T.D. Skatchit — Skatch Migration (Edgetone, 2010)
It’s still sometimes incongruous, as on the first album. But skatchboxes — homemade instruments played by scraping combs, sticks, or files against various textured surfaces — make for fun headphone listening, and some of the instrumental pairings are quite innovative. If you enjoy the curled, quirky sounds of abstract electronics/noise, you’ll find a lot to like. Sounds range from determined and fast-paced scratching to slower, calmer sounds — one resembling a marble being rolled around a wooden box, for instance.
But this territory got covered pretty well with the first album. The skatchbox has such a distinctive sound, and the lack of any sustain give its varied noises an overall dryness that doesn’t ever let up. While it’s got the infinite possibilities of any instrument, I have to admit I found myself wondering whether another whole album of skatching was really called for.
I did like the album. In its defense, it reflects a good number of strategies for mixing other instruments with the skatchbox.
Some of the acoustic “musical” instruments, for example, take the foreground, at least for my ears. The skatchbox chatter became a crisp alien backdrop, supporting the lead improviser. That’s especially the case with Scott Looney’s sad piano piece, or Bruce Ackley’s not-so-traditional saxophone melody.
Other players worked at fitting in. On “Flammable Skatch,” Kyle Bruckmann, who’s good at making the oboe sound non-oboe-like, plays airy screeches that almost could have come from skatchboxes. One of Doug Carroll’s cello tracks goes for a slashing, reverb-laden sound that reflects the kinetic skatchbox mentality.
As on the first album, we get to hear that abstract electronics can be a natural skatchbox partner, through contributions by Gino Robair and especially Tim Perkis. And while the first album had Karen Stackpole’s gongs, this one has Jacob Felix Heule scraping a cymbal for a similarly deep, doomy ringing — a really interesting setting for the skatchboxes.
Vocalists appear on five of the 15 tracks. Bob Marsh’s deep voice makes a nice cartoony babble on “What Did It?”, a fun track. But Aurora Josephson — the only guest duplicated between the two albums — steals the show, first with “Tip of My Tongue,” which is full of wordplay written by Michalak, and with “Indecision Revision,” a collection of “Mm-hm” and “Huh-uh” sounds.
Tom Nunn and Dave Michalak do seem to have added to the skatchbox vocabulary. I’m out of town as I write this, without T.D. Skatchit & Co. handy for direct comparison, but Nunn and Michalak seem to be working with amplified skatchboxes more frequently on this album and they may have added some new elements that produce nearly vocal sounds, similar to the puppy-dog sounds I’d heard from a bowed instrument called the daxophone. (Each skatchbox is uniquely hand-made, so each instrument can be vastly different.)
Previous skatchbox posts: