Better Know A Weisslich: Antonia Barnett-McIntosh & Ilze Ikse

“This first thing that we do when we come out of [the] womb is we take a breath. And the last thing that we do when we die is the breath runs out of our body.

“And then there’s this gap. There’s this kind of fascinating pause that comes at the end of an inhale, and it’s this space where everything drops away. When you’re giving it attention it’s very subtle, but it’s a moment of actual liberation. It’s not when you are gripped in the inhale at the end of it, but it’s more that gap that opens up just before the breath that is given.”

– Joan Halifax

Life—that space between the inhalation of birth and exhalation of death—is such a gap, an expanded gap filled with many such infinitesimally shorter gaps, what Evan Thompson describes as “hinge[s] … where the mind and body swing back and forth.”

* * *

Composer Antonia Barnett-McIntosh and flautist Ilze Ikse have come together to form life out of breath in the collaboratively developed piece Breath for alto flute. Breath was commissioned by Hubbub, inaugural residents of The Hub at Wellcome Collection, an interdisciplinary research project aimed at transforming how we as humans understand rest. In a musical context, a breath can be understood as musical rest, a moment of repose. Inversely, breathlessness can both take form from and as exhaustion. Breath is (nearly) all breath; Ilze is required to, as Antonia states, “utilise each in- and out-breath in the creation of sound,” thereby rendering her and her performance breathless, without musical rest, always intensely alive.

* * *

It starts with a breath in.

Ilze breathes in.

I breathe in.

When I listen to Breath I breathe. I breathe with Ilze, not simply alongside, but at the same time, for the same duration, and in the same direction. I switch between breathing through my nose here, my mouth there, exploring what it means to remain relaxed, sometimes switching between different ventilation circuitry responsible for the circulation of shared air, sometimes, somewhere, unsure whether or not I am breathing through mouth or nose. The physicality of both bodies becomes emphatically sonified; I merge into the form of Breath, which is essentially a life form, a living form: Ilze’s breath and body. I am stretched; breaths in Breath are not natural, they are extended and exhausting, sometimes uneven and strained. Other times, unrestrained, they swell, they compel and propel me forward, excite my spectral inhales and exhales. Nevertheless, breathing abides by a rhythmic logic, in is followed by out is followed by in is followed by out, and so forth; breaths reassuringly comfort even while their limits are pushed. They are a guide through, and glue to, the extraordinarily diverse range of sounds coaxed out of the instrumental prosthesis, an instrumentalised lung. Sounds that modulate and colour my sensation of breathing, an upper harmonic that gently brushes up against a slight whistle passing through my nasal cavity, a deeply hollowed breeze that tugs my lips an inch wider ajar. Sounds that flicker on the threshold of stability, that imbue my voice with a silent, resonating Barthian ‘grain’ — “tas sadalās, krakšķ, glāsta, skrāpē, griež: tā ir ekstāze.”

My mouth and nose become breathing ears. They act as hinges where mind and body swing back and forth. They turn listening into mutually exhaustive rest. They feel and hear carnal being as musical being.

This is how I listen to Breath.

* * *

Film of Ilze Ikse performing Breath

* * *

Come listen to Ilze Ikse perform Breath live on the 23rd of July at the Hundred Years Gallery, 8pm, as part of the 8th volume of WEISSLICH.

–Michael Baldwin

Better Know A Weisslich: Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies 2

A transcription, a representation, and a poetic response of/to Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies 2:

* * *

…uh, someone splashing into a pool
uh, someone making bubble sounds
uh, uhmmuhm, applause, crowd clapping
aaa baby, uhm some church bells really kind of slow and long
aaan then there’s this kind of synth sound
someone blowing bubbles into water, kind of, an, uh, electronic buzz
really high pitched bubbles
someone crumpling a piece of paper, uhm rain
uh, a kind of filtered rain
falling on the roof
tennis, someone coughing, uh…
slightly lower pitched
um, someone doing a pump
um, water dribbling?
someone panting, kind of breathing really heavily
oh! it’s a hair dryer or like a vacuum-cleaner, or like a, a machine or something
it’s quite loud
it’s getting louder
oh, filter sweep
oh!! tennis again!
church bells uh, out in the street
uhhh, and then, uh there’s a kind of, uh, low drone, uhm it’s somebody talking I think
uhm, uh, another pump going
uh, some mout(h)—
white noise
white noise getting louder
white noise getting louder
few suds in the background
uh, drums.

* * *

* * *

uh, hmm, I can’t swim
and the glare of bubbles eluded me as a child
pop pop pop, one exaggerated step away from Community and applause, take a bow
too familiar to be generalised, yes, church was slow and long
I’m told that old men become obsessed with their synths
they start making impossible spheres underwater, frying their boards, catching the waves
pip pip pip
metaphorically trashing their receipts, calming, fixating
and then fascinating, or wait, is that the right order?
um, asthmatics dread a courting with April showers, speaking ahem, croup, personally
or maybe candidly, whatever that might mean Robert Ashley
£5.97 friction fictions found online
splip splop or glarble gibpt dropp?
gnashgnawgrumble and grump, whew!
OH! wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, err, veeeeeeeeeeeee, or maybe cheeeeeee?
come again?
does that mean come closer?
p! POW
what a, a scent
the world turns, or moves, vibrates, can you feel the vibrations man?
err, peddle faster, repetition — effort can never be misplaced
wait! I was abou—
plip plip plip
wonder how my brother is keeping?

* * *

As part of WEISSLICH 7, Michael Baldwin and Andy Ingamells perform Louis d’Heudieres’ Laughter Studies 2.

Better Know A Weisslich: Andy Ingamells

There are three films which I really like, all of which have, on paper, terrible premises:

Phone Booth (2002) – Colin Farrell in a phone booth for an hour and a half.

Buried (2010) Ryan Reynolds in a box for an hour and a half.

Locke (2013) – Tom Hardy in a car for an hour and a half.

Yet all of these are fantastic films due, primarily, to the way in which their verbal description and the experience of that concept are fundamentally different things.

Perhaps one could add to that list the following performance:

The Ticklish Subject (2013) – Andy Ingamells is tickled for an hour and a half.


Sol LeWitt claims in his “Sentences On Conceptual Art” that “Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” He is wrong.

People often talk about “conceptual” art work as if reading the description of a work is the same as experiencing it; as if someone’s detailed first-hand description of being attacked by a shark is the same as being attacked by a shark.

And a loosened concept of authorial ownership allows me to claim that the last shark attack was actually a work of art by myself. Or Andy Ingamells.


At its best, Andy’s work joyfully shows the beauty in the most banal ideas through a finessed execution. Take, for instance, his recent Composing music for 11 minutes dressed in 18th Century costume (2015) for ensemble and video, in which that act of composing becomes the sounding result, the process of writing resonating through the ensemble as they echo the construction of the notation in realtime.

Here, as in the best of his work, Ingamells directs us outwards towards several historical markers, the “18th Century costume” of the title worn by the composer and the musical material, and the contrast of candlelight with the harsh blue iridescence of the laptop, creating an historical anomaly.

Other times, the idea is so simple that only the most inept execution could kill it, such as his much seen Solo (2010), which combines pornography, masturbation and slide whistles to a sublime degree.


There is:

music which doesn’t take itself too seriously

“music” which doesn’t take itself too seriously

music which doesn’t take itself too “seriously”


“music” which doesn’t take itself too “seriously”.

Andy Ingamells does a bit of all four.

Much like the work of the squib-box group of artists, Andy’s work plays at the corners of visual art, music, and comedy – a trend perhaps most obvious in his Packaged Pleasure (2015), a 27-minute video combining many of his works into a hilarious meditation on vanity and narcissism.

Packaged Pleasure (EXCERPTS) from Andy Ingamells on Vimeo.

Included in this work are extracts of several previous works worthy of mention: His Bowmanship, Tape Piece and a realisation of @textscoreaday’s #180: “Run 10km to a concert hall & immediately go onstage. The piece finishes when your breathing has returned to normal.” He was one of the contributors to the @textscoreaday project and performed the première of this work which involved him running 10km to a concert in Huddersfield with 3 bike horns in his mouth.

As part of WEISSLICH 7, Andy will be performing Bowmanship, Shh, and Tape Piece.

Better Know A Weisslich: Cathy van Eck’s Music Stands

Music stands evoke, well, music. To evoke music is to evoke a wide and connotative range of social, cultural, political, and aesthetic associations. Music stands complicate, they: conceal, render actions opaque and subservient, trigger imagination (and make the mind’s eye anxious to glimpse beyond the veil), assert status, are practical, signify practice and rehearsal (and if your experience with practicing was anything like mine, music stands can also signify immense frustration!), suggest reenactment and repeatability even when challenged, focus the gaze of those who chose to stare at them, imply reading or review, separate, distance, and otherise, can (but do not necessarily) turn performers into musicians (or performers into actors playing musician), indicate something like duration (especially when placed in a row of ten!), induce ways of listening and codes of conduct, populate a scenography… the list could go on.

[an exaggerated representation of Andy Ingamells’ Long Piece. Photo credit: 840 concert series]

From conception, the WEISSLICH series has worked to extend and blend experimental music practices into and alongside performance art practices. And while, on the one hand, music stands are a familiar object within experimental music contexts, on the other hand, in more purely performance-focused work, music stands are less common. Music stands have the ability to instate barriers between performer and audience, creating a division that runs contrary to what I regard as a commonly held (if not misguided and/or illusory) tenant of performance art, namely, its experiential immediacy. As curators, this tension leaves the music stand in an uncomfortable position; it is something that we often discuss when thinking about the work we programme, and thus far we have maintained an equally ambivalent (at best), and, quite candidly, uneasy relationship with music stands.

Regulars at our events will note that we have used music stands in the past, and because of the blurry space that our concerts occupy, we do not take a dogmatic position with regards to inclusion or dismissal of this object. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Cathy van Eck’s Music Stands”

Better Know A Weisslich: Solomiya Moroz

Recently I have started telling people that there is a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre about a virus which lives in the vocal chords of humans and is transmitted to others via the host speaking a specific language. This is not a Jean-Paul Sartre story, in fact, it is the plot to the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. All this is to say that you don’t need a dead French philosopher to present a good idea, and that, much like this piece of writing attempts to do, sometimes approaching big ideas from oblique angles can illuminate facets that would otherwise be unseen. In her bigger, collaborative music-theatre works, Solomiya Moroz frequently does this – tackling big concepts with surreality, absurdity and a studied childishness (like being told about linguistic parasites by a man named “Skull Face”). In Short Wave Apocalypse or the Box, a collaboration with Eva Aukes, Marko Ivic and Margherita Bergamo, concepts of digitization and militarization in the work of Paul Virilio are combined with the caped adventures of superheroes and phone sex. The result marries recurrent aspects of Solomiya’s work – gestural controllers, theatre and multimedia – in a parade of increasingly bizarre theatrical, choreographic and musical episodes that points to the material from a distance, through a mist of dada-ed abstraction.

Superheroes and the Apocalypse teaser from Solomiya Moroz on Vimeo.

As well as her work as a composer, Solomiya works as an improvisor, flautist and electronic musician, frequently performing her own work and that of others. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Solomiya Moroz”

Better Know A Weisslich: Neil Luck

A man stands on stage and struggles to get a word out of his mouth, impeded, it seems, by his own need to burp. Every time he does manage the odd garbled sentence, a series of clown-like vocal and instrumental bursts forcefully prevent him from delivering what we have been promised is a punchline. This goes on for five minutes, a frustrated, stuttering routine of stifled exertion, maintaining our full attention right up until that final punchline neither disappoints or satisfies us, but rather keeps us guessing as to what exactly it is we have just witnessed. It can only be Neil Luck, whose music could probably be described with equal success as absurd stand-up comedy, conceptual game show poetry, free jazz circus entertainment, or post-ironic commercial radio art.

His recent piece Via Gut was one of my absolute highlights of the London Contemporary Music Festival in December 2015.

According to the website, Via Gut is “a monologue-cum-variety act about the future. Based on a rigorously pataphysical premise, Via Gut poses a hypothesis about the future of human evolution and the nature of communication, told through an allegory of the human digestive system”. The sonification – and choreography – of bodily functions is a constant theme throughout, and the piece’s handling of it stoops as much to the utterly banal as it reaches up to the loftily existential, reminding us that we mortal humans all have to eat and shit, after all. The potential tactlessness one can imagine arising from such a piece is embraced so wholeheartedly that the audience is forced through and beyond it, having to accept its guttural playfulness as an aesthetic truth. It’s a piece about a gut as much as it is a piece happening in a gut.

Members of the artist collective squib-box and experimental group of musicians ARCO (in this case, Tom Jackson on clarinet, Benedict Taylor on viola, Federico Reuben on electronics, and Adam de la Cour as tap dancer, sock puppeteer, balloon modeller, jazz guitarist and scat vocalist), who are long-term collaborators with Neil, often provide the squealing messy textures that accompany his protagonist, narrator, or game show host. The close relationships such a collaboration fosters is evident in the way the group performs together – everyone is on board for throwing themselves in head first into whatever the piece requires, no matter how extreme (I heard of a piece in which one of the members’ colonoscopies was projected onto a screen whilst another made themselves physically sick through overeating, all of this, wonderfully, taking place in a restaurant). The kinds of things asked of the performers – such as de la Cour’s balloon modelling, squirming, and general ridiculousness (writing for the Quietus, Leo Chadburn described him as a ‘tap dancing arsehole’, admittedly making reference to the fact that he represented a literal part of the human digestive system) – are only possible with the kind of trust that builds up over time. As a result, the group has a coherence to them, a ‘tightness’, which gives their performances a crucially unapologetic quality, no matter how deranged or silly the material.

Looking at squib-box’s roster of affiliated artists you’ll find everything from Michael Finnissy to Kindenfarten, “an ensemble concerned with exploring the liminal space between new complexity, noise music, and children’s entertainment”, via acclaimed singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan and Benny C, a “traditionally made up whiteface (grotesque) clown”. This kind of breadth (of influence and output) is evident in Neil’s individual work too, perhaps the most valuable characteristics of which is his eternal willingness to take risks (aesthetically, or just with his own body). You never know what will happen at one of Neil’s (or squib-box’s or ARCO’s) gigs, and indeed we have no idea what to expect for WEISSLICH on 23rd. Based on what we’ve seen though, we can’t wait to find out.

Better Know A Weisslich: Carolyn Chen’s Adagio

…perhaps I am looking at living maps that outline a way of emotionally and
facially navigating any listening experience…

On the face of it, Carolyn Chen’s Adagio is a deceptively simple piece. A performance of the piece presents three or four performers wearing headphones and making slow-motion facial expressions over the course of seven minutes. Seemingly absurd, Chen’s piece is perplexing and has challenged me to think anew the dynamic relationships between facial expressions, slow-motion movement, copying, and private/public activities of listening.

To be more specific about what is going on during a performance of Adagio:

  • A group of performers listen
  • They listen while wearing headphones
  • They listen to sounds being sent through headphones
  • For each performance those sounds take the reliable and reproducible form of an excerpted recording of Sergiu Celibidache’s remarkably slow expansion of Anton Bruckner’s adagio from his 7th Symphony
  • While listening, the performers slowly move their faces (each an assemblage and territory of emotional expressions) in tandem with the recording
  • Their facial movements translate, project, and give body to a simultaneously private and communal experience, amongst the performers anyways, of listing to Celibidache’s recording wherein “phrase [is stretched] into environment”
  • Their facial expressions wander through a Romantic environment

Because the headphones conceal the sound of the recording and Carolyn’s facial guide is memorized/embodied, during the performance an audience is confronted with an ‘incomplete’ picture of the work. The diagram above [click to expand] is designed to illustrate not only the intricacies of the work that underlie the construction and performance of Adagio, but also serves to represent terminology I have adopted in constructing a response to what I think is a fascinating question that this piece poses: What might it mean to an audience to be presented with powerfully evocative expressive and emotive facial expressions that are unexplained, where headphones privatize listening experiences and paradoxically tether facial expressions to the implication of sound (an idea of listening) and the external reality of silence?

In my search for an answer to this question, I started thinking through an idea I had that a presentation of this piece is an invitation to participate in voyeuristic listening, a following of someone’s private and intimately emotional and facial relationship with some assumed sonic referent. Relatedly, I contemplated the idea that the piece excavates bodily listening practices and reflects them back onto the audience. However, my readings of Chen’s piece subordinated the foregrounded facial expressions to an assumed and precise sonic referent, ignoring the fact that an ontologically discernible aural reality has been deliberately obfuscated by the use of headphones. Instead of assuming that the headphones signify some specific sonic referent, I became interested in the idea the headphones could more generally signify a type of personal listening experience detached from any particular sounds. To me, this shift in emphasis from facial expressions being beholden to some particular listening experience restores primacy to the facial expressions and imbues their movements with a sense of agency.

It seems appropriate to focus on the facial aspect of Adagio given the fact that a performance of the piece is essentially a retracing of Chen’s facial wandering through her listening of Bruckner’s music. In conversation with Chen, she describes her attraction to Celibidache’s interpretation of Bruckner for the way that phrases are stretched into environments. In making Adagio I imagine Chen facially wandering through the Romantic landscape of Bruckner, retrospectively making notes from her journeys, and mapping those journeys onto Bruckner’s score to form a guided dérive for other people. By withholding the exact musical terrain trekked during a performance of Adagio and presenting only the performers’ facial movements, I have the sense that the piece presents an audience with of a living map for grafting, through emotional and facial steps, leaps, pauses, distractions and fascinations, the terrain of Celibidache’s environment onto the general experience of listening. The performers of Adagio become scores for future listening experiences. This is a model of listening where faces hear and modulate their environment.

To illustrate the full ramifications of this idea, I offer an anecdote recounted by Guy Debord about “a friend [who] had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London.” To be clear, what I am suggesting is that a performance of Adagio could be détourned, read, and utilized as a psychogeographic map for listening to any other musical or sonic landscape in resonance with another human’s facial wandering through one of Bruckner’s sonic cathedrals. For me at least, this reading makes sense of the seemingly absurd situation of a ‘loud silence’ in Adagio. It expands what the piece means to me; it expands my appreciation of the facial facets of performance in general; and, perhaps most importantly, makes me excited to present this work for an audience of other thinkers, movers, and feelers who will undoubtedly respond to the piece in their own unique way.

Come and pour over Chen’s map at performances on 23rd April in London and 30th April in Manchester and let me know what you think afterwards. In the meantime, you can watch Chen alongside Clint McCallum and Ian Power as they perform Adagio in the video embedded above. And if you’re interested in giving my proposition of the piece a test, you may find it interesting to mute the video (to remove background hiss) and listen to some other music or sounds of your choosing while copying one (or all) of the performers’ facial expressions…

Or perhaps you’d like to try my proposition with this equally intriguing video made by Ensemble DieOrdnungDerDinge in preparation for performances of Chen’s Adagio in which they wander through an excerpt of Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra:

-Michael Baldwin

Better Know A Weisslich: Alice Purton

As I write this I have just come back from a rehearsal for my latest piece, Laughter Studies 2, with Alice Purton. During the rehearsal of the piece, in which we both listen to manipulated sounds on headphones and react to them in real time, she asks “How do you want me to act? Do I stay sad or go back to neutral for those 2 seconds?” It’s a small but important detail in the piece, one which, admittedly, I hadn’t thought about, and it instantly reminds me of one of the reasons I love making music with really good performers – to have those types of interactions which provide a totally fresh perspective on your work, making you see things that you didn’t see before.

Alice is the dream performer to work with. Whether playing cello strings or other objects, singing, making declamatory statements on stage, or unrolling sellotape in a huge hall, she’s someone who cuts through all the bullshit and wants to get to the essence of the piece – what it’s doing, how it’s doing it, and why she should care. Which, in turn, makes you care when she performs. Working with her, there is always an element of collaboration, even if I’ve been a Composer with a capital C and written everything down (or, in this case, recorded everything in sound), there are ideas concerning what we’re supposed to be thinking about when we do this, whether we should look at each other here or not, and what that might mean; ideas that end up affecting the piece creatively and aesthetically. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Alice Purton”

Better Know A Weisslich: Samuel Stoll

Continuing the Better Know A Weisslich series inaugurated prior to Weisslich 4, we return to introduce Weisslich 5’s two featured artists: Samuel Stoll and Alice Purton.

First up is Samuel, a hornist and performer currently based in Berlin who will be performing Georgy Dorokhov’s counter-exposition-I, Stephen Crowe’s Tenvelopes, and a piece that him and I collaboratively developed titled Buzzed.

At every turn, Samuel is a surprising, versatile, and fascinating musician. Be it his eclectic repertoire, his unencumbered performance installations, or the extensive list of collaborators he has worked with, one gets the sense that Samuel is constantly renewing himself through his artistic practice. Searching the internet for ‘Samuel Stoll hornist’ can lead you down a rabbit hole of performances including, but not limited to: a man getting wet with his horns as he wades through a fountain, an archive of a man opening mysterious envelopes as prompted by a disembodied voice, a dazzling feat of gymnastics located between embrouchure and French horn mouthpiece, and this (which I still don’t really have words for).

Following something of a similar journey across Samuel’s wide-ranging output is precisely how I initially became aware of Samuel. One day, I had noticed that a new recording of Ray Evanoff’s Negotiating the Absolute Location of Buoyancy (that dazzling feat of gymnastics mentioned above) had surfaced. Captivated by the dexterity exhibited in Samuel’s performance of the piece, it wasn’t long before I was deep into a clickhole. On the other side, I was certain that I wanted to know more about this musician. The excitement that leapt across in his performances, the audacity and eschewal of modesty, a daring embrace of vulnerability in performance, all tempered by a palpable virtuosity combined to form an extremely attractive and rejuvenating personality.

So, I sent him an email, and off on another musical journey I went.

In a way that mirrors how I came to know Samuel – through the documentation of his performances – and also facilitates long-distance collaboration, we established a practice of exchanging media. This involves sending back and forth packages variably containing video and audio recordings of us musicking, text scores, suggestions for ways of listening to and looking at what we send to each other, and so on. These artefacts of performance/exchange in turn inform how we understand each other’s musical sensibilities, and in part constitute compositional material for finalised pieces emerging out of our collaboration.

Although I have since meet Samuel in person multiple times now, my feeling is that our relationship is somehow irrevocably conditioned by a type of digital logic. More fundamental though – our relationship is primarily performative. And so, as a way of giving potential audiences a taste for how Samuel and I work together and understand each other, as well as offering something like an insight into the piece that we have collaboratively developed, I present the following montage/teaser made up of some of the media that Samuel and I have exchanged with each other.

-Michael Baldwin


For those already initiated to contemporary music, Jennifer Walshe needs no introduction. She has performed in and written for the most prestigious and well-known international music festivals (Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and Donaueschinger Musiktagen, to list a few), and has enjoyed a fruitful and varied international career as a composer and vocalist for well over a decade.

For the upcoming concert on Saturday 31st, I have been learning a piece by her called THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE. It’s one I’ve wanted to perform ever since my composition tutor made me aware of it a couple of years ago (love at first sight, you might say). This is because, first of all, I had never seen a score with pictures of people skateboarding on it before (come to think of it, I haven’t seen one since). Second of all, I had never seen a score that was printed on/as a T-shirt. This was a score that went beyond the realms of simple instruction-giving and made a case for being appreciated in itself as a piece of visual, material, and conceptual art.

Then, there’s what the score actually asks you to do. Something that much of Jennifer Walshe’s work explores is a “method-acting” style approach to composing, where the performer inhabits the piece day in day out, in character, as it were. (She recently wrote an opera where the protagonist is a female boxer, in which singer Laura Jayne Bowler actually learned to box with ex-professional Cathy “The Bitch” Brown). The piece reaches beyond the usual confines of the concert hall and practice room, and becomes a part of your life.

In THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS, the performer is first and foremost asked to “learn to skateboard, however primitively”. This is an activity that I had naively thought would be quite straightforward. It’s not. The first reason why is that, and I know this sounds obvious, the ground rolls underneath you. For a while, gone is that well-loved stability where you are master of your movement. You are a servant to the flow of your board. You’re rolling, bro. All the time. The first step, then, is to get used to moving in what feels like fast forward. (Actual skaters, those for whom the synergy between human and board has reached levels of natural effortlessness, will of course not see this type of movement as fast – if you skate for long enough I’d imagine you might see walking as unbearably slow. But this is a total beginner’s perspective, and I hope I’m not alone in feeling like the first time you try to skateboard, the speed and lack of control is a tiny bit scary. I guess overcoming it is part of the appeal.)

The second reason is that the activity itself requires you to engage differently with the environment around you. An incline is no longer just an incline; it’s an opportunity. A strip of smooth tarmac has a certain feel; a cobbled alley isn’t going to be particularly pleasant; wood is fast, rubber is slow, grass is an injury-safe sanctuary for practising ollies. You go around spotting these different zones where different types of movement and behaviour are possible, earmarking that spot for speed, or that one for smoothness, or that one for attempting a trick. Without wanting to sound too grandiose, skateboarding changes your perception of life.

Examine and meditate on optimum skating environments […] Go for a walk and imagine being able to skate everything you see […] Contemplate the ability of skate-boarding to articulate space, find new paths through architecture, fresh uses for it. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

I had played the roller-skating video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on the PC, a game in which you go around skating everything around you, no matter how impossible it would really be (ridiculous jumps between ledges at great heights, no chance of dying or breaking bones, a skateboard that starts moving automatically like it has a 5L engine – it’s a game after all), and, well, this was like playing that, but in real life. Slower, and in your head rather than on a screen, but real nevertheless. It’s like playing your environment. The function of everything changes – houses are no longer spaces for people to live in, they are objects of certain roughness lying at a certain angle, connecting to other objects with different roughnesses which lie at different angles, which themselves are only a jump and a 1080 away from more objects lying at equally different angles… I spent several days wandering around my neighbourhood doing exactly what the score describes – interacting with every single ledge, fence, bench, or wall, making occasional videos, often to the amusement of bystanders (one of whom stopped and asked me whether there was anything wrong with the handrails on some public steps, presumably assuming that I was some sort of vigilante inspector for rails, ledges and fences). Encircled by high-rise flats, lining a busy road with moving traffic, a public playground, replete with ping-pong tables, see-saws, round metal gyrating chairs and bicycle parking racks, became a sea of potential.

Compose an imaginary path you would like to skate. This path should push and force you to limits, be rich, beautiful, complicated and stylish, and incorporate some tricks. This path is limited only by your imagination. – Jennifer Walshe, THIS IS WHY PEOPLE O.D. ON PILLS/AND JUMP FROM THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE (2004)

Reading this sentence made me remember why I became a musician in the first place: to let my imagination run wild. I’m reminded here of an interview with the author Jonathan Franzen where he says “I think it is what the serious writer is needed for now: to assert the right to imagine.” I can think of few musicians who would disagree if we replaced ‘writer’ with ‘composer’ or ‘performer’. Maybe it’s just worth remembering that you also have the power to unlock that right for others – something all music should aspire to do.

–Louis d’Heudieres