Skating Around New Audiences
For those who think that contemporary music is an exclusive pursuit that can’t achieve broad appeal, Crash Ensemble’s recent concert (19 April) provided a direct refutation of this argument. The theme of this concert was skateboarding and it managed to attract a sizeable audience to the studio of the National Concert Hall, the majority of whom were clearly skateboarders themselves attending alongside the usual, more straight-laced new music types.
There was two parts to the evening. At 5pm, Phil Evans’ documentary film Saint Denis about Denis Lynn, a young talented skateboarder from Belfast, was screened. The film documented Lynn’s childhood and teenage years growing up in Belfast followed by more recent shoestring ‘tours’ around Europe that gave a snapshot of his devil-may-care attitude and his determination to live a life of his own choosing. The result was a gritty portrait that didn’t gloss over Lynn’s struggles with addiction and included almost as much spills as successful tricks on the skateboard. The film’s soundtrack, composed by Sam Perkin and performed by Crash Ensemble, displayed the composer’s versatility, moving between various electronic, ambient and funk genres that underscored the mood of the particular scene in question.
Compose an imaginary path
The following concert at 6pm included three works that all had some connection to skateboarding. The first item, Jennifer Walshe’s AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, was a conceptual piece that stipulated that the musicians first learn how to skateboard ‘however primitively’ before the performance. While reflecting on this experience, they are then instructed to compose an ‘imaginary path’ that they would like to skate and prepare a corresponding musical path that reflects this journey. For this concert, members of Crash Ensemble performed, one by one, their individual paths in a spatial arrangement surrounding the audience while stylised excerpts of them learning how to skate were screened on the wall. The musical results did have some shape, beginning with sustained notes on the cello and developing into what sounded like an improvisation with some degree of preplanning, but as concepts go, this was about as thin as you can get. The footage of Crash Ensemble personnel attempting to skate did manage to provoke a few laughs however.
The second item on the programme was Glamour Sleeper an early Donnacha Dennehy classic that recently featured on the Adidas skateboarding advertising campaign and which justified its inclusion in this concert.
Both of these pieces were essentially preludes to the main event of the evening: the Irish premiere of Grey Area, a film by videographers Niall O’Byrne and Sam Curtin with a soundtrack composed by Sam Perkin. Beautifully shot in monochrome, the film captured the path of a lone skateboarder gliding through the streets of Dublin at night illuminated by the lights of the city, while Perkin’s score sonically magnified every detail of the imagery on screen. The ensemble accompanied throughout with a backdrop of sustained chords that advanced and receded dynamically while the push-offs of the skateboarder were marked with a gentle stroke of the bass drum that in combination with the slow motion speed gave the film a kind of epic quality.
As it progressed this graceful footage became interspersed with close-up footage of tricks, each of which lasted no more than a split second. Perkin’s score was so well choreographed with these fleeting clips that whenever the skateboard ran over the grate of a drain, or skirted a rail, it would be accompanied by various metallic sounds from the percussion or a pick scrape from the electric guitar. Crash Ensemble’s accuracy throughout all of this was pretty flawless and the result was a beautifully rendered portrait of the skateboarder and his relationship to the urban environment.
Aside from the music, the thing that was most refreshing about this concert was that it was curated in such a way to reach out to an audience beyond the classical music community. While the skateboarding films were obviously a large part of the evening’s attraction, and the music itself may have been at the more accessible end of the new music spectrum, it nevertheless showed what can be done with imaginative curation. Crash Ensemble received a genuinely spontaneous standing ovation at the end of Perkin’s piece that can only be an encouragement to those willing to try and repeat such outward looking initiatives.
For information on upcoming Crash Ensemble performances, visit: https://www.crashensemble.com/.
Published on 30 April 2019
Adrian Smith is Lecturer in Musicology at TU Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama.