This paper will discuss the sound art works of Luigi Russolo, who was a member of the Italian Futurist art movement. The Futurists were a group of artists, some of whom like Marinetti, a founding member of the group, is associated with the Fascist movement in Italy. (Antliff, 2000) Though it seems difficult to understand how artists could associate themselves with totalitarian political movements, in the early decades of the 20th century it was not uncommon for artists to take extreme political positions, whether on the right or left of the political perspective. The Futurists were against democracy, thinking that art would be one of the ways to achieve liberation of the Italian people from rational politics. (Antliff, 2000) Russolo's famous manifesto is called The Art of Noises (L'arte dei Rumori), and following Futurist doctrine, emphasized the positive aspect of modernity, in particular mechanical and technological aspects that linked man in a symbiotic utopian relationship with industrial age machines.
[...] To some extent then, Russolo is very important to the possibilities of sound art as art, as is Cage, with his intentions for utilizing sound in new contexts (even though he is still framing it in terms of music). Some of Cage's works are a mix of music and performance art, such as his silent piece 4.11 which is four minutes and eleven seconds of silence, a kind of art-music performance. (Ehle, 1979) Kirby maintains that Cage's prepared piano pieces incorporate elements of Russolo's experiments of the 1920s, where Russolo attempted to pursue his notion that music approximating nature was possible to create on his new instruments. [...]
[...] In the manifesto Russolo writes, my apparent incompetence, and convinced that audacity has all rights and all possibilities, I have been able to devine the great renewal of music through The Art of Noises.” (Brown: 33) While his early performances were not favorable with the public, he fascinated many modern composers of the 1920s, many of whom remain famous to this day, such as “Stravinsky, Ravel, Honegger and Varese (Brown: 32) His life, as Brown writes ended in as eccentric a way as was his musical ideas: he became a penniless wandering gypsy doing obscure spiritual card readings following the demise of his hopes of becoming famous and rich by manufacturing his instruments and selling them around the world. [...]
[...] (Kirby: 34) For example, the sound of a heater turning on and blasting air through a vent, after listening to Russolo's music, can be interpreted as a melodic structure with varied tonalities embedded in it, if one listens closely. This is, in fact, also similar to the lines of thought that would be pursued by John Cage, as discussed above. What is fascinating about the piece by Russolo is it that it is sometimes difficult to identify what machine is originally being referenced and used to create the sound, while at the same time being able to identify the very obvious shifts in pitch that the artist- theorist was aiming to achieve. [...]
[...] In this lecture he echoes the ideas of Russolo when he states, “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.” Extending Russolo's notion of creating a new instrument type from abstracted industrial sounds, Cage argues that both organic and man-made sounds can be converted to music, whether it be the noise of a truck speeding down a road or the natural sound of rain dropping from the sky. This seems to be a direct reference to Russolo. [...]
[...] Thus, the instruments could make a variety of sound pitches that could be used in different ways, each one capable, as are musical instruments we are more used to, like guitar, sax or piano, able to be played solo or in ensemble contexts. Though it might be inhospitable to the artist to apply paleontological reference points to what is deemed to be technological sounds detached from their referent, the abstract/narrative interface, or dialectic, seems to be an inherent component of his intention. [...]
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