Erkki Kurenniemi

  • Artist
  • Scientist

Born in 1941 in Hämeenlinna, Finland, Erkki Kurenniemi is a pioneer of electronic music. A former student of mathematics, theoretical physics, philosophy and nuclear physics, he founded the electronic music studio for the Department of Musicology at the University of Helsinki in 1961–62. Working on media art, happenings, and short films, Kurenniemi also built several electronic musical instruments for himself and for others, such as Ralph Lundsten, Osmo Lindeman, and M. A. Numminen. In the early 1970s he developed a series of digital synthesizers, called DIMI. Kurenniemi received the Finland Prize of the Ministry of Education and Culture in 2003. In 2004, he was elected honorary fellow of the University of Art and Design Helsinki and in 2011 Kurenniemi received Order of the Lion of Finland medal from The President of Finland, Mrs. Taria Halonen.

Kurenniemi remains best known for his electronic instruments he designed, many of which were interactive and in advance of later developments in the field. His designs and ideas also anticipated much future modern studio equipment and music making processes (music studio); as for example, with Dimix and Dimi-6000 as precursors of digital mixers and microcomputers, respectively. Moreover, in his idea of a distributed computing environment from 1968, Kurenniemi preempts modern network-based music production techniques. He also experimented with many unconventional user interfaces to enable human emotions to be translated into music more directly than with conventional musical instruments. During the era of large mainframe computers, Kurenniemi built compact devices that were both programmable and real-time-controllable, enabling improvisation which was impossible with conventional computers at that time.

In 1972 he set up a pioneering small scale music studio at Helsinki University. Kurenniemi's studio included conventional studio equipment, such as tape recorders and the VCS 3 syntesiser (1970-) but the core of the studio was unique. It included devices built by Kurenniemi - integrated synthesisers and the DIMI-X, which along with other DIMI machines, in particular DIMI-A, gave the studio a distinctive sound world. His studio was contemporary to musicians and artists including Donald Buchla (Buchla electronic instruments), Ralph Lundsten in Stockholm (Andromeda studio), Max Mathews (Music synthesis languages, Groove real-time system), Robert Moog (Moog synthesisers), or Peter Zinovieff in London (EMS synthsisers and studio). Today his pioneering ideas and machines provide an inspiration for new generations of sound artists worldwide.

Kurenniemi is truly a visionary figure. Alongside his diverse projects, he fanatically documented his everyday activities, collecting vast amounts of audio-visual-textual material to make a ‘back-up’ of his life as a template for all human life. But Kurenniemi’s obsession with archiving his life was not an expression of narcissism as such, but rather a response to the inevitability of artificial consciousness; something he believes quantum computers will help us achieve in the future. The back-up is intended to be used to transfer his life into digital form so that in the future the history of the 20th and 21st century can be reconstructed, by the year 2048 – perhaps even on another planet.