The First Patashnik – A Star’s End Live-in-my-studio Session

Oooo, so what’s all this then…?

Chuck Van Zyl asked me to do a one-hour piece for broadcast on his Stars End show on WXPN on 12th September 2021- an offer I really couldn’t refuse. It comes after a series of magnificent live-in-the studio sessions, with the artists actually live in the WXPN studio. Being in the UK meant that my piece would have to be recorded in my little studio – and I played everything as live as possible.

Envisioning the Music – Tom Coppens

Not only is it a really great honour to be asked to do this, but it also coincides with my 100th solo release on Bandcamp – pretty amazing, even to me. Looking back at these releases reminds me that it all started as an experiment in making music in a small space, where every piece of equipment really had to earn its right to be there.  The playing and recording environment was geared towards making live recordings in that space with the minimum of disruption to the improvising process.

So for me, a big part of the environment really is that it’s not just all about gear, and lots of it. It’s about getting the most from a small selection of gear, and getting to know how to use it as fully as possible. Adding something new is only allowed if it adds something that is really missing as there is only limited space. That can be somewhat subjective, but it’s a decent starting point and really helps with the famous Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). Yes, I’ve had lots of different gear over the years (starting way back in the late 70’s), and I still have most of it, but there just isn’t space to use much of it. Whilst it might seem constricting, the lack of space has forced me to think hard about how I make music.

I have been asked many times about my process, or my workflow, and I’ve been invited to discuss my music with a tour of my studio, with pictures. It’s pretty small, distributed across two areas: one for real synths and one for virtual synths, which includes recording and production duties. In between the two is me on a swivel chair, with virtually no space. As for the process, it’s to start playing with something that inspires me and remembering to press record. Yes, it’s almost always that simple.

This piece, “The First Patashnik” was created very much as a result of these limitations – it determines how I move between sections, how I develop parts, and the amount of instrumentation that can be deployed at any time. Consequently, my music doesn’t tend to be super dense, and I have my ways of developing a sequencer section live so that it retains the improvisational nature of its creation. Basically, I’m playing with everything whilst I’m recording, with every controller knob, button etc. usually mapped to something. For me, it’s about capturing as much of the moment as I can – and without making too many mistakes. I’m recording live audio, so if there’s a mistake I either leave it in, or just go again.

As for the name, “The First Patashnik”, this harks back to why I chose the name The Soviet Space Dog Project in the first place. There’s any earlier blog post in it, but rather than just link you back to that post, I’ll explain myself again here.

It was whilst listening to “Patashnik” by Biosphere and reading that the word Patashnik was intended by Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere) to be slang for a cosmonaut who never returned from space (although this is debated and doesn’t appear to be a real Russian word). I started thinking about Laika, the stray mongrel dog picked up in Moscow that became the first living creature to go into orbit in 1957. Unfortunately, she became a Patashnik as she died in the endeavour. The sad part is that she was never meant to return – and even sadder is that it eventually came out that she died from stress and overheating long before she ran out of oxygen. 

Laika – in her capsule

Her death caused a degree of controversy outside of the Soviet Union, and even some concern within it, in an environment in which protest was not always easy, but it did have an effect. Consequently, future dog missions were designed so that the dogs would be recovered and just under three years later, two dogs, Belka and Strelka, became the first living creatures to orbit the Earth and return to Earth, in 1960.

Belka and Strelka – post mission chit-chat

I was inspired by this group of stray dogs, collected up and forced to undergo difficult and rigorous training, helping to set up the Soviet Space Programme in the process. As with a lot of things, I became fascinated by a concept (the Patashnik, in this case) and this led me on a journey of discovery that made the time disappear and made me richer in knowledge at the end of it. These little dogs played such an important part in the Race into Space, something that itself  underpinned the Cold War world of the 1960’s, something that was everywhere as I was growing up.

Whilst Laika is remembered in relief on the base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space (as shown on the cover of the first Bandcamp album, “First Orbit”).

Can you spot Laika…?

It took until 2008 before a dedicated monument to Laika was finally erected in Moscow. It’s an interesting location

She’s a bit easier to spot in this one

Belka and Strelka had the dubious honour of being preserved via taxidermy in the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the base of that monument.

I’m sure this is an honour

One of Strelka’s puppies (Pushinka) even became the pet of the Kennedys, playing its part in Cold War history as it was checked most thoroughly for spying devices before becoming a much-loved family pet. Pushinka graces the cover of the release, “Canine Voting Made Simple”, sitting on the lawn of The White House.

Pushinka enjoying the lawn

So, if you’re reading this before Chuck plays the track, you can hear either through your radio, if you live within broadcast range, or if not as a live stream via the WXPN website. The show is on air from 01:00am until 06:00am Saturday night/Sunday morning (USA Eastern Time Zone).

I hope that you can tune in, it’s always a great show and my piece should be airing during the second hour, i.e. starting at 02.00am (EST), or 07.00am (BST), here in the UK.


It was well received and the full piece is now available via Bandcamp for a very reasonable price.


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