Erkki Kurenniemi: OG BAMF
Erkki Kurenniemi was an influential pioneer in the Finnish art underground of the 1960s. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Kurenniemi created experimental instruments of his own design as well as many new media art pieces. One of these designs, entitled the "Sähkökvartetti" (Electric-quartet) is pictured in the video above. The quartet is a communal electro-acoustic instrument meant to be played in a group of artists rather than a single individual. Erkki originally designed the instrument for artist Mauri Antero Numminen in 1968. It is seen in this video being played by Tommi Parko, Peter Widen, Arto Koskinen in an improvisational performance somewhere in Finland in 1968.
During the 1960s and 70s, Kurenniemi worked as a volunteer assistant at the Department of Musicology at the University of Helsinki with the specific intention of creating an electronic music studio. It was in that department that most of his creations were born. At the time in places all over the world, interests in electronic music were beginning to blossom in the underground. The resources available to many artists were incredibly expensive and out of reach. The desire for equipment and collective creativity led to the birth of places like the San Fransisco Tape Music Center in California. Spaces across the world were cobbling together what little technology they had (tape machines, oscillators, filters, other lab equipment) to create facilities to foster the growth and creation of electronic music; a genre that at the time was yet to be defined beyond tape music. The department in which Erkki volunteered was a similar endeavor to the San Fransisco tape music center although he had the funding of a university to back his creations. While the parallel discovery of the birth of what is coloquially regarded as the "first" modern day synthesizer was occuring on the east and west coast of the United States (Buchla vs. Moog), Erkki was in Finland operating on a different wavelength.
In the mid 1960s his main project at the department was the focal point of the studio: the "integrated synthesizer." Digital in nature, the machine was more similar to the RCA mark II that now resides at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music center rather than the voltage controlled devices his contemporaries in the United States were creating. Much like the "integrated synthesizer," a large portion of the Sähkökvartetti was digital in nature. The heavy use of sequencing was integral in the establishment of a self-contained compositional and performance environment. The device consisted of four subsequent machines: a main "sound producer and sequencer," a melody machine, a violin machine, and a drum machine. The Sähkökvartetti premiered at the World Youth IX Festival in Sofia in summer of 1968 and was brought to the festival by Mauri Antero Numminen (patron) and Ilpo Saunio to represent Finland. In a very hippie-like manner, it has been suggested that the goal of the Sähkökvartetti was to emphasize communal interaction and reinforce concepts of the collective conciousness.
The notion of a collective conciousness raises some interesting thoughts about where we are at in 2018 in terms of a society. The internet and globalization have had both devastating and inspiring effects on our economy, arts, cultural identities, human behavior, attention spans (you still reading?), as well as many other aspects of life. Perhaps we are living in the era of collective conciousness that Erkki Kurenniemi had first thought about in the 60s...I mean shit, how many of you found this article on Facebook because at some point in your life our two worlds collided based on our metadata? We somehow without ever having met each other in person share a lot in common, probably even more than a passion for electronic music and music technology.
Unfortunately, Erkki Kurenniemi left this plane of existence on May 1st, 2017. R.I.P Erkki, your art rules and has had a lasting impact on me.
This video and the subsequent content was first brought to my attention by my old friend Matthew Akers, the second half of the original musical project Møffenzeef. Hopefully he'll keep sending me more dope shit to read about.
Erkki Kurenniemi - Avant Garde Innovator