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”


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.