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Born in 1946, Gilbert was already 30 when Wire formed, a former art school student with a background in the British avant-garde music underground of the late '60s. This atypical interest is an enormous part of what made Wire so unlike the other bands of the first wave of U.K. punk, as the esoteric leanings of guitarist Gilbert and bassist Graham Lewis meshed with the somewhat more straightforward style of singer Colin Newman and drummer Robert Gotobed. Over their brilliant first three albums, Wire expanded the sonic boundaries of not just punk, but rock music in general.
Wire's final release in their initial incarnation was "Crazy About Love," a 15-minute drone that pointed the way toward Gilbert's next projects. Partnering with Lewis in the duo Dome, Gilbert released several increasingly experimental albums between 1981 and Wire's reformation in 1986. The partnership's pinnacle was 1982's MZUI/Waterloo Gallery, a combination of ambient music and found sound that's among the most unusual and absorbing records of Gilbert's career.
During Wire's second incarnation (1986-1991), Gilbert actively pursued a solo career; as this edition of Wire moved more and more into a skewed but subversively commercial pop direction, scoring college and alternative radio hits like "Kidney Bingos" along the way, Gilbert's solo records completely dropped all pretense of pop music. 1984's This Way contains Gilbert's first score for the avant-garde Michael Clark Dance Company and a pair of lengthy minimalist electronic pieces akin to Steve Reich's early-'70s work. 1986's The Shivering Man has more of an odds and ends feel, collecting several of Gilbert's commissioned works from the era. (A CD compilation of tracks from the two U.K.-only albums, This Way to the Shivering Man, was released by Wire's U.S. label Restless-Enigma shortly before that company's demise in 1990.) 1991's Insiding is the best release of this period in Gilbert's career; its two lengthy pieces, ballet scores commissioned by dancer Ashley Page, unfold and develop intriguingly over their allotted 20 minutes each. The EP-length Music for Fruit was released later that year. Gilbert also helped Lewis on his own post-Dome solo project, He Said, during this period.
After 1991's The First Letter, which was released by Newman, Lewis and Gilbert after the departure of Gotobed, Gilbert followed his almost entirely electronic muse onto the dance floor. By the mid-'90s, he was a fixture in London's techno clubs, DJing and remixing under the name DJ Beekeeper, most often performing inside a garden shed above the dancefloor for a touch of Wire-like visual humor. At the same time, Gilbert also released 1996's Ab Ovo; that year, Wire reunited for a special performance of "Drill" commemorating Gilbert's 50th birthday. He continued to work with Lewis, releasing the collection Yclept in 1999 and collaborating on Alarm to the Audible Light, a sound installation at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in January 2000. Gilbert teamed up with Panasonic as IBM for an early 2001 show. During this time, Wire were preparing their next phase, which culminated with the release of 2002's furious Read & Burn 01, but Gilbert also remained busy with other projects such as his soundtrack for the film London Orbital (Gilbert and Wire performed at the film's premiere in October 2002). He remained with Wire until 2004, departing after the release of that year's Send. That year, he also released Ordier, which was compiled from a 1996 live performance. After spending a few years contributing to multimedia projects like 2006's Soundtrack for an Exhibition for the Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon, Gilbert returned with the album Oblivio Agitatum in 2009. He remained as prolific as ever in the 2010s; in 2011 alone, he reunited with Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio for a commissioned live performance for the Netaudio London festival in May; issued the single Monad on Touch in August; and had the short story "Sliding off the World" (originally a 2006 spoken-word piece) published in the anthology Murmurations that October. His album Diluvial, a "seven-piece reflection on climate change and creation stories" that also featured multimedia artists Naomi Siderfin and David Crawforth, began as installation piece before Touch released it in 2013.~ Stewart Mason