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.