Skate Culture / Boyle Heights

for my most recent work of sound composition-as-interpretation, i recruited two of my co-workers at the CDLA to visit a typical skate park in boyle heights and do some field recording. despite having not prepared them with the methods of sound walking or sound-based ethnography, they collected an amalgam of sounds that reflect lots about an integral part of street culture in los angeles, ever since the 50s.

skateboarding: what began as a casual land-surfer’s hobby ended up becoming not only a legitimate and internationally recognized sport, but also a lifestyle, sense of fashion and visual aesthetic highly informed by street culture. moreover, skateboarding is interesting to me in the scope of urban ethnography because of the way it unabashedly challenges our notions of public vs. private space. while most sports have designated venues and are generally emplaced, the techniques of skateboarding have evolved using objects in public space (stair bars, walls, sidewalks, curved walls etc.). skateboarding ramps and half-pipes eventually began being constructed when public space wasn’t expansive enough to support the growing population of skaters.

the field recordings within the sound composition of this post are interesting because they are situated within a new skate park in boyle heights, constructed for the sole purpose of extricating skate culture from public space; moving skaters away from pedestrians, cars etc. no one in LA is a stranger to seeing “skating prohibited” signs everywhere. “this new skate park has been built with the intention of moving us away from the public, of alienating us from society”, says Jorge, who recorded sounds for me and has been a skater for most of his life. according to him, the city has also modified public space to restrict skate usage; for example, stair bars are deliberately shortened in length so a skater cannot grind down them.

the increased regulations placed on skateboarding in public spaces has forced skaters into the handful of skate parks around LA. even worse, it seems to have forced many skaters into abandoning skate culture altogether; what used to be a passion and way of life for many has taken a backseat to the “realities of life” as they were; growing up, getting a job, starting a family. for many ex-skaters, the economic burden of supporting themselves and their close ones replaced skateboarding.

this sound composition contains many informal interviews of the few skaters that still use the skate park in Boyle Heights: “it’s just about the generations..people grow up, they get into different shit. the other kids grew up, they got chicks with kids now, they went to college, some of them just disappeared…”, says one of Jorge’s friends, who’s had to take up two jobs to support himself as well as his passion for skating. his words can be heard over the sound of boards riding up and down on the half pipes, coasting, cracking and banging against the hard concrete. in the background, you hear high school kids, just out of class, gathered and hanging out at the skate park. these sounds, along with those of skaters bonding over different tricks, create a highly emplaced soundscape that portrays what it feels like to be in a boyle heights skate park. interestingly enough, the keynote sounds of cars driving along the freeway close by inconspicuously remains under the skate park soundscape, once again, keeping us grounded within the general sonic space of los angeles.

as interviewees in the recording disclose, much about skate culture is constantly changing due to reconstructed public space, and many seem to be leaving behind this way of life. i will be investigating the nature of these changes from the perspective of the city, further along in this year. until then, this composition is my testament to the skaters of boyle heights.

this soundscape is accompanied by “sevenpm”, an original track composed by michael stevenson.

“skating it is everything to me”


The closing of Oxcy Mart


This is Jay. Until very recently, he was the owner and sole shopkeeper of Oxcy Mart, a mini-mart/liquor store on Armadale and York Boulevard. Occidental College, in an effort to expand it’s presence on the constantly changing and gentrifying York Boulevard, acquired the building and all of it’s storefronts at 4750 York Blvd., putting Jay, the tenant, out of a job. Legally speaking, the transaction occured between the college and the property owner, making Jay a powerless middleman who had no choice but to vacate the property. This, of course, puts Jay out of a job.

We attempted to interview Jay about the process by which his store was acquired by the college. He informed us that many occidental students had already questioned the college administration on the purchase, and had brought up a desire to have some kind of opposing action to try and help Jay in the process, or maybe stop the purchase altogether. Now, my assumption here is that the administration, in retaliation, has told Jay that if he permits, facilitates, or is aware of any sort of action or discussion against Occidental College or the property owners, legal action would be taken against him. I assume so because Jay, very promptly and nervously, refused to be officially interviewed.

All that we could extract from our conversation with Jay was this portrait of him and a gradually emptying rack of shelves behind him. Most of the shelves in the store are also empty, and Jay spends most of his last evenings at the store sitting at the corner of Armadale and York, waiting to leave. His immediate plans are to figure out a way to move his wife and child into a new rented apartment, and possibly join another liquor store business in Orange County.

This post does not intend to initiate a protest or any kind of action against Occidental College or the store-owner(s) at 4750 York Blvd. Rather, all this portrait and write-up intends to do is to make college students, the college and residents of North East LA familiarize themselves with not just the disappearing businesses, but also the disappearing faces from the neighborhood, as more and more property is bought over, and local/poorer shopowners are displaced and left without work in the process.

Street Vending Community Meeting and Hearing- 6/25

anyone who resides in los angeles is familiar with the incredible variety of food and non-edible products available through street vending. an essential part of many communities across la, street vending is a lifesaver in times of desperate hunger, a means to foster community bonding and a symbol of what cultural authenticity actually is.

IMG_1690                             IMG_1713

street vending is also, unfortunately, the inevitable path for many who find themselves unable to get jobs in the “legal” food industry; this may be for legal/citizenship issues, or because they’re too old, or disabled; regardless, it’s the way many in the city make their living. of course, predictably, street vending is more common in non-white and poorer communities like south central, compton, long beach etc. while food trucks owned by upper-middle class white residents grow in numbers and continue to market various faux-authentic, expensive, gourmet food options, street vending is still essentially illegal in los angeles. vendors have been fined, arrested and recently a street vendor was murdered as a result of street violence.

the rights and freedoms of street vendors have been consistently ignored by the los angeles city council, whose only attempt to provide some way out to these local businessmen is by half-heartedly making proposals for conceptual frameworks, and only making it more confusing and difficult for street vendors to get the right paperwork needed to run their businesses (many of them speak spanish as a first language). on june 25, the fourth community hearing as part of a series of meetings with LA city council representatives took place at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee on S. Central. the city council presented the work they’ve done regarding street vending, followed by one minute comments given by various members of the south la community and beyond. the message from all of these people- professors, street vendors, activists, residents- was abundantly clear: decriminalize street vending, and avoid making any kind of vague rules such as “vending districts”: with the proper paperwork filed, let these people do their business and provide to the community the skill set they already have, instead of forcing them out of the job market.

IMG_1745                  IMG_1769

as of today, street vending contributes approximately $500 million to the LA economy. people were impassioned, furious and dedicated about the absurdity of making humble street businesses illegal. some, on the other hand, were distanced from the issue and unable to say much that was productive (council representatives) and some were against street vending in and of itself. listen in for digital narratives of the important and saddening state of street vending in los angeles, and follow the LA Street Vendor Campaign to sign a petition and keep in touch with this issue. let’s legalize street vending!

York Boulevard Soundwalk

seeing as how the critical making studio is based out of occidental college, we decided to do a short sound walk on the notoriously gentrified york boulevard. as i mentioned in our first post, the newly constructed park on york and ave. 50 is a much-needed change in scenery from the empty lot that once was. the childrens park consists of a reptilian-themed jungle gym/play area, chess tables, open library and most interestingly, playable instrument installations (xylophone, mallets, bongos), created by FreeNotes Harmony Park. it was a fascinating example of using sound art as public installations so as to enhance urban experience and the aesthetic of a space in general. making such instruments allows the public to interact with the space on a deeper sensorial level than just the visual, and thus feel a deeper connection to the space and community in general. such initiatives are common elsewhere in the world as well; last semester, i studied in Brighton, where the train station had a publicly accessible piano, the melodies of which reverberated throughout the station forum and allowed respite from the monotonous announcements over the PA system. This quote from a paper written by Charles Morrow says it all:

Sound art should be integrated into the architectural and landscape process to shape the sonic environment, directing the visitors’ perception of scale, balance and intimacy. Sonic environment design includes portals and transitions between environments.These transitions are dynamic by their very nature of changing perception step by step.One test of a sonic design is its effectiveness for a blind or blind folded person

afterwards, we visited Cafe De Leche, seeking shelter from the punishing heat thanks to an ice cold drink. cafe de leche is often crowded with young professionals, musicians, new residents in eagle rock (read: gentrifiers) and is very much a business that is at odds with the local-ness of older establishments. we also ran into a journalist from KPCC and discussed eagle rock and the presidents visit. listen in for what it feels like to hear sound on newly gentrified york boulevard.


Flashback: Sounds of Learning at the Annandale Elementary School

we often assume that the changing face of los angeles affects only those of us who are old enough to understand the economic and societal repercussions of gentrification. engaging with children, and how they learn information, whether it be in school, recess, in the street or at home, is an underrated way of discovering the same repercussions in a subtler and unbiased way. learning, for children in the annandale elementary school, is multifaceted: exciting, odd and maybe even scary. two years ago, in a digital cultures class taught by Prof. Wendy Hsu, we gave sixth grade students zoom portable microphones and allowed them to record any aspects of their life they felt were essential to learning, academic or otherwise. it was a fascinating project where they used technology to explore their own lives. upon re-formatting and re-organizing these sounds, students in the digital cultures class brought these digital stories to life. check out the full CD below, with field recordings, remixes, beats and in-depth insights into the lives of elementary school kids in eagle rock.

North East LA Art Gallery Night/Highland Park ArtWalk

we are all perfectly aware that highland park, in north east los angeles, home of occidental college, is one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the city, state and country. over the last decade or so, what was once a majority hispanic residential area has seen an incredible influx of boutique clothing stores, cafes, craft beer pubs, parklets, bike racks, record shops, and pretty much everything else that’s part of that good ol’ fashioned hipster urban palette. change is good, yes, but the rapid rate of these changes has been both welcomed and vilified. as more and more creative types from around the country move into two bedroom houses along york and fig, local residents part of North East Los Angeles Alliance (NELAA) continue to discuss, criticize and protest the forced facelift of their neighborhood.

gentrification is on almost everyone’s mind in los angeles, and is a highly complex issue affecting architects, business owners and residents alike. it has manifested in different forms across our four major streets (colorado, fig, york, eagle rock). bearing this in mind, a holistic media-based documentation of gentrification @ highland park will be one of the major focuses of this online media/narrative archive. this is our first post, and welcome to digitalstoriesla!


IMG_5633                                      IMG_5638 (1)

a significant and tangible product of gentrification is reimagined public space. as the 3rd los angeles project is currently initiated, los angeles residents can hope to see many of the drearily empty lots across the city turn into fun, accessible areas for pedestrians, bike riders, skaters etc. such spaces already exist (pershing square, various parks), but the extensive widespread nature of the city makes it hard for these spaces to form a cohesive identity.

at the monthly artWalk in north east los angeles on saturday night, while perusing all the new additions to york from the last six months (i was away for a semester), two such spaces caught my attention: the newly opened MorYork gallery, and the new park on York Boulevard/Avenue 50. The latter made for a rich and comforting soundscape, which will be discussed in a later post.

the MorYork gallery (see pictures above) was at one point the right side of the korean church on york boulevard. now, it has turned into a large and finely detailed art exhibit, displaying works by Clare Graham. he works with recycled materials, and a pastiche of odd vintage household items, taxonomy and furniture that is (much like gentrification!) aimed to be welcoming and sort of familiar yet very very unsettling and creepy.

DSCF1329               DSCF1328

more light shall be shed on highland park, art, and gentrification in the posts to come. stay tuned! pictured below is campbell scott enjoying a potato taco outside the hermosillo, and a hazy summation of the bright lights and crowded streets that took over highland park for one night and one night only.

DSCF1354               DSCF1344