This Is Not Music – Skateboard Concerto

07.26.13 – Templeton Elliott

TSM contributor, Seb Carayol, recently invited classical pianist Fortunato d’Orio to rework the music from eighteen selected classic video parts and then play those songs live while the parts were projected on-screen.

Carayol and his blog, A Visual Sound, live where the Venn diagram of skateboarding and music intersect, and he’s been dissecting that relationship for years.

We caught up with Carayol to find out, exactly, how this project came to be.

Fortuato and Seb in Marseille.

Where did this idea come from?

Sometime last year, I was proposed a three-day carte blanche to put together performances that pertain to skateboarding during an exhibit called This Is (Not) Music, in my city: Marseille, France. The idea came from wanting to showcase the importance of music in skateboard videos, to the point where somebody who skates will never not associate a certain song to a legendary video part… and I love that it can go from Coltrane to, like, A-Ha.

How did you select the video parts?

I made a short list of about 50 of my personal favorite video parts based on their soundtrack as well. From there I very painfully slimmed [it] down to eighteen, all the while trying to mix up musical genres and eras (as, yes, I have this tendency to gravitate towards the mid–late ’90s, were I to strictly follow my “droorstalgic” heart), and also trying to really keep in the mix some of these songs that you’d most probably never have heard of if they hadn’t been in a skateboard video… McRad for instance.

Music is an important element to a video part. How do you think changing to a piano cover changes the part?

My idea with the piano was to make skateboard flicks sound grand—not pompous—and just give them some reverence. Since skateboarding is now in contemporary art museums, I thought it deserved this fanfare. Also, it was a way to show narrow-minded people that melody can be anywhere, as much in Black Flag or Iron Maiden as in jazz.

How was the crowd reaction on the night of the performance?

Pretty awesome. There were rows of people from the classical piano world (including the 70-plus –year–old pianist who rewrote La Trahison Orale for the GRIM [rough translation: Group of Search and Musical Improvisation] in Marseille) mixed with skaters—and that was the point. From the stage, where I was semicontrolling the video screen, I saw the editor in chief of France’s best skate mag shed a tear at the “Hallowed Be Thy Name” intro, and I remember punk nomad, Belgian pro skater, David Martelleur going ape shit when he heard the first notes of “Uptown Top Ranking” (Huf’s tune in the FTC video). Funny thing is, all the skaters wanted to explode but they didn’t dare to yell or react too much, so they were making these super enthusiastic arms gestures, but in silence…

What was the pianist’s reaction to the project when you brought it to him? Was he familiar with skateboarding?

Fortunato had never seen a skateboard video in his life, and he basically fully embraced the project, to the point that he’s now asking me questions about Marc Johnson. That was the whole point: Take somebody who couldn’t be biased by a trick or that trick’s difficulty. Besides, not delving into Fortunato’s life too much, we found out, after the fact, that he happens to be a die-hard Sepultura fan and scares the shit out of his students at the conservatoire when he tries to have them listen to what he’s got in his iPod!

Fortunato also had really cool requests. Sometimes he does improvs on old Buster Keaton movies, so he asked me if I could find something like that in a skate flick, hence the Charlie Chaplin/Koston skit that he rescored brilliantly. Stuff like that.

Did Fortunato work with the video part or just the song when making his arrangement? Do you think that would make a difference, making a score to the video instead for just a cover of a song?

Yes it would. It took him three months to write all the music sheets and partitions for the eighteen songs. He worked from the tunes and then adapted them a little bit to the actual part when time came closer to the show. It wasn’t synched at all to the way the editing was done, though, because I asked him to create rhythm breaks at the moments he thought were the most dramatic to him—somebody who had not seen skateboarding before. That was interesting to confront—how biased we are, as skaters, toward technical difficulty of tricks and not just the mood of a part. I admit that if we had been presented with two weeks of extra time, we could have probably worked more on this video/synching aspect. It was there, but my terrible editing on the Marc Johnson reedit in the Arte Creative part didn’t give it justice at all.

Did anything not work out? Songs not sounding right on just piano, not meshing with the video, etc.?

Yes, a few. After trying and trying, Fortunato decided not to do John Coltrane’s song from Gonz’s part in Video Days. His thing was that Coltrane’s music was based on improv and ethically replaying it from partitions felt awkward. Fully respect that. No hip-hop really worked besides the violin-led instrumental from GZA we had in the show. Rap flow on piano can’t work, and it tends to be just repetitive once stripped from the lyrics. David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” wasn’t working either so we pushed it aside, as well. The super neat thing is that we had a minute and a half between songs so he’d do these super intricate improvs that were killing it. It was an amazing night.

You can see video of the live performance of Anthony van Engelen’s Mind Field part shot at the This Is (Not) Music Festival and an additional clip from Marc Johnson’s Fully Flared part with Fortunato’s piano cover edited in.