an impressive simultaneity of bloody faces and noisy enharmonics
May 10, 2022 4:05 AM   Subscribe

Luigi Russolo's Cacophonous Futures is a thoughtful introduction to the Futurist composer and his mechanical noise makers, or intonarumori. In addition to pioneering the art of noises, and influencing rather a lot of later experimental music, he was a fascist and probably not have been a terribly nice person. He was also a palm reader and fan of the occult.
posted by eotvos (9 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One of the odd things about Italian fascism is that it’s relatively easy to find talented artists among their ranks, and that isn’t really true of any other country. Germany had Leni Riefenstahl, I guess, but her stuff has aged … poorly. And, to be clear, any fascist is an irredeemable piece of garbage, regardless of artistic chops. But my sense, as a layman, is that the Italian fascist movement was markedly better at attracting talented artists than the German version. Not sure why that was.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 6:05 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]

Good point, Mr. Excellent. Though, the nazis *did* have some talented fashion designers. (I'm not suggesting we should use their ideas or celebrate them.)

For many years I had a barber who grew up on Sicily in the '20s and worked in Rome in the late '30s through the war. He's not dead, but he's no longer barbering; we remain in touch. He is an incredibly sweet, thoughtful, astonishingly not-racist very old man who cares about people deeply. The only thing we ever argued about was Mussolini and the legacy of Italo Balbo. (He was correct that Balbo doesn't seem to have been anti-semtic. I'm not sure that's enough reason to celebrate the guy.) I'd point out the thousands of journalists, leftists, Roma, and many other people who were disappeared and tortured, and, of course, the global war. He'd tell me that Mussolini built a new well, an elementary school, and subsidized the cost of food in his tiny village and made everything better for his family. The Italian fascists were dangerously good at their jobs in many ways, even if it's cliché.
posted by eotvos at 7:19 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]

Russolo is a weird figure. He had one really cool idea: 'what if we could use noises to make music?' but besides gaining some publicity and annoying some people he doesn't seem to have taken it anywhere much, at least not in a way that survives. It took later folks like Varese, Schaeffer, and Cage to really pull it off artistically. Like the rest of the Italian Futurists though, terrible, stupid politics that romanticised violence and directly promoted Mussolini. One hopes they ultimately learned their lesson, although it's hard to tell. Russolo himself volunteered for WW1 and was injured, and laid up in hospital for a year or so – might explain all the death imagery in the later paintings, PTSD perhaps. I can't find a reference right now but I think I remember reading somewhere a story about part of his war experience being he suffered a brain injury, and that was part of why he changed directions artistically (and dropped the intonarumori thing) in the 20s.

Although both groups would protest, it's interesting to compare the Italian Futurists with the Russian Futurists. Similar 'glorification of progress and technology' ideals, similar revolutionary fervour, and similar mistakes in terms of backing the wrong political horse – Stalin benefited from Russian Futurism in some ways, and then turned on them when they weren't useful any more (and could no longer fit with appropriate revolutionary aesthetics). Alexander Mosolov (extremely suave photo on that wiki page) is emblematic of Russian Futurist musicians, and the falling out with Stalin – he was expelled from the Composers' Union and spent 8 years in the Gulag for being 'counter revolutionary'. His piece Iron Foundry is pretty fun, and weirdly reminiscent of a certain common Looney Tunes theme.

The moral of the story: don't get mixed up with charismatic authoritarians, even if their ideas seem to line up with your art. It does not end well.

(edit: mixed up my decades and said '30s' when I meant '20s')
posted by threecheesetrees at 7:19 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]

It took later folks like Varese, Schaeffer, and Cage to really pull it off artistically.

And also there was this little group, an art collective really, who came together right as technology arrived that would literally let you make music out of noise, or to use noise to make music. They even took their name from Russolo's thesis: Art Of Noise. I'm particularly fond of their album In No Sense? Nonsense! [YT playlist link], which uses noises for music a lot.
posted by hippybear at 8:20 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]

This essay is a good overview of that story. Learning about the histories of various experimental art movements in the early 20th Century was for me one of the most fascinating things about going to art-school, even though the details often turn kinda nasty.

Speaking of Intonarumori, here's my fave Einsturzende Neubauten video again.
posted by ovvl at 9:26 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

and weirdly reminiscent of a certain common Looney Tunes theme

(Hmm...perhaps this passage from Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' even more so...?)
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 5:25 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

I got intrigued by noise-as-music during my post-undergrad years, and still explore its musical possibilities to this day as a continuing by-product of the late ʻ60ʻs era of deep psychedelic experimentation.

Actually, it was an LP of Pierre Henryʻs Le Voyage that, in the parlance of the day, completely blew my mind. The composition sonically portrayed the passage of a dying soul as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In my darkened room, it delivered this motif so forcefully into the abyss of my LSD-infused brain that I had to stop listening after the first 10 minutes or so -- the wildly unfolding hallucinations were scaring me toward total existential crisis.

Several years of relative sobriety passed. I summoned the nerve to put M. Henryʻs chef-dʻoeuvre onto the turntable again. Much to my dismay, those existentially ominous sounds proved to be manipulated air escaping from balloons and suchlike. Touchē, Monsieur.
posted by Droll Lord at 9:07 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

I have a soft spot for futurism. In hindsight it can seem so wrongheaded, but the manifestos that were presented in the moment tended to hint at that as part of the idea. Musique concrète and sampling evnded up being the blender for material like this to be digested and recombined in ways that resonate with a modern audience, and there's always surprises to be found in the past. That score for Risveglio di una città is, for instance, visually beautiful and odd in its own right. Cool post, thank you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:14 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

I also get strong plus ça change vibes from that description of the Russolo concert's brawly ambiance. "[T]hey aestheticized violence to such a degree that what occurred in the seats was merely an extension of what took place on stage." This could have been written about everything from skinheads to punks to Nine Inch Nails shows to Jackass to Warped Tour to those people moshing at nu metal shows that have gone full-on right wing Proud Boy fetish parties.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:26 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

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