“To keep sane, I do other things outside work such as music. Nietzsche said, ‘Without music, life would be a mistake’—I couldn’t agree more.”
Musician Andy Bloyce jokes with you as you sit in Parliament Square, central London. Beyond your conversation, a veil of scaffolding sheets hide the Elizabeth Tower, which won’t be chiming until 2021. Parliament Square’s surround sound of black cabs and double-decker buses drones on without its quarter-hourly sonic markers.
A warm, friendly character, Andy works as a project manager in central London. Outside of work, he has also enjoyed a long career as a creator of music. His continuous pursuit of sound, improvisation, and experimentation has taken him from blues bands to electronic music bands—notably the international electronic music group Kubusschnitt. His current solo music project is The Soviet Space Dog Project, which builds on decades of experience in both analogue and digital music worlds.
“I don’t plan; I don’t compose. It’s very much in the moment. And consequently, my solos are very constrained by that. My music tends not to have the feeling of having been pre-scripted.”
Growing up in the south east London district of Lambeth, Andy’s young musical imagination was captured by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.
“The first time I heard Pink Floyd it was like something had hit me between the eyes. I just couldn’t believe I’d not heard it before.”
Andy’s foray into creating music began with an electric guitar and a small amp. But he soon added the emerging world of electronic music to his set of musical interests. Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream became two such sources of inspiration, introducing him to the sound of synthesisers. Andy kept his guitar, but began to buy synthesisers too.
“Guitars are great—you can do so much with them and put so many pedals around them if you want to. I quite liked the pure blues sound of the guitar singing through a valve amp. I was never really into pedals. But then I started hearing some of the synthesisers and thought, ‘Wow, there are some really great sounds there.’”
By 1982, Andy had seen some of his heroes of electronic music artist perform live, making the scene tangible and alive for him.
“I saw Klaus Schulze in a tiny little club called The Venue, in Victoria. Schulze turned up with a big white rug which he sat on cross-legged with a giant Moog modular and other synthesisers around him. That was almost a religious experience.”
“At the time, I luckily had enough money to start buying some of the early synthesisers. I missed out on the first phase—the analogue phase in the late 1970s—I was slightly too young for that. I was right on the tail end of the analogue phase.”
Andy’s love of electronic music helped him identify a broader interest in science, technology and electrical engineering. After finishing school, he studied electronic engineering for a further four years. He was especially passionate about instances in which technology and music overlap, and designed and built a MIDI interface and wrote the code to run a sequencer for his final project.
After getting his career on track with a job as a research scientist, Andy began to step up his involvement in music. He joined a blues band and began gigging around London.
“We played around at some of London’s grottiest venues. And you certainly don’t do that for the money. That was back in the days when people would smoke in pubs as well, so you’d get back at about 2am and you’d put all your clothes in the washing bin and go straight in the shower.”
While Andy’s blues bands offered him the opportunity to improvise live, he eventually found that blues music was too structured as his solos were confined to segments of songs. He wanted to embrace even freer forms of improvisation.
“Playing blues, you have to play the songs so that people recognise them. I’d get my nod and have my moments, but for the rest of the time I’d be backing the singer up.”
In 1995, Andy began to think about new avenues for his blues-inspired soloing.
Though he had been slowly collecting synthesisers, Andy didn’t have a means of recording himself. In 1997, Andy set about fixing that. He took five weeks off work and gave himself a mission. He decided to try and build an eight track studio.
Following careful planning and breaking the task down into a series of steps, Andy had his eight track studio by the end of the five weeks.
“I designed it, worked it all out, bought everything I needed, made all the cables, constructed the nineteen inch racks…”
The first track Andy recorded was an homage to an inspiration, German electronic music-maker Manuel Göttsching, which he called ‘Manual Gearchange’.
Andy’s eight-track analogue tape studio had crucially taught him to listen critically and carefully when improvising. He was ready to take his creation of electronic music to the next stage and put his new studio to good use.
That same year, Andy had joined an emailing list for Tangerine Dream fans. Emails would be bounced across the whole group, allowing fans to communicate with one another. Some of the fans broke away to form a new emailing group called Beyond EM (EM standing for electronic music).
“We started by sending music to each other, which was quite difficult back then because you couldn’t just use DropBox! Downloading MP3s would take an hour and a half on dial-up, so instead we would send a digital audio tape (DAT) or something like that, which I don’t think many people use any more. It looks like a tiny cassette, but it’s actually recording the sound digitally onto magnetic tape. We’d send them around to each other to get ideas flowing.”
Andy and a few others in the emailing list became interested in getting together to create some music. Together with Jens Peschke, Ruud Heij, Tom Coppens, Andy formed the band Kubusschnitt. The four, despite meeting on an emailing list, immediately hit it off.
The group would take it in turns to meet up at each other’s houses to make music, which involved travel; Ruud lived in Holland; Tom in Belgium; Jens, Germany.
By 2001, they had already landed festival gigs, and played at Alfa Centauri Festival, in Huizen, Holland. They rehearsed at Ruud’s house.
“Ruud has the best collection of vintage synthesisers you’ve ever seen. He’d bought them just at the right time, at that moment when you could pick fantastic things up really cheaply. He had the foresight to do it and hang on to them. And he knew how to use them. So he could create the sounds. He did a lot of good stuff.”
“At the time of the rehearsal, went down to Ruud’s favourite takeaway, filled ourselves up on chips and Dutch snacks. We came back and he’d got a crate of beer in that we then started drinking. We turned all the lights off and made a recording which became the album, The Kubient. It’s a completely live, 55-minute piece. I was playing the guitar using an e-bow, which you hold in your hand – it creates an electromagnetic field and makes the strings vibrate like a bow. You knock the attack of the sound. I also had a bottle neck. I was getting some weird sounds. So there’s a lot of sounds in that one that you wouldn’t guess are a guitar.
“And the great thing about that one is that we weren’t recording with microphones; everything was channelled into a direct recording. So we could talk to each other throughout, and communicate about trying different things. That was one of the most fun things we did. I think sometimes telling people how it was recorded, and them being surprised that it was live, well it was just us being silly. That was the best fun, just making it in the moment. That came from how I always liked to do things.”
Kubusschnitt was picked up on the commercial radar by an independent label called Neu Harmony, run by Dave Law in Sheffield.
“There was a small community which revolved around this music. Dave knew us for making music; we knew him for selling music. He had some good people on his label. He was always interested in hearing more of what we were doing. Once he started listening, he couldn’t get enough. All our gigs were recorded and then issued, which is a blessing and not a blessing.”
Creative Londoners: What makes you say ‘not a blessing’?
Andy Bloyce: “One of the things I personally find is that I like to walk the tight rope a bit when I’m improvising. And then sometimes I push it a bit far and just fall off the rope, if that makes sense. Usually when that happens you feel like it’s good that you’ve pushed it. But what’s not so good is when there’s someone sitting there recording it. What I tend to do when I know I’m being recorded is to not push it quite so far—so then I’m colouring within the lines, which I think is a bit of a con for the audience who might want to see you fly all the way out there. Not because they want to see you crash and burn, but you get those moments where you think ‘Oh that was really good. Where did that come from?’ And of course, along with that comes the not so good bits. It’s there forever.
“There’s a couple of those on one of the gigs we did where I just went a bit too far and fell off the tight rope. For example, during the Krautrock Karnival, in Exeter in 2002. I flew right off. We then spent all of the money from that gig on a roadtrip to Stonehenge and on the way back to London. The teashop didn’t know what hit it.
Creative Londoners: Do you ever play composed solos?
“I’ve played in lots of different sorts of bands and the ones that have always been less successful for me have been the ones where people have tried to constrain me by making me play something specific. I once did a gig with a band who wanted me to recreate some specific solos as they were on their albums. I had a good go for them, but it works better for me when you tell me the key, whether or not you’re going to change key, and if so, where you going to go. Or better still, nod when you want me to start and nod when you want me to stop.”
In 2003, some ten albums later, Andy parted ways with Kubusschnitt.
In 2004 Andy got the chance to develop something which would lead the way to a new avenue of scientific interest. Entering into management levels at work, he had the opportunity to train as an executive coach. The point of the training was to teach him how to help others be the best they can be at what they want to be best at—a crucial skill for management.
Andy became fascinated about the psychology involved in the training and wanted to learn more.
“Interestingly, one of the things the training taught me is that I really love to improvise in everything I do. For instance, in coaching interviews I like the buzz of going in and letting the questions come to me as I go through. I don’t worry, panic and over-plan.”
Becoming increasingly reflective about his interests and wanting to learn more, Andy began studying a psychology degree at the Open University, which he completed over the course of five years.
Impacting both his work life and music life, Andy’s degree taught him the importance of self-reflection: he learned how crucial it is to celebrate his strengths, to be honest about what he enjoys and to understand how to be critical in a constructive way.
One invaluable product of reflection for Andy was honing the mental skill of freeing his mind from over-planning, whilst ensuring that he delivers projects on time at work.
“I’ve been using a thing called a ‘kanban’, which is Japanese for sign-board. It’s useful for task management. Every project I have, I break down into a sequence of doable tasks. It keeps me motivated and gives me the sense of making achievements.”
Today, Andy makes music for The Soviet Space Dog Project, a solo project for which he uses the best from the analogue and digital world.
Creative Londoners: What’s the project all about?
Andy Bloyce: For me, it’s about fun. And I quite enjoy just having that fun, building the layers. I try and do as much live as possible. But having said that, I don’t have literally enough equipment around me to get everything I want at once. So that’s why I’m overdubbing and working back round again. But the amount of post-processing you can do now is fantastic. There are lots of things you can add on to give the feeling that something was recorded on quarter-inch tape or something. Just gives you some of that degraded sound, rolls off some of the treble, fans it out a little bit. For me, that’s when I start to really have fun; it starts to remind me of the things I really like. It tends to just happen. I get a couple of nights a week to do this stuff.
Creative Londoners: The Soviet Space Dog Project is a cracking name. Is there a story behind it?
Andy Bloyce: I was listening to the album Patashnik (an ambient house classic) by Biosphere and reading that the word ‘Patashnik’ was intended to be a slang term for a cosmonaut who never returned from space (although this is debated and doesn’t appear to be a real Russian word).
“This got me thinking about Laika, the stray dog that was picked up in Moscow and which became the first living creature to go into orbit. Unfortunately, she became a Patashnik as she died in the endeavour. The sad part is that she was never meant to return—even sadder is that she died from stress and over-heating long before she ran out of oxygen. This caused some degree of controversy outside of the Soviet Union, but it did have an effect as future dog missions were designed so that the dogs would be recovered. Just under three years later, the two dogs Belka and Strelka became the first living creatures to orbit the Earth and return to Earth.
“Whilst Laika is remembered on the base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space (as shown on the cover of the Bandcamp album, ‘First Orbit’), Belka and Streka had the dubious honour of being preserved via taxidermy in the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the base of the monument. I was quite inspired by this group of stray dogs, collected up and forced to undergo difficult and rigorous training and that really set up the Soviet Space Programme. I became inspired by the concept of Patashnik—every time I think about it it leads me on a journey of discovery and makes the time disappear. I’ve probably lost half a day in total reading about the how these dogs played such an important part in the start-up of the Space Race which underpinned the Cold War world.
Creative Londoners: You’ve grown up and lived in London. Would you say the city’s had an impact of your music career?
Andy Bloyce: Absolutely. Living in London gave me the opportunity to see an awful lot of people that I wanted to see in quite intimate settings. It also gave me the ability to go out into other countries to see bands. I wouldn’t think too much about just going out to Berlin to go and see somebody. Cost aside, it doesn’t faze me to go to another city with the express purpose of seeing a gig. It doesn’t worry me. Frankly, if you can get around in London, you can get around anywhere. It’s had a big impact on my life, which in turn has had a big impact on being able to see and hear people I love play live.
You can follow Andy Bloyce’s music on Bandcamp and SoundCloud:
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Photographs by Michael Wayne Plant.