Thesis Open Access

User Stories of Erkki Kurenniemi's Electronic Musical Instruments, 1961–1978

Ojanen, Mikko

Thesis supervisor(s)

Lassfolk, Kai; Padilla, Alfonso

Abstract:

The focus in this study is on electroacoustic music and the design of electronic musical instruments in Finland during 1961–1978, approached from both a historical and an analytical perspective. There are three main threads: music history (the historical and cultural context in the Nordic countries in the 1960s and 1970s), music technology (the design and use of electronic musical instruments), and electroacoustic music (aesthetics and musical analysis). The study belongs to the domain of music technology research and the scientific stance is interdisciplinary. On the one hand, I employ music analysis and the concepts of the modern historiographical paradigm, ethnography and aesthetics theory in my analysis and description of the cultural and historical context of electroacoustic music. On the other hand, I adopt concepts from Science and Technology Studies (STS) in describing the technological developments and social networks.

 

At the core of the study are the musical instruments and music of the Finnish instrument designer and composer Erkki Kurenniemi (1941–2017). At the time when technology dedicated to electronic music production was practically nonexistent and studios accommodating the genre were rare, and expensive to set up, Kurenniemi’s designs enabled and facilitated the work of several composers. In addition to his Finnish collaborators, he worked with many Nordic composers and artists. His visionary ideas and technical expertise were influenced by the works of many of his contemporaries – and vice versa. Kurenniemi’s work serves here as a lens through which I observe the broader picture of the cultural and historical circumstances of electroacoustic music – even beyond the Finnish scene. Instead of concentrating on the canonical works and central actors in the field, I focus on the small Helsinki-based community, which had active links to Sweden and Norway as well as frequent connections with Central European studios. The study sheds light on these less commonly studied social connections.

 

Beyond the temporal and the geographical, the works of Kurenniemi and his Nordic collaborators provide overarching perspectives on the interaction between music and technology. For example, static and detailed descriptions of musical instruments do not suffice to depict the impact of technological development on musical aesthetics. To study this aspect further, I examine Kurenniemi’s instruments in the hands of their users. In analyzing the use of his instruments, I show how technological artifacts develop in complex interaction between the original designer, the users, and the artifact itself rather than in an isolated laboratory with a lonely designer.

 

Kurenniemi’s own musical output, on the other hand, provides an example of a music-production process in which the works are created in close – and often real-time – interaction with the production technology. In extreme cases, the role of the technology is strongly emphasized and could even be the most influential factor in the music-making. This type of technology-driven music production and composition process challenges the traditional concept of a musical work, questions the typical intentions of a composer, and anticipates many production methods that have emerged, especially in experimental productions and popular music.

 

See also: Electronic Musical Instruments by Erkki Kurenniemi: http://ekis.helsinki.fi/

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