"Noise," interpreted by Bernardo Chang.

“Noise,” interpreted by Bernardo Chang.

Today, the 11th of March, is the one hundredth anniversary of “The Art of Noises,” the seminal letter written by Italian Futurist painter Luigi Russolo. That letter became a manifesto for what was then a radical document, suggesting a new approach to sound and music. In it, Russolo cautioned that “the art of noises must not be limited to a mere imitative reproduction.”

The Futurists’ efforts were tragically followed by not one but two world wars, making some of their lust for violence take on a different meaning. For instance, from the 1913 letter:

1 2 3 4 5 seconds the siege canons gut the silence by a chord Tamtoumb! Immediately echoes, echoes, echoes, all echoes-quick! take-it-crumble it-spread it-infinite distance to hell. In the center, center of these flattened TAMTOUMBS-width 50 square kilometers-leap 2 3 6 8 splinters-fisticuffs-headrammings-rapid fire batteries Violence, ferocity, regularity, pendulum game, fatality this grave bass apparent slowness-scan the strange madmen very young-very mad mad mad-very agitated altos of the battle Fury anguish breathless ears My ears open nasals! beware!

But in 2013, no performance can possibly cause a riot – it’s hard, indeed, to get any angry reaction. And that makes some of Russolo’s ideas seem provocative in a way that need not turn to violence. These excerpts seem prescient, predicting the creative demands of the digital age – not only for experimental music, but perhaps any music that makes use of modern technology:

First of all, musical art looked for the soft and limpid purity of sound. Then it amalgamated different sounds, intent upon caressing the ear with suave harmonies. Nowadays musical art aims at the shrilliest, strangest and most dissonant amalgams of sound. Thus we are approaching noise-sound. This revolution of music is paralleled by the increasing proliferation of machinery sharing in human labor. In the pounding atmosphere of great cities as well as in the formerly silent countryside, machines create today such a large number of varied noises that pure sound, with its littleness and its monotony, now fails to arouse any emotion.

… The variety of noises is infinite. We certainly possess nowadays over a thousand different machines, among whose thousand different noises we can distinguish. With the endless multiplication of machinery, one day we will be able to distinguish among ten, twenty or thirty thousand different noises. We will not have to imitate these noises but rather to combine them according to our artistic fantasy.

English translation, Robert Filliou; via Ubuweb.

Reader Travis Basso reminds us of the anniversary. (I must admit, I failed to mark my calendar!) He points us to some good places to learn more, if you’re not familiar with Russolo’s work:

Some good resources for Russolo would be:


It’s his actual Manifesto, which was written on March 11, 1913.

A large influence on Luigi was the Free Words (parole in liberta) poetry of F.T. Marinetti who wrote The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism in 1909 – it was his work with onomatopoeia as a tool that influenced Russolo (who was a painter, not a musician, by practice) to conceive his “Art of Noises.”

Much of this is documented in two books in particular:

The Art of Noises – by Luigi Russolo – Pendragon Press 1980 – Monographs in Musicology No. 6 – ISBN – 0-918728-57-6
Futurists Manifestos – Umbro Apollonio – 1973 Viking Press – 978-0670333387

Of course both of these are reprints of the originals.

For the rest of us, Wikipedia may have to do for now:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zang_Tumb_Tumb <--- this is one of Marinetti's poems that influenced Russolo

Travis imagines a “synaesthetism” of trans-media artwork inspired by these ideas, for our modern age, “an approach to art which is not bound to any one medium but rather taking influence from every medium along the way to a finished final product.” This would be, he says, “,ore a creative process that may end as a painting but begins as fiction (maybe to establish themes) and moves through music (perhaps for character development) and culminates in a visual medium.” I’d love to see a new manifesto, Travis; keep us posted.

And happy noise-iversary, everyone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.richardson Jason Richardson

    Great to see this important document recognised. It’s inspiring and presages sampling in many ways.

  • Phil

    The early 1900s were such an exciting time for music & art.

    • markLouis

      I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to live back then. Here in the US, King Kong came out around 1933. Around that same time in Europe musician Alan Berg was composing an opera “Lulu.” Berg was a serialist who worked with tone rows and that kind of stuff, but still the opera was wild, with Jack the Ripper and bankers and musicians and a little bit of everything. I believe–but I’m not sure–that’s where we get he English expression “That’s a real Lulu!” meaning something extreme and bizarre. In real life, Berg passed away when he was bitten by a bug and his wife tried to do some kind of operation on the bite with a pair of scissors. Yes, the early 1900s were a real lulu of a time. We think of the present world as being anything-goes, but the early 1900s were insane. And lots of good stuff came out of that insanity, too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.richardson Jason Richardson
  • Sergio de Prado

    We made a compilation to celebrate… http://enoughrecords.scene.org/100_years_of_noise/

  • Samuele Cornell

    here in Italy at school the Futurism is very often studied poorly ( mainly because of its supposed connection with fascism ) regardless the infuence it had in the other avant-garde arts movements.

  • http://website.coma/ DAE Error 7002

    “But in 2013, no performance can possibly cause a riot –”

    Have you heard of Atari Teenage Riot? :-)

  • http://matthewwarne.com/ matthew_pw

    I recently had a student send me this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l_hy33-1Yw), which triggered his own fall down the Futurist rabbit hole. It’s nice when they proselytize themselves.

    • markLouis

      “proselytize themselves” — That seems to be the future, everybody proselytizing themselves, desperate to keep their own energy levels up, and pretending that they have too much respect for other people’s beliefs to ever attempt to proselytize other people but really realizing that their own passions are so devoid of content that they don’t have anything to proselytize other people with anyway if they wanted to. Apologies for the cynicism. (Not real apologies, of course!)

  • http://twitter.com/soundesignblog soundesign

    Hi Peter, as an italian noise lover, I say: thank you very much for remembering the great work of Russolo with this article.

    It’s very funny because one month ago, without any thoughts on this anniversary, I created this image to remember “L’arte dei rumori” http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151390560263930 and now, here we go…

    thank you again for your post

  • AMP

    great. i did some research after reading this. thanks for the lead-off