Futurist Music and sound

In 1912, Balilla Pratella wrote the manifesto, Musica Futurista "To present the musical soul of the masses, of the great factories, of the railways, of the transatlantic liners, of the battleships, of the automobiles and aeroplanes. To add to the great central themes of the musical poem the domain of the machines and the victorious kingdom of Electricity." In his manifesto, Pratella stated "I unfurl to the freedom of air and sun the red flag of Futurism, calling to its flaming symbol such young composers as have hearts to love and fight, minds to conceive, and brows free of cowardice."

Born in Milan in 1885, Luigi Russolo joined Marinetti's Futurist movement in 1911. A painter, not a musician, Russolo was committed to being the movement's musical activist. He replied to Pratella in his own manifesto The Art of Noise of 1913 arguing that the limited range of contemporary musical instruments could no longer satisfy modern man's acoustic hunger. "Let us break out since we cannot much longer restrain our desire to create finally a new musical reality, with a generous distribution of resonant slaps in the face, discarding violins, pianos, double-basses and plaintive organs. Let us break out!

He rejected traditional preferences for harmony, preferring the dissonant masterpieces that serenade us everyday without our conscious awareness. Pianos, violins, harps, and horns were considered inferior to "the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning mills, printing works, electric power stations, and underground railways."
Russolo had a vision in which "every factory will be transformed into an intoxicating orchestra of noises". The instruments and music created by Russolo played a revolutionary role in the incorporation of noise and environmental sound into modern music. His work putting the Futurist theories on music and art into practice developed into some of the most extraordinary musical experiments in pre-war Europe: the Noise Intoners or Intonorumori. These noise machines were a family of acoustic sound generators designed to create the palette of sound described in his Art of Noise. They were essentially speaker boxes from which emanated sounds such as an internal combustion engine in ten whole-tones. He created four main noise machine types: the Exploder, the Crackler, the Buzzer, and the Scraper. They were large box-like constructions of different sizes and heights with projecting metal speakers. Internally movement across a membrane produced the noises while a side lever controlled pitch and timbre.

In early 1914, Russolo gave the first public performance of the Intonorumori. However few could hear the performance of Russolo's three compositions, The Awakening of a City, Dining on the Hotel Terrace and The Meeting of Automobiles and Aeroplanes above the roar of the indignant theatre crowd. The Futurists, led by Fillipo Marinetti and including Umberto Boccioni, Armando Mazzi and Russolo's assistant, Ugo Piatti, hurled themselves into the crowd. The resulting fracas ended with riotous fighting in the streets.

In June 1914 Russolo and Marinetti gave twelve performances of the Intonarumori at the London Coliseum. According to Marinetti the performances were warmly received and he even claimed that some 30,000 people heard the "music of the future". He described the experience of demonstrating the Noise Intoners to the incredulous public as like "showing the first steam engine to a herd of cows". However, The Times reported the occasion somewhat differently "… weird funnel shaped instruments ... resembled the sounds heard in the rigging of a channel steamer during a bad crossing, and it was, perhaps, unwise of the players or should we call them "noisicians"? to proceed to their second piece ... after the pathetic cries of "no more" which greeted them from all of the excited quarters of the auditorium."
During the First World War Russolo received a serious head wound and, after a long convalescence, moved to Paris. The heyday of the noise machines was over, but Russolo continued to further develop them. Later versions of the noise machines included the Noise Harmonium or Rumorarmonio, developed in 1922, and the Russolo-Phone that combined several noise machines, operated with a simple keyboard. Varèse, who planned to put the instruments into mass production, presented this to the Parisian public in 1929. Russolo's last experimental noise instrument, the Enharmonic Piano, comprised of a series of piano strings that vibrated when played, was created in 1931. Gradually, Russolo turned more and more to painting and philosophy. None of Russolo's noise machines appear to have survived the Second World War. Russolo died in 1947.


information from http://www.futurism.org.uk/