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Helsinki Fest and Kiasma present first major retrospective of Mika Vainio in Kiasma
Mika Vainio, 2 x 540 kHz, 2009. Sound installation. Kiasma Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art. Donation: LAb[au] (Manuel Abendroth, Jerome Decock, Els Vermang), Brussels. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen.

HELSINKI.- Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma presents a major exhibition by Finnish electronic music pioneer Mika Vainio. The exhibition 50 Hz, showcasing sound installations and music by Vainio, is the artist’s first retrospective and part of the Helsinki Fest program.

Mika Vainio’s impact on electronic music, both in Finland and around the globe, is indisputable. However, he was also a respected contemporary artist whose minimalist sound installations were known for their physicality, analogue warmth and electronic harshness. Over the years, Vainio collaborated repeatedly with many visual and sound artists and choreographers, such as Carsten Nicolai, Mika Taanila, Charlemagne Palestine, Alan Vega and Cindy Van Acker.

Mika Vainio’s (1963–2017) international career in electronic ambient and noise music was extensive. His name became widely known to fans of electronic music from his time in the duo Pan Sonic, founded in 1993 (until 1998 Panasonic). Vainio also produced many solo projects under names such as Ø and Philus.

As an artist, Vainio rose to international prominence in the 1990s, not only in the field of music but also in sound art. Back then and in the early 2000s, his works featured in many exhibitions of sound art in Europe and North America, like Sonic Boom: The Art of Sound at London’s Hayward Gallery (2000) and Frequencies [Hz]: audio-visual spaces at Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt (2002). Vainio’s first solo exhibition, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, was held in Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1997. The exhibition of his sound installations in Kiasma, curated by Kati Kivinen and Rikke Lundgreen, will be the first comprehensive survey of Vainio’s work, which has never previously been presented to this extent in his native country.

Vainio often drew inspiration from films, books, and everyday environments. Taking a special interest in urban soundscapes such as an interesting-sounding air conditioning unit in a certain building or different street sounds, he often incorporated “found noises” as part of his compositions. The mood was always paramount in his creations, in which silences – absences of sound – are just as important as what we hear.

The exhibition shows five sound installations, were as some also include objects. One of the key works in the exhibition is sound installation 2 x 540 kHz (2009), which Kiasma received as donation in 2017. In the work six vintage tube radios play two compositions based on tape recordings of vintage radios, interspersed with radio tuning static and other interference. The two compositions play in a nonstop loop. Because of their different lengths, their mutual relationship keeps changing. The soundscape never repeats itself.

In 3 x Wall Clocks (2001) three clocks on the wall show the same time, but each minute hand ticks at its own pace. Mika Vainio stated that “the piece is based on a very versatile idea of time”. In installation 808 (2015) a Roland TR-808 drum machine rests on red velvet inside a glass display case. Its memory contains a 1 minute 46 second piece that Vainio composed and programmed especially for this installation. The piece was never saved or recorded in any other form, nor does it exist as sheet music. Combining recorded atmospheric sounds with noise created on analogue devices, sound installation Onko (1996) marked Vainio’s debut in contemporary art. Hitherto known solely as a musician, he was invited to create a sound installation for the first Manifesta biennial in Rotterdam in 1996. Soundchamber Berlin (2004) is based on sounds of the city. It consists of audioscapes Vainio recorded on his walks through Berlin, where he was then residing. The piece was created for the Berlin Biennial in 2004. A brief sonic scape called - 27 (1998) is very subtle, consisting solely of single-frequency pure tones. The bursts of sound are so sporadic that it is easy to miss them. In the exhibition you can also listen to music composed by Mika Vainio. The featured tracks were selected by his friend and collaborator, the artist Tommi Grönlund.

The exhibition project has also served as an important and groundbreaking research into Vainio’s sound art. The exhibition catalogue includes articles by Pertti Grönholm, Tommi Grönlund, Kati Kivinen, Rikke Lundgreen, Anne Hilde Neset and Mika Taanila with an artist interview by Ute Meta Bauer and foreword by Museum Director Leevi Haapala.

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