Skatch It Up II

Tom Nunn/David Michalak –T.D. Skatchit & Co. (Edgetone, 2009)

Appearing at Studio 1510 on Saturday, Feb. 13, 8:00 p.m.

Instrument builder Tom Nunn has come up with a portable, easily reproduceable percussion device called the skatchbox, which I’d written about in August.  Now the skatchbox has an album to show off what it can do.

Quick review: The skatchbox consists of metal and hard plastic doodads affixed to a stiff cardboard box — the kind that computer keyboards come in. They can be played acoustically, by grazing a comb or a thin metal stick against the ladderlike elements for a cool percussive sound … or, the skatchbox can be amplified, for noisier effects. Each one is handmade, and there’s no set template — one can have a skatchbox that’s unique.

It’s cool, and here’s the video to prove it.

I would imagine that Nunn simply had access to lots of discarded boxes at his day job.  Cardboard can be a wonderfully resonant material, and the stiffness and thickness of these boxes — not to mention their perfect laptop size — would seem ideal for a musical instrument.  The idea is far from crazy.

The album teams up two skatchboxes with a third instrument. The results are colorful, unique (Nunn appears to have no set template for placing elements onto the boxes), and probably loads of fun to play with.

I tended to favor the more sound-exploratory tracks, with Aurora‘s voice or electronics by Chris Brown, over those with acoustic instruments. Leif Shakelford does some fine work on viola, but the sound clashes too much with the skatchboxes, to my ear.  I’ll probably warm up to it on future listens.

Then again, Jon Raskin turned in some sax work that creates some nice pieces, in three different moods.  “Popcorn Skatch” features the baritone sax making small popping noises, like a tube. “I Told You So” involves perky and tuneful alto sax against the grumpy skatching.  And the best of the three, “Twilight Skatch,” has Raskin playing a meditative, ritualistic melody on baritone sax, a calmness overlaid with the squiggly little skatchbox sounds.

One of the skatchbox’s earliest appearances last year was in a workshop where Nunn taught people to make their own — it’s assembled from household items and playable with a plain old comb, so the only trick is to get hold of a keyboard box, which in Silicon Valley shouldn’t be so hard. So, while I’d love to buy a skatchbox or two for the kids, I think Nunn’s answer might be: Have them go make one. Which isn’t a bad idea.