's a passionate new-music advocate who is also a dedicated bicyclist and a firm believer in sustainable use. To that end, he has commissioned a steel-framed bicycle trailer for his bass. The idea is to expand his performance opportunities without having to cadge a ride, rent a car or crowd his fellow passengers on the bus. He commutes to his bicycle-repair-shop job and does all his grocery shopping by bike. So it frustrates him that in pursuing his first love, music, he's reliant on the combustion engine.
A little perspective is in order here.
Teske is a gangly 6-foot-1. His double bass is even taller: 6-foot-4 in its case and 26 inches wide. It may weigh only 45 pounds or so, but it's unwieldy. Teske expresses envy of fellow musician Wilson Shook, who's able to cart his saxophone around in a bicycle baby-trailer. If only his double bass were that small!
He initially contemplated building the trailer himself but worried he didn't have the know-how to make it sturdy enough to protect his bass. So he turned to Haulin' Colin, a Georgetown metal shop that specializes in bicycle trailers. The trailer will have lights, reflective tape and flags on it to heighten his visibility, both day and night. A generator hub and/or solar trickle charger will power the battery for the lights.
"It'll be such a unique contraption," he says, "that I hope it will inspire action — individual action, as opposed to something corporate or government-funded."
Teske seems a most conscientious young man. When boarding the bus with his bass, he pays two fares: one for himself and one for his instrument.
"They don't require it," he says, "but I feel guilty. It's as big as a person. So when I go on, I feel it's the least I can do."
The last time he did that, however, the bus driver gave him two transfers. "I started to think maybe he thought I was crazy — like I actually thought it was a person."
To raise the $1,000 to pay for the trailer, Teske has put his project on www.kickstarter.com, a website used by artists, filmmakers, performers and explorers as "a funding platform for creative projects." As of last Wednesday, he was $600 on his way to reaching his goal.
Teske hopes the spread of a bike-only transit ethic will help spur improvements in the biking infrastructure in Seattle. He cites Copenhagen, Denmark, where bike paths are clearly separated from motor and pedestrian traffic, as inspiring in this regard. He fondly recalls a woman he met there who was moving from one apartment to another entirely by bike. Everything but her bed, he marvels.
As for altitude gain, Teske sees that as less of an issue than road safety.
"I'll definitely have to be smart about the routes I take," he says. "That's why I'm doing the lights and the steel construction."
What about the floating bridges to the Eastside? Would he haul his bass over them?
"That's a good question," he laughs. "I'd probably rather take it around the top of the lake."
Teske and Shook will throw a "Trailer Release Party" ("Like a CD release party, but instead celebrating the creation of a magnificent bicycle trailer") on Saturday at Gallery 1412, where they'll give a concert. The musical fare will be experimental in flavor, delving into the microtonal potential and subtler sound textures of sax and bass.
When I dropped by Haulin' Colin last Wednesday to get a look at the trailer-in-progress, it looked like an item well worth some festivities. The frame is enormous: 7 feet by 3 feet. Proprietor Colin Stevens says it's the biggest bike trailer he's made — but it's far from his most unusual commission.
That might be the Toyota pickup he converted into a pedal-powered float (seven willing humans required) that wound up in this year's Seattle Pride Parade.
"It didn't go very fast," he admits, "but we rode it all the way from the workshop to downtown."
He adds: "There's really no end to the strange things that people want me to make for them."
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org
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