Award-winning aeronautical engineer by day, electro music producer by night, Dr Chrispy (AKA Dr. Chris Boshuizen) is crafting electronica with a refreshingly vibrant and jazzy sound.
His new album ‘VHS’ is a collection of tracks inspired by multiple global locations and is an eclectic mix that takes listeners on a journey of discovery. SCC collaborator and interviewer ISTORIK decided to find out how Dr Chrispy balances work and play.
ISTORIK: I’m so glad to be able to interview you because I’ve never talked to anyone working in the space industry. Could you describe your job to our readers?
Dr Chrispy: I was always interested in space as a child. I remember reading about the Voyager I and II spacecraft reaching Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune, and being fascinated by the idea of one day going myself. So from an early age I decided I wanted to work in the space industry. I am Australian, but Australia doesn’t have much space activity, so after finishing my education I moved to the United States and got a job at NASA designing new kinds of spacecraft. One of the coolest things I did was put an Android Nexus One smartphone into orbit around the Earth as a stand-alone satellite. This was a spacecraft that was almost like Sputnik with a camera, and it only cost $500!!
This is the first time answering questions about your music, but not about space programs right?
Yes, this is actually my first interview about my music! I’m very excited to talk with you!
So when did you decide to start producing music alongside your main job?
I have always loved music as much as space exploration, but I decided to spend the first part of my career focusing on space. I have been very fortunate, working at NASA, and started my own satellite manufacturing company, but music keeps tugging at me. Although many people think space is cool and interesting, it is music that reaches our emotions and brings us together, and I didn’t want to neglect that part of my life. So about 3 years ago I decided I would do both from now on!
How did the album writing process go? I read that overall you spent almost 15 years on track production!
During my studies, doing a doctoral thesis took a lot of my time, so I almost quit doing music; in fact, I got rid of most of my musical instruments (so sad!). However, I still had my laptop computer, so whenever I was on a plane and got bored of working, I would compose music! Fast forward 15 years, and I had written almost 400 tracks! Not all of them were good, of course, but I had some favourites, so this year I decided to get some of the earlier stuff and put it out!! I wrote the first draft of Dreaming of Home in 2003! The newest song on the album, Goodbye Shanghai, I started writing in October 2017. It was a challenge to keep all the songs sounding good together, I used some of my older synthesizer settings on it so they would make a self-consistent feel on the album.
What is your album VHS all about? Is it a musical story about your life or just purely an expression of entertainment?
I travelled a lot writing this album, and I think it reflects the taste of being in those places and times, and I wanted to share that with the listener. It was my hope to transport them to some of the places where I wrote the music, and evoke the emotions in them that I felt being there. Remember VHS tapes? When I was a kid we would sometimes watch old home movies on Super 8 tape and later on VHS tapes from handycams. In the same way, the album ‘VHS’ is a home recording of my travels that I want to share with you. I hope that people can emotionally connect to the music as they listen.
On your Bandcamp page I saw the “post-synthwave” tag. Do you think this helps categorise your music?
I think it is very easy for synthwave (and all musical genres) to become too much of a cliché – people expect it to always sound the same. I am not interested in creating music that has already been heard, but on pushing the limits. That is why I included non-traditional instruments, like trumpet and electric guitar, and some Cajon (played by my friend Swagmawe) and congas. “Gotta Getta Gatta” features trumpet, upright bass, and cajon, while “Dreaming of Home” incorporates beatboxing and two real flugelhorn parts (played by the amazing Rich Armstrong)! I think music needs to keep evolving, and I enjoyed mixing in these unusual elements. On my next album I will do even more!
Do you have some favourite musicians who inspire you? Have you any synthwave producers as friends?
I am a big fan of David Bowie, and Brian Eno, both of whom were early pioneers of electronic music, and both who enjoyed wiring the synthesizer incorrectly, producing unusual sounds. Inspired by them, I usually start a track with sound design. I create a synthesizer sound that I have never heard before and that excites me, and then the rest of the track usually comes into my head when I hear that sound.
By a strange coincidence, one of my old space friends, Robert Pecknyo, released a space-centered album the day after my album. It features many cool tracks, with a lot of synthwave and ambient influences. I would also love to collaborate with other synthwave musicians in the future!
Let’s find out a little more about you. How did you start to realise your dreams about space?
As I mentioned, Australia does very little in space. When I was growing up there was no space agency or anything really, so it was really difficult. I wanted to be a fighter pilot so I could transfer to being an astronaut, but I found out I was a little colourblind and they disqualified me!!!! After that I decided to study space science, and got to work with original data from the Voyager spacecraft. That was like a dream come true!
Later I went to a space conference in the United States, and the American students had been to space camp at NASA when they were kids, and personally knew Astronauts. I had never met one! I was so jealous! After that I decided I wanted to be friends with these people, so I volunteered at the conference. For 5 years I organised this international conference, building my network and meeting people from all around the world. Many of the songs on this album were written in places that the conference took me, including Japan, Europe, Canada (both Toronto and Vancouver).
Because I was willing to spend so much of my time organizing these conferences, eventually I was invited to work at NASA at one of their California centers, NASA Ames Research Center. I remember it was Christmas and I said to my mother, “I am moving to the United States in 2 weeks to work at NASA.” She wasn’t sad, she was very happy to see her son begin to reach his dreams. (I have a great mum!)
Do you ever think about going to the Moon or Mars like your colleague Elon Musk?
I would love to go to space, but I think that space would be lonely without my friends. So, I decided I would dedicate my life to making space travel as easy as catching a bus. Then my friends, and everyone reading this could come too!! Wouldn’t that be great?
I don’t necessarily want to live on Mars, I just want to visit all the places in the solar system and frequently come back to Earth for the food =).
I saw your cool T-shirt with Yuri Gagarin and the slogan: “The dream became real!” That is so cool! It would be great if you could share your opinions with us: how do you see the future of American and Russian space cooperation?
On April 12 each year many of my space friends host parties all around the world as part of an international event called “Yuri’s Night”. The first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, was a Russian, and his going to space is considered a monumental achievement for all mankind, and so Yuri’s Night aims to celebrate this and spread a message of peace and hope all around the world.
In 2007-2009 we held a huge Yuri’s Night at the NASA Ames Research Facility in California, turning two aircraft hangars into sound stages, with dozens of musicians and artists performing, and famous scientists coming to do publicity. Over 10,000 people each year came to celebrate space at the intersection of space, science, music and art. I would love to do more of these events!
Right now, the US and Russians are very close collaborators, being partners in the International Space Station. Of course, the Space Station is an engineering marvel, but even more importantly, it is the biggest peace-time international collaborative project in the history of the human race. I hope that this peaceful collaboration continues until we have explored all of the solar system together.
Totally agree, it’s really inspirational stuff!
Ok, so lastly, when can we expect your next release? (Hopefully not after another 15 years!!)
I hope not!! I have so much music written and am still writing every day. I learned a lot bringing VHS to the finish line, and think I can produce my next album much more quickly. Now I just need to decide which songs to put on it!! Thank you Oleg for the great interview questions!
SUPPORT DR CHRISPY
Interviewer | ISTORIK
Respondent | Dr Chrispy
Photographs | Ella Sophie
Edited and published by | Graham “Bones” Jones, Steel City Collective