John Watkinson Remembers Ilpo Martikainen (1947-2017)

​My recollections of Ilpo Martikainen go back to 1983, which turned out to be an interesting year. Finding myself once more in Eindhoven, this time for an AES Convention, I mused that the newly announced Compact Disc had shifted the audio quality bottleneck firmly onto the loudspeaker and that something would have to be done.

It can be depressing for an acoustician wandering around a trade show looking at loudspeakers where the design flaws are visible from a distance, but suddenly, like finding a Bugatti in a car park full of Model Ts, I was drawn to something special: a loudspeaker carefully shaped to minimise diffraction that didn’t look like a coffin for a monkey. And around the back, instead of terminals, there was a power cable going in. This, I thought, was designed by someone who understands.

The bearded Englishman intently studying this miracle was soon joined by another bearded individual who, it transpired, was from Finland and was he who understood. That was how I met Ilpo, and we spent a considerable amount of time discussing loudspeaker technology and putting away schnapps from the Genelec refrigerator. I staggered off much later than anticipated, thinking that my return to audio after being in the computer industry had not been a mistake and thinking that this gentle Finn and his speakers were going to put a cat amongst the pigeons.

In addition to sharing beards, humour and a love of acoustics, Ilpo and I had more in common. He was also concerned with the environment and took active steps to make the Genelec factory as sustainable as possible. But I was never able to put away as much booze as any Finn. When I teased him about this affinity his reply was “We Finns are not heavy drinkers, we are serious drinkers.”

Genelec had started up in 1978 to meet the opportunity that arose when YLE needed a new generation of monitor speakers. Genelec soon moved to Iisalmi. This was just north of Ilpo’s birthplace, Lapinlahti, and was selected on the grounds that there would be peace and quiet there. As someone who deliberately gets lost in Scandinavia in order to think clearly, I could relate to that. As one who has actually been to Iisalmi, I should explain that it is practically in the centre of Finland and, like many Finnish towns, is wedged between a number of lakes. Development has meant that it’s not as quiet as it used to be, but the scenery still takes some beating.

As is well known, it turned out that the cat did scatter the pigeons. Active loudspeakers with line level crossovers and one amplifier per drive unit had to be the way forward. Stiff enclosures made from a variety of materials, including die cast metal, improved clarity. Careful shaping of the enclosure ensured that the directivity didn’t suddenly change with frequency. True to Ilpo’s ethics, the speakers were designed for a long service life and spare parts would be retained long after production ceased. Genelec deserved to succeed and it did.

And now Ilpo is gone; the much deserved happy retirement (or, knowing him, partial retirement) denied to him. As Spike Milligan said, when Marty Feldman died, “If life is a game of cards, someone is cheating.”

When the immediate shock of his death has dissipated, it will be possible to see further back and appreciate his life and achievements. There are those who succeed by indifference to the harm they cause, and there are those who succeed by doing things well, caring for others and treading lightly on the Earth. I shall always remember Ilpo as one of the latter. Such people are rare and we should treasure them. 

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