Song: Risveglio di una Città (1/13)
Album: Die Kunst Der Geräusche (1913)
Artist: Luigi Russolo
This work is an extremely clunky, avant-garde piece. It starts off with cluttering drums and the whirring of a car engine. After a slight pause, one is then introduced to a different sounding engine; smaller, like that of a motorbike. Another pause, and the crackling of a record becomes the backdrop to the sound of a faster vehicle. You can hear the gears changing as it moves about. As the speed increases, so too does the pitch as it gradually get uncomfortably higher and higher. It then finally slows down again. One then hears a new sound, the rumbling of an old engine. Possibly made with the pulling of strings/wires, creating a flat yet playful noise. Each new sound is broken up with the record player that has reached the end of the disk, but the needle has not been lifted off: dull, scratchy and repetitive. It ends with a futuristic noise, again, reminiscent of a homemade string instrument. I can also imagine the artist restricting the strings on a violin and grinding a rough bow across the tight threads, creating the piercing, high-pitched that pierce the listener’s ears.
This particular piece was released in 1913, at the time of the industrial revolution. Russolo is thought to be the first noise artist, and was part of the Italian Futurist movement. Something that I’ve found interesting when investigating this artist, is his historical context (i.e. the introduction of scientific thinking) and yet, his interest/obsession with the occult. The rising of factories and machines clearly fed into the sounds and feel of Luigi’s work, and his ingenuity in his instrumental inventions could also be credited to this era as well. Russolo had a peculiar relationship with the supernatural and the logical, as did a surprising amount of scientists and occultists alike at the time, “generating terms such as ‘scientific occultism.’” (Chessa, 2012) Hence, in order to understand Russolo’s practice, I think it’s vital to look through his historical/cultural/spiritual lens. He clung to the idea that “the universe [was] an organism animated by mysterious and supernatural forces, [yet] new scientific discoveries… shows that idealism, positivism, and materialism gave too restricted a vision of natural phenomena and the cosmos.” (Chessa, 2012) Hence, the futurists set about investigating the spiritual realm with the aid of new technology, rather than dismissing one or the other. The invention of the X-Ray machine was a prime example of proving metaphysical territory with physical tools. Luigi said asked, “Who can still believe in the opacity of bodies, while our acuity and multiplied sensitivity makes us intuit the obscure manifestations of mediumistic phenomena? Why must one continue to create without taking account of our visual power that can give results analogous to those of X-rays?” His fellow futurists agreed that mankind had the capacity to engage in X-ray-like clairvoyance to view the otherwise unseen pieces of reality (for example, the luminous projections of a persons mind, and seen as their ‘aura’. (Chessa, 2012) Hence, I believe that Luigi’s thought life due to his contemporaries was the most vital context that fed into his practice.
I think that Russolo’s inventiveness in his practice is the most astonishing mark he’s left on the art world. Not only did he create a new form of expression, but used physical instruments (that he had mostly constructed himself) to allude to physical and metaphysical ideals. He “organized noises into six basic categories, from “rumbles and roars” at one end to “shouts and screams” at the other.” (Rotondi, 2002) As shown in ‘Risveglio di una Città’, the artist brings to light how vitally relevant the sounds of the city (i.e. “throbbing of valves”, “the pounding of pistons” and “the clatter of streetcars”) are to the modern man. He wrote, “We must break out of this narrow circle of pure musical sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise sounds. Today, noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibilities of men… [it’s my goal to] add to the great central themes of the musical poem, the domain of the machine and the victorious kingdom of electricity.”
It is no secret that Luigi Russolo pioneered the systematic poetics of noise (and credited by some as the author of the synthesizer). So I’ve chosen the piece ‘Apostrophe’ by Pierre Schaeffer from his 1949-1950 symphony ‘Symphonie pour un homme seul’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2o9VyuJSD4), which is a musical piece utilizing both instruments and found noise to create an alarming, yet encapsulating piece. Not only does the artist admit to being influenced by Luigi’s practice, but also like Russolo’s work ‘Risveglio di una Città’, there is a consistent crackling of the record player in the background. Schaeffer uses the human voice, manipulating it to be nonsensical. He uses a higher amount of traditional instruments, but creates music unlike what was popular in the 1950’s. Eerie, sharp notes on the piano intermingle with a male voice and a tribal drumbeat, before a heavy disruption is caused with the rattling of bottles and crashing of found objects (and it sounds like traditional drums as well). Below is an image of his mixing desk:
Hence, it’s evident that Luigi Russolo paved the way for sound poetry to be utilized as a post-modern expression of city life, and in the case of many futurists, the link between the scientific world and the spiritual realm.
Chessa, L. 2012. Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult, University of California Press.
Rotondi, J. 2002. ‘Luigi Russolo’, Emeryville, vol. 4, no.11, pp. 90.