Erkki Kurenniemi

Erkki Kurenniemi (1941–2017)

WIRE magazine reports that Erkki Kurenniemi, pioneer of electronic music and creator of one of the world’s first digital synthesizers, has passed away after a long illness. Kurenniemi was born in Hämeenlinna, Finland. In the 1950s, he put together an electronic music studio in a school loft. From 1962 until 1974, he worked as a volunteer assistant at the University of Helsinki’s Department of Musicology, where he built another studio for electronic music. He received a bachelor’s degree in science from the university’s department of theoretical physics in 1968.

Kurenniemi created a number of revolutionary instruments—among them, the Sähkökvartetti, or electric quartet, a device for simultaneous group compositions. He also made several experimental 16-mm films that explored technology, nature, and sex. In a text on Kurenniemi, journalist Jennifer Lucy Allan wrote, “Kurenniemi anticipated a time where bodies would integrate with machines. In 1982 he wrote in his diary: ‘I have owned a PC for [twenty] months now. In those [twenty] months the machine has become part of me (or I of it).’” Kurenniemi often referred to the human body as an “organic slime machine.”

A great deal of attention fell on Kurenniemi when the band Pan Sonic performed at Helsinki’s 2002 Avanto Festival using some of the instruments he created. That same year, Love Records released an album of hard-to-find recordings by Kurenniemi, compiled by filmmaker Mika Taanila (Taanila also made a documentary about the artist called The Future Is Not What It Used to Be [2002]). Kurenniemi’s archives are in the collection of the Finnish National Gallery. In 2003, he was the recipient of the Finland Prize from the country’s ministry of education and culture.