Music in Vienna:


Interview with Alexander Chernyshkov
January 26, 2016

When I asked Alexander Chernyshkov to describe his music I received an answer that explained everything and nothing at the same time: “It is something that you won’t allow your kids to listen to”. After a while he added: But should kids always listen to their parents? 

Alexander is Vienna based contemporary music composer with his own concept about what his music should be and how one can produce it. He claims that everything that we are capable of hearing is music and that music can be found everywhere. Four guitars, clarinets, saxophones and a huge well used tuba are lying around his studio along with the things you would never suspect to be musical instruments: pumpkins, metres of unrolled of duct tape, water pipes, motors and other kinds of hardware parts. There are also thousands of CDs: from Bach through Stravinsky and Cage, to artists you most certainly have never heard of.

Throughout the years Alexander has become ever more mysterious and impossible to catch in Vienna. In 2011 he started to perform and improvise and since then he can be found anywhere from a festival somewhere in London to a live performance in Verona or a CD presentation in Budapest.

I admire his curiosity for the world of sounds as well as for his inexhaustible energy, philosophical attitude and contagious enthusiasm. Alexander states that you never know what will become an inspiration, it can simply be the noise of a passing car or a joke. However, there is no need forartificial inspirations, because if the work needs to be done, he insists, one should just start working and inspiration will come.

Alexander Chernyshkov

Alexander on the roof of his studio in Vienna © Alexander Chernyshkov 

Yulia Belinskaya: When and why did you start to write music?

Alexander Chernyshkov: As far as I remember I’ve always written music, even as a child. The moment I had a musical instrument in my hands I started to improvise and compose. I don't know why or where it comes from. My parents are not musicians and I didn't have classical musical education as a kid. But I was always fascinated with very complex music and I wanted to produce music, not to play it, even though I was playing in different rock and jazz bands. I always felt that playing is somehow limiting and maybe unconsciously I always knew that I would be a composer.

Now I have a straight and simple answer to the question of why I compose. I know that there is music that I want to listen to but it has not been composed yet. Music that I have never heard, but I want to hear. 

YB: If you have to describe your music in one word, what would it be?

AC: (Thinks for a long while) I could give you many poetic words. Poetic actually is a good word. Or contemporary, for example. But the words are the other means of communication, I shouldn't even try to make a translation. Any description I may give you will be just too limited, because music has its own ways to communicate. This is a very abstract view and our attempts to put such things in words will always fail.

YB: But humans tend to classify and categorise everything. So could your music be classified within a specific genre?

AC: It is sometimes electronic, sometimes acoustic. But the best word would be experimental, I suppose. 

Alexander Chernyshkov

Photo © Kasia Chmura-Cegiełkowska, 2015

YB: And what music do you listen to?

AC: Everything from 60s till 2000s. I love jazz and all kinds of electronic music. But it is easy to say what I never listen to - heavy metal. I never listen to radio because I want to choose what I am listening to. And I always prefer to go to a live concert rather than downloading an album. Live music is always very different story. 

YB: What are your non-musical inspirations?

AC: It usually starts from my environment. Yesterday I was returning to Vienna on a bus. There were so many sounds surrounding me: the bus motor, cars passing by, some other mechanical sounds and the voices of people talking. This sound environment was at that moment part of my existence. It triggered my imagination and I was thinking of how could I organise these sounds in a different way, how I could share this part of my world with others by means of composition. I don't want the listener to feel like he is in a bus - that’s not my goal - but I want to share that inner feeling I had while being on that bus.

Inspiration could be anything, not necessary a sound. It could be a joke that I read somewhere. All the experiences that I gained during the years are in my basket so to speak where I search for ideas. 

YB: How do you write? Is there any specific process you could describe?

AC: Actually the process of how you do something is always very easy and practical. If you need the work to be done, composition to be written, you just need to start writing. Inspiration comes to you when you are working, this is how our brain functions. If it has the task it will find a way to fulfill it. There is no need for artificial inspiration. But in order to start, you need to become silent. You need to listen. To analyse what is around you.

Alexander Chernyshkov

With Gerriet K Sharma © Alexander Chernyshkov, 2015

YB: With your music, do you try to imitate sounds that surround you or reproduce what you have in your head or you intend to create something that never existed? 

AC: It is some kind of weird combination of what you just said. To imitate some specific sounds could be a part of the idea. I can build specific instrument for this, but it is never the final goal. 

YB: I know that you can use anything as a musical instrument and that you build most of the instruments yourself. Why? What advantages does it create?

AC: In order to compose the music I wanted to compose, I had to extend the traditional set of instruments, because it was keeping me within the boundaries of already overused sounds. I was modifying instruments a lot to produce sounds that I haven’t heard before. Now it is more interesting for me to combine the sounds of a normal piano, for example, with sounds that have never existed before. But an instrument is just an instrument, it is a vehicle for producing sounds. Of course, sometimes I can create something very complicated and an instrument becomes interesting by itself and people would be curious as to what it is and how it works. 

YB: What is your fascination with motors and electromagnetic hardware?

AC: Well, it is hard to answer because I am still in the process of understanding it myself. At some point I realised that the sounds I was trying to produce are very similar to the sounds of a working motor. It was about two years ago that I began to work with real motors and I immediately realised that this is what I had been searching for. But why am I so fascinated? The answer may be that a motor is very close to all musical instruments. In fact it is the essence of any, because what it really does is produce basic constant vibrations and with many different motors you could make an orchestra.

Alexander Chernyshkov

Electric relay. Installation by Alexander Chernyshkov at Essl Museum. Photo © Karlheinz Essl

YB: Do you actually care if people enjoy your music?

AC: It is a very tricky question. It can be very dangerous if you care too much about the listener. If the listener was your first priority it would be difficult to create something honest and meaningful. But in fact, you never know who your listener is. The listener is a metaphysical creature that just happened to be at your concert at a specific moment. Do you really know him or her? It’s impossible to think about the listener while you are composing. I suppose it is just damaging you work when you try to be liked. I don’t think listener wants to be pleased. 

YB: What does listener want then?

AC: To be surprised. To experience something different. When I am working I am also trying to surprise myself and push the boundaries. I am the strongest critic of my music.

YB: What does it mean for you, to compose?

AC: You know, I would describe it as a dialog. When I am talking to you, for example, I am 100% present, I am putting my soul, my emotions, my thoughts into this conversation. My main priority is to be honest. I try to communicate things that are meaningful to me. I do not expect people to be interested and excited about them, but the ones who are, they deserve my honesty.

I put all my energy and any talent I might have into my music. I treat my listeners as friends even though I don't know them and probably will never meet them.

YB: I still remember your composition “Sugar”, that I heard at a competition a long time ago. The image of this song is still in my head. Do you intend to incept images with your titles, for example your songs “Songs about trees” or “Avocado”? 

AC: No, honestly, it is not intentional. I don't ever think about conveying images. I have my own visual interpretation maybe, but it is not meant to be shared. A singer from California came up with the title “Avocado.” At the rehearsal I asked her to sing some random text. She started to sing “avocado-avocado, I like avocados,” and you definitely don’t need to imagine them when listening to the composition. But I am aware of the fact that the words are powerful and they could create such images. However, as I mentioned music is very abstract, it does not give you any specific instructions about what to imagine or what feelings and emotions to have while listening. I listen to these pieces and have my own images in my head, You wouldn't see the same pictures even if we both were trying to imagine sugar, for example. I think that the better the music, the more different images and thoughts it evokes. 

Alexander Chernyshkov

Photo © Kasia Chmura-Cegiełkowska, 2015

YB: What is music for you?

AC: Well, in a scientific sense, music is every possible combination of vibrating energy that is translated into sound waves that we perceive in time. You could argue then that everything that you hear from the moment of birth till the moment of death is music. I would add that this combination of sounds should be constructed. It should have a constructed beginning and ending. 


Alexander Chernyshkov moved to Vienna to study composition at Vienna Conservatory and graduated in 2011. He loves the city because of a, as he put it, “static feeling” that everything is constant. “You come to the same place a year or two later and nothing has changed”. One of such places for him is the square between Kunst Historisches Museum and Natur Historisches Museum. Alexander says that the square not only looks amazing, but also sounds amazing, especially in the night when no one is around.

His next concert will take place at Alte Schmiede on 29th of January. Different approaches to the production of music will be presented to the public, including variety of electronic motors and self-made instruments. Be prepared for lots of unexpected acoustic experiments and improvisations.

VIDEO from the concert at MusikRaumGarage on 08.12.2015


Alte Schmiede Kunstverein Wien
Schönlaterngasse 9
Vienna 1010
Phone: +43 1 5128329