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Tom Nunn

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Tom Nunn has designed, built and performed with original musical instruments since 1976, having received a B.Mus. and M.A. in music composition from the University of Texas at Austin and S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook, and post-graduate work at U.C. San Diego. His instruments typically utilize commonly available materials, are sculptural in appearance, utilize contact microphones for amplification, and are designed specifically for improvisation with elements of ambiguity, unpredictability and nonlinearity.

Tom has designed and built over 200 instruments, representing three basic types: space plates, electroacoustic percussion boards, and skatchboxes. Space plates are metal sheets with bronze rods that are bowed; the plate is supported by inflated balloons, allowing the plate to resonate. Electroacoustic percussion boards are plywood sheets with various hardware devices attached such as nails, threaded steel rods, bronze rods, combs, etc., played with a variety of small percussion implements. Skatchboxes are cardboard boxes with objects such as washers, combs, toothpicks, bronze rod, dowel, etc. taped or glued to the exterior that are played with various modified combs. All of Tom’s instruments are amplified using contact microphones and have sculptural qualities.

Tom has performed extensively throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years, as well as in other parts of the U.S., Canada, Europe, and New Zealand, both as soloist and with other musicians. Tom has performed with various groups over the years and currently works with T.D. SKATCHIT, RTD3 and GHOST IN THE HOUSE. He has appeared on a number of recordings, including his solo CD, "Identity." (2007), “T.D. Skatchit & Company” (2009) and “Skatch Migration” (2010) (all on Edgetone Records). In 1998, he completed writing and self-published WISDOM OF THE IMPULSE: ON THE NATURE OF MUSICAL FREE IMPROVISATION, a book that examines various aspects of this illusive art and presents a theoretical foundation for creative listening, analysis and discussion. Tom has also written a number of articles about the use of experimental instruments and improvisation in publications such as EXPERIMENTAL MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, MUSICWORKS and LEONARDO. He was an invited participant in the Sound Symposium in St. John’s Newfoundland in 1994 and has participated several times in the annual San Francisco Bay Area Festival for People and Thingamajigs. In 2007, he was one of 10 instrument inventors invited to participate in the City of Auckland’s biannual cultural festival, AK07. In 2009, he performed with RTD3 in the Improvisers Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.


My most recent invention and related project is the Lukie Tube. Various lengths of cardboard tubes (1.75, 2 and 2.25 inches dia.) with one end cut at a slight angle are "scooted" along a 12-foot strip (7.5 inches wide) of stainless steel supported by two inflated balloons in buckets. (As are space plates, but these plates do not have rods.) The plate is sanded in various overlapping patterns with a high speed sanding disc, and it is this texture which sets the tube vibrating as it is moved along the length of the plate. The Lukie Tube is held like a pencil and pushed along the plate to produce a specific pitch, which can bend a minor second depending on the angle of the tube to the plate and the speed and pressure. These single tones can break into whole chords (and different chords for the same tube!), again, depending on speed, pressure and angle. One can elicit a tone with the very slightest and slowest movement of the tube along the plate. I currently have 2 plates, a second with less texturing (and less tendency to break into chords). I have a number of tubes from 12" to 30" or so. I can adjust the pitch(es) of a tube using a "bracelet" (a piece of the same tubing 2 or 3 inches long and slit open along the length so as to clamp over the Lukie Tube). The bracelet can be slid along the upper length of the tube to vary the pitch as much as a perfect 5th, though usually around a major or minor 3rd. The sound is highly sustained and haunting. The name is in honor of my dog, Luke, who passed away a couple weeks after I discovered these tubes.


Upcoming Events:

Turquoise Yantra Grotto

32 Turquoise Way

Friday, May 2 2014 8:00 PM

Dean Santomieri & RTD3
with Tom Nunn, Doug Carroll and Ron Heglin
@ Turquoise Yantra Grotto
Fri. May 2, 8-10 pm
32 Turquoise Way SF

Dean Santomieri will open the show with a solo set of songs for
non-standard tuned guitars and voice, more Harry Partch than Harry
Connick, more Guy Debord than Gui de machaut.

RTD3 is a trio of improvisers who have worked together for decades in various groups, this trio being the most recent, formed in 2004.  Their music demonstrates a collective intuition that guides the ongoing formation of composition effortlessly through a stream of acoustic images.  Their focus lies in the innate potential of each moment to imply musical direction.  Coming primarily from the classical tradition (versus jazz, for instance), the group’s strongest sensibility can be found in their phrasing and interactions, trading roles and functions as quickly as the music demands.  The stimulus for ORIGINS lies in the group’s natural, linguistic type of interactions and utterances.  Ron Heglin’s “fictitious linguistics” can range from chant to whispers to storytelling to proclamations and so on, at times setting the voice apart from the instrumental sounds and at other times blending seamlessly with them.  Tom Nunn’s original experimental instruments (e.g. the skatchbox, crustacean and T-rodimba) bring a fresh and unique element to the group sound that infuses the unknown and the familiar.  And Doug Carroll contributes his unique “voice” of the cello using attachments and ingenious techniques to complement and interact as a dramatic character and, at times, articulating subtle and quiet sonic delicacies.  RTD3 is well known in the Bay Area for its refined sense of ensemble and unique group “voice.”


The Turquoise Yantra Grotto is a house concert series for avant improvisers and invented instrumentalists with a focus on ethno-modernism and extended techniques. We hold a monthly event which is part concert, part art opening and part social club, near glen canyon in San Francisco.

Berkeley Arts

2133 University Avenue

Saturday, Jun 14 2014 2:00 PM

The 2nd Annual Richard Waters New Music Festival - a festival of musical invention inspired by Richard Waters and his creation, the Waterphone. The festival will run from 2 – 10 PM and feature musicians from the greater bay area, including a large waterphone ensemble to open and close the show.

Partial line-up more TBA.

Rent Romus - solo saxophone

Music For Hard Times
Tom Nunn - inventions, Paul Winstanley - extended electric bass

Get Your Bad Self Ready!
Steve Shain - metal bass, Ted Dutcher, Bart Hopkin - inventions, Mike Knowlton - inventions

Jon Raskin - solo

Eric Glick Rieman and Bryan Day - prepared Rhodes & inventions

Reconnaissance Fly
Polly Moller, Amanda Chaudhary, Rich Lesnik, Larry the O and Tim Walters

Full Disclosure Big Band
Gary Knowlton, Keith Cudaback, Lee Charlton, Tom Solinger, Rob Wright

The Emercency String Ex-tet
Bob Marsh - contrabass, Doug Carroll - cello, David Michalak - lap steel, Jeff Hobbs- violin, Kristina Dutto - violin

The Richard Waters Orchestra
Tom Nunn, Bart Hopkin, Eric Glick Rieman, Gary Knowlton, Lee Charlton, Karen Stackpole - waterphones and Cindy Webster - saw

Grosse Abfahrt
Tom Djll - trumpets, electronics, Kyle Bruckmann - oboe, English horn, Jacob Felix Heule - percussions, electronics, Matt Ingalls - clarinets, Tim Perkis - electronics, John Shiurba - guitar

Doug Carroll - cello, birds

Ghost in the House
Tom Nunn - inventions, Polly Moller - bass flute, John Ingle - saxophones, Kyle Bruckmann - double reeds, Karen Stackpole - gongs, percussion, David Michalak - lap steel, percussion

CDs on which Tom Nunn appears:

Gebbia, Robair, etc.A Night in PalermoRastascan RecordsBRD 041
Masaoko, Nunn, RobairCrepuscular MusicRastascan RecordsBRD 030
PKD Vortex Project Music Inspired by Phil K. DickEdgetone RecordsEDT 4003
T.D. Skatchit & CompanySkatch MigrationEdgetone RecordsEDT4103
T.D. Skatchit & CompanyT.D. Skatchit & CompanyEdgetone RecordsEDT4096
Tom NunnBurning PalmsGaruda Records100
Tom NunnIdentityEdgetone RecordsEDT4047