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50 Hz

HELSINKI In memoriam Mika Vainio

20.8.2020 – 10.1.2021


Photo credit: Annar Bjørgli / Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design

“My favourite frequency is 50 Hz – the frequency of the electric grid = ground noise.”

Mika Vainio (b. 1963 Helsinki, Finland – d. 2017 Trouville-sur-Mer, France)

I first became a fan of Mika Vainio after hearing his 1996 remix of the Björk song Headphones. Hypnotic, visceral, and stripped-back in the extreme, his interpretation pulled off the improbable feat of upstaging the Icelandic star’s haunting vocals. “This guy is Finnish? Why isn’t he more famous?” I thought to myself.

Famous he certainly was – but not in his homeland. Vainio was a self-taught electroacoustic composer and member of the internationally acclaimed music duo Pan Sonic. Although he never attained mass popularity, he was a cult figure who represented the true avant-garde of experimental noise music.

He left audiences spellbound with minimalistic soundscapes weaving together curated “found” noise, throbbing synthesizers, and hypnotic clicks, hums and whirrs, showing a rare gift for evoking specific moods as a gut-level physical experience – sometimes even pushing the listener to unnerving, uncomfortable extremes.

Vainio left a profound legacy in electronic music, but it is a lesser known fact that he was also an accomplished contemporary artist who created over 15 sound installations for exhibitions and biennials from the 1990s onwards.

Marking the first retrospective to feature him exclusively as a contemporary artist, Helsinki’s Kiasma is currently hosting 50 Hz, a memorial exhibition paying homage to an uncompromising visionary who met an untimely death aged only 53.

For Vainio, silences – absences of sound – are just as significant as sounded notes. Perhaps the most striking experiential dimension of 50 Hz is its deeply meditative quality. Vainio’s installations force to visitor to stop, declutter the mind, and truly listen. Some of his compositions are so subtle that a rushed, distracted visitor might easily stride past and miss them altogether.

Among the highlights of 50 Hz are conceptual works including 3 x Wall Clocks (2001), which features three identical clocks that show the same time, but each one ticks at its own unsynchronized pace. The tick-tocks reverberate loudly through the gallery, creating a disturbing echo that invokes the erratic passage of time.

Rounding out the installations is a “listening room” where visitors can enjoy a curated selection of Vainio’s minimalist electronic music. A further glimpse into the composer’s intriguing persona is offered by a collection of his personal belongings selected by his Norwegian partner, Rikke Lundgreen.

Vainio was a deeply cultured man who loved literature, film, and every conceivable genre of music from Schubert to African pygmy singing. He enjoyed visiting flea markets and owned a large variety of vintage collectibles. His beloved personal items – ranging from a meat hook and Russian Orthodox icon to poetry by Sylvia Plath and films by Andrei Tarkovsky – attest to his eclectic but undeniably refined tastes.

Don’t miss the other shows currently featuring at Kiasma, including Doug Aitkens’ solo debut in Finland, ‘I Only have Eyes for You’.

Mika Vainio 50 Hz


Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Mannerheiminaukio 2, Helsinki

Tue–Fri 10–20.30 Sat 10–18 Sun 10–17 Mon closed

Ticket sales end 30 min. before closing time.


Written by Silja Kudel

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