Creativity Amongst Crisis: Alex Olijnyk, composer

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

Back in July I put out a call to my immediate musical network, to ask who would be happy to be interviewed on how they have adapted during Melbourne’s lockdown. The last seven months have been disorientating and frequently exhausting. Prioritising your mental and physical wellbeing is more important than ever.

This prompted me to start an ongoing series called Creativity Amongst Crisis. Today’s subject is emerging composer Alex Olijnyk. Alex is an old friend of Fever Pitch magazine, having first been featured alongside her collaborator and co-director of Hyper Dynamic Studio, Hamish Keen (you can find that interview here).

That was back in April, which feels like centuries ago now. As Melbourne begins thaw out of Stage 4 lockdown, it’s no longer quite so impractical to contemplate what 2021 might look like for the arts.


Can you tell us a few sentences about yourself, what your musical practice is, and how you’re currently working on it.

I’m a screen composer with a background in contemporary classical and chamber music, currently based in Melbourne. I specialise in multimedia/sensory works and have collaborated with extraordinary creators from abstract painters, to filmmakers, graphic designers, and even chefs! I love blending orchestral elements with electronic textures, strong melodies, and improvisation.

Along with fellow composer and sound designer Hamish Keen, I have a firm called Hyperdynamic. We handle sound and score for film and other media, and currently have multiple short films in the pipeline which is very exciting! I am also in the process of composing several commissions, but these are solo projects.

What have you found to be most challenging aspects of this time of COVID-19, as a composer/ orchestrator and more generally day to day?

I think one of the hardest things was the grief I felt for a year that I was looking forward to personally and professionally. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a party that I went to in December last year. It was a warm night and I was having a drink in the backyard of a mate’s place. We spent hours and hours talking about what we were going to do this year – what we would learn, what we would make, who we would meet… It seemed so exciting at the time.

Looking back, the plan we made is so completely different to how life turned out. I still want the things that I hoped for in that alternate universe 2020, but they have been put on hold. It’s interesting to think there is music that I would have written, projects that I would have worked on in that other time that will never exist now. The reverse is also true. I’ve had opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had- chief among them, the chance to get to know every nook and cranny of my apartment! Still, sometimes I feel a sort of sadness for the music that I’ll never write or hear because of how this year has progressed. Additionally, I feel a lot of anger for the music the world will never hear because artists didn’t have the government support they needed during this time and have essentially been forced out of the industry.

Have you learnt anything specific that you may not have been forced to learn, were it not for COVID-19 restrictions and the flow-on effects?

Oh definitely. The main thing has been learning how to collaborate with other creatives over the internet. Before 2020, I had these amazing workflows set up that have since been completely trashed by the pandemic.

For example, in August Hamish and I were working on a short film called ‘Glasshouse’. We had to learn how to compose together remotely. Pre-Covid we would’ve been sitting in a room together bickering about chord progressions, or whose first draft of a track has an appropriately judicious serving of “ooft”. Now we’re sending each other files back and forth every few hours, while neither of us has full access to the other’s hardware, plug-ins, or instruments.

At the end of that project we realised we had sent each other over 250GB of music all up. My computer was very mad at me, and I was very mad at the NBN. Despite this, it was great to get a lesson in collaborating remotely. It’s fairly common in the film industry for the director to live in one country, the composer to live in another, the orchestrator in another and so on. They may meet face to face only a handful of times. So it’s good to have that practice and develop ways of working efficiently and creatively over distance. I’m not sure I would have had the reason to do that so soon in more normal times.

Do you have any projects in the works you’d like to share?

The film ‘Glasshouse’ that I mentioned earlier recently premiered at Adelaide Film Festival. If you want to listen to our music from that (or anything else we’ve written) it is on our website.

Hamish and I are also (frighteningly) busy from November through to April next year as we are working on some really cool new films. I’m also personally working on a commission for the Victorian Youth Symphony Orchestra for which I am super excited. As a composer, it’s not often that you get to have a full orchestra at your disposal!

Lastly, for those who didn’t make it to my collaboration with the restaurant Matilda late last year, the recordings (featuring the extremely talented Invictus Quartet) are finally up on my own website.

How do you sustain hope for the future, or overcome periods where you feel less motivated?

It goes without saying that this year has been challenging for pretty much everyone. That is particularly true for those working in the arts. Not only has the pandemic struck at the very core of the industry – i.e. people sharing musical/artistic experiences face to face – many creatives have insecure or contract-based work and therefore haven’t received the kind of support they deserve. Personally I’ve been relatively OK, and for that I’m very grateful.

As for motivation, I am a natural procrastinator and work in fits and starts. How much a blank page terrifies me depends on the weather, the COVID numbers, what I had for breakfast, etc, but what I have found to be both a source of motivation and hope is collaboration. It’s hard to believe that everything will always be awful forever-and-ever when you’re deep in a three-hour conversation about music, about beauty, about stories. When you have somebody else to bounce ideas off, to inspire you, and yes, to make sure you make deadlines, everything seems more possible.

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