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 is..life. it is everything to me”

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!

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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.

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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.

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