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Electronic music trailblazer Erkki Kurenniemi dies at 75

Erkki Kurenniemi, a polymath composer, writer, inventor and businessman, gained an international cult following. So did his collaborator and fellow electronic music pioneer Mika Vainio, who died just weeks before him.

Erkki Kurenniemi
Erkki Kurenniemi. Image: Jaakko Avikainen / Yle

Physicist and futurist Erkki Kurenniemi, a pioneer of Finnish electronic music, robot technology and synthesiser design, has died at the age of 75. Born in Hämeenlinna in 1941, Kurenniemi died on May 1 after a long illness.

In the 1960s and '70s, Kurenniemi worked as an assistant at both the University of Helsinki's theoretical physics department and its music department. In the latter post, he invented the DIMI synthesiser and set up an electronic music studio at the request of Professor Erik W. Tawastjerna, a pianist and close friend and biographer of Jean Sibelius.

In the 1970s Kurenniemi set up a company called Digelius Electronics – its name a portmanteau of "digital" and "Sibelius". It developed the first Finnish microcomputer in 1973. The company co-founded the Digelius music shop, which survives to this day.

High-tech Renaissance man

Later Kurenniemi designed industrial robot systems for companies including Nokia, and served from 1987 to 1998 as planning director of Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre in Vantaa.

Erkki Kurenniemi
Erkki Kurenniemi Image: Yle

Besides designing countless devices and systems, Kurenniemi was also a prolific electro-acoustic composer and theorist, writing many articles about the field.

In 2002, he was the subject of Mika Taanila's documentary film The Future is Not What It Used to Be, and in 2013 of a major retrospective at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. The Ministry of Education and Culture awarded him the prestigious Finland Prize in 2003.

His mother, Marjatta Kurenniemi, was one of Finland's best-known children's book authors, best known for her Onneli & Anneli series, books from which have recently been made into films. His father, Tauno Kurenniemi, was a mathematician and chemist.

Collaborator Mika Vainio died in April

Atomin paluu -dokumentti.
Return of the Atom Image: Jussi Eerola

In the early 2000s, Kurenniemi collaborated with Mika Vainio of the group Pan Sonic, another Finnish electronic music forerunner who died in an accident on April 12 at age 53. Vainio also worked with Alan Vega of the US band Suicide and Icelandic artist Björk.

Last year he won a Finnish Jussi film award for Pan Sonic's soundtrack to Taanila's documentary The Return of the Atom.

Video from the Yle archives:

Erkki Kurenniemi presents the DIMI synthesiser in 1970

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