University of Helsinki Electronic Music Studio
An Overview

Kai Lassfolk, assistant (
Kalev Tiits, research fellow (

Department of Musicology
P.O.Box 35 (Vironkatu 1)
00014 University of Helsinki

This document has been published as a studio report in the Proceedings of the 1994 International Computer Music Conference.


The history of University of Helsinki Electronic Music Studio spans more than 30 years. During that time the focus of its activities has shifted from electro-acoustic music composition to computer-assisted music research. The equipment has evolved from traditional analog tape recorders and synthesizers to modern computer workstations and MIDI instruments. The studio has been used by several leading Finnish electro-acoustic music composers as well as researchers and students of musicology.


The University of Helsinki Electronic Music Studio was founded by Erkki Kurenniemi in early 1960's. This makes it the oldest still functional electronic music studio in the Nordic countries.

Kurenniemi's pioneering work included microprocessor-based digital synthesizers built in the early 1970's. Kurenniemi developed the DIMI line of digital synthesizers which served in several studios in Finland and Sweden including the Experimental Studio of the Finnish broadcasting company, YLE.

The studio was used in the 60's and 70's mainly for electro-acoustic music composition. The works which came out of the studio constitute a significant part of Finnish electro-acoustic music of the period. Besides Kurenniemi, its composers included Andrew Bentley, Henrik Otto Donner, Jukka Ruohomäki and Erkki Salmenhaara.

Since the mid-80's activities have shifted towards education, software development and music research.


The studio is sited in the bottom floor of the Department of Musicology at University of Helsinki. The studio consists of a recording room, two control rooms, a separate tape music studio, a service room and an office. The rooms are connected by audio and Ethernet cabling with access to the Internet.

The equipment consists of 2-track analog tape recorders, analog and digital synthesizers, samplers and computer workstations. The backbone of the computer facilities is a network of five NEXTSTEP workstations equipped with analog/digital-converters and MIDI. The NEXTSTEP system has a total of 3.5Gb disk space, a DAT drive and a sufficient amount of RAM. In addition, there are two IBM PC/AT-compatible computers, a Macintosh SE and an Apple IIe.

Software running on NEXTSTEP includes Csound, Music Kit, SoundWorks and various musical programs developed at e.g. CCRMA and Princeton University. Most software developed in-house runs on NEXTSTEP. PCs have been used for real-time tasks requiring a dedicated computer.

Research projects

Kurenniemi's hardware projects were followed by composition and synthesis software developed by, among others, Andrew Bentley in the early 80's. During 1987 and 1988 Helsinki University Music Analysis and Composition (abbr. HUMAC) software system [Laine and Lassfolk, 1988] was developed for Apple II and MS-DOS environments. HUMAC marked the beginning of coordinated software research involving several programmers.

A significant joint effort was conducted from 1988 to 1991 in collaboration with the Laboratory of Information Sciences of Helsinki University of Technology. This project was led by a leading figure in neural network research, professor Teuvo Kohonen. As a result of this collaboration, unsupervised learning grammars and connectionist systems were tested and developed for automatic music generation [Kohonen et al., 1991].

Current software development projects include the Helsinki Music Tools (HMT) software system, Sound Processing Kit and ASSEM, a project directed towards interdisciplinary research between associative systems and semiotics.

Helsinki Music Tools [Kervinen and Lassfolk, 1993] is a set of UNIX commands for music composition and analysis. HMT contains tools for creating and manipulating event lists and number sequences. For example, HMT features tools for stochastic music composition and an implementation of generative context-free grammars. The HMT project was launched in 1988 and is still in progress. The software has been heavily used e.g. as a teaching aid.

Sound Processing Kit is an object-oriented sound processing system. It was initially developed as a student project to demonstrate object-oriented programming techniques in audio signal processing. The system has however proved to be an elegant solution, and is undergoing further development. A public release is planned for 1995. Sound Processing Kit is written in Objective-C, but will be re-written in C++ to enhance portability beyond NEXTSTEP.

The ASSEM project is supervised by Eero Tarasti, professor of musicology and an expert semiotician. It focuses on building a common framework to accommodate concepts taken from connectionism and Peircean semiotic ideas. The work attempts to draw principles for score analysis from philosophical and semiotic ideas and implement these in computational form. The program architecture has been built on connectionist principles using self-organizing maps [Kohonen 1989]. The future plans include also testing other operating principles for the system.

Education and other activities

The studio provides teaching for students of the Department of Musicology. In 1993 an M.A. program in computer-assisted music research was established to complement other courses in general musicology and ethnomusicology. The new program consists of courses, seminars and literature examinations in the special fields of studio work, but also requires participation in general musicological and ethnomusicological classes. Computer science is recommended as a secondary subject.

The M.A. program offers courses on acoustics, studio techniques, musical applications of computers and computer-assisted music research. The program provides thorough basic education in electronic and computer music and music technology. It prepares the student for work on a specialized research project of his or her own choice at the Master's level.

The studio also provides tutoring for researchers. There are post-graduate students working with individual research programs. Several Ph.D. dissertations are expected in the near future. Teaching is also available to the general public via courses held regularly at the Helsinki Summer Academy.

The studio continues to arrange electronic music concerts featuring works both by teachers and students.

The Department of Musicology is a member of the ERASMUS exchange program.


The University of Helsinki Electronic Music Studio is the leading research center of computer music and computer-assisted music research in Finland. Although the main focus is on research and education, most projects have concentrated on compositional software development.

The studio provides researchers and students with good technical facilities including modern computer equipment and networking capabilities. Moreover it provides equipment for experimental composition activities. Openness to interdisciplinary and cross-artistic projects is a goal even though the emphasis of activities is on research and graduate programs.


[Kervinen and Lassfolk, 1993] Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Kai Lassfolk. Helsinki Music Tools, Proceedings of the 1993 International Computer Music Conference. The International Computer Music Association, Tokyo, Japan, pp. 352-354, 1993.

[Kohonen, 1989] Teuvo Kohonen. Self-organization and Associative Memory. 3rd edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, pp. 119-157, 1989.

[Kohonen et al., 1991] Teuvo Kohonen, Pauli Laine, Kalev Tiits and Kari Torkkola. A Nonheuristic Automatic Composing Method. In P. Todd and G. Loy (ed.) Music and Connectionism. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, pp. 227-242, 1991.

[Laine and Lassfolk, 1988] Pauli Laine and Kai Lassfolk. Helsinki Music Analysis and Composition. Computers in Music Research, 11-14 April 1988, Conference Prospectus. Centre for Research into the Applications of Computers to Music, University of Lancaster, UK, p. 141, 1988.