Serge Tcherepnin

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Serge Alexandrovich Tcherepnin (Russian: Серге́й Александрович Черепнин; born 2 February 1941) is an American composer and electronic-instrument builder of Russian-Chinese parentage. He created the Serge Modular synthesizer.


Serge Tcherepnin was born in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris, the son of composer Aleksandr Nikolayevich Tcherepnin and grandson of composer Nikolai Nikolayevich Tcherepnin. His mother was Chinese pianist Lee Hsien Ming. He had his first instruction in harmony with Nadia Boulanger and studied from 1958 to 1963 at Harvard University with Leon Kirchner and Billy Jim Layton. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1960. In 1961 he studied at the Darmstadt Vacation Courses with Luigi Nono. He then studied in Europe with Pierre Boulez, Herbert Eimert, and Karlheinz Stockhausen (Palmer and Schrader 2001). Between 1966 and 1968 he worked at the studio for electronic music of the Cologne Hochschule für Musik.[citation needed] From 1968 to 1970 he participated in the Intermedia Program at New York University (Palmer and Schrader 2001). Starting in 1970 he taught composition and electronic music at the School of Music-California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California where in 1973 he created The People's Synthesizer.[citation needed] He has been involved with the development of synthesizers such as the Serge Modular, manufactured by his own company Serge Modular Music Systems, founded in 1974 (Palmer and Schrader 2001), as well as TONTO.[citation needed] After closing his company Serge Modular Music Systems in 1986 he returned to France (Palmer and Schrader 2001). He has composed works for tape and electronic instruments, multimedia works, chamber music, a Kaddish for speakers and chamber ensemble (1962, on a text of Allen Ginsberg) as well as pieces for saxophone and for piano.[citation needed]

Tcherepnin has been working with Ken Stone of Catgirl Synth since 2004 who offers his designs on PCBs for the DIY community, and most recently (2013) with TipTop Audio on a line of synthesizer modules for the Eurorack format.[citation needed]

His brother Ivan Aleksandrovich Tcherepnin was also a well-known composer, as are two of Ivan’s sons, Stefan (born 1977) and Sergeï (born 1981).


A selective list includes:

  • Inventions, for piano (1960)
  • String Trio (1960)
  • String Quartet (1961)
  • Kaddish (text by Allen Ginsberg), for speaker, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, piano, two percussionists (1962)
  • Figures-Grounds, for 7–77 instruments (1964)
  • Morning After Piece, for saxophone and piano (1966)
  • Two Tapes (Giuseppe’s Background I–II), for 4-track tape (1966)
  • Two More Tapes (Addition and Subtraction), for 2-track tape (1966)
  • Quiet Day at Bach, for solo instrument and tape (1967)
  • Piece of Wood, multimedia piece for performers and actors (1967)
  • Piece of Wood with Weeping Woman, multimedia piece for performers, women, stagehand, and tape (1967)
  • Film, for Baschet instruments, traditional instruments, tape machines, four-channel amplification, ring modulators, theater, stage, and lights (1967)
  • For Ilona Kabos, for piano (1968)
  • Definitive Death Music, for amplified saxophone and chamber ensemble (1968)
  • "Hat" for Joseph Beuys, for actor and tape (1968)
  • Paysages électroniques, film score (1977)
  • Samba in Aviary, film score (1978)


  • Marshall, Ingram. 1975. "New Music at Cal Arts: The First Four Years (1970–74)." Numus 2, no. 1 (Winter): 52–60.
  • Palmer, Christopher, and Barry Schrader. 2001. "Tcherepnin: (3) Serge (Alexandrovich) Tcherepnin". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.