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Luigi Russolo, Futurist

Luigi Russolo, Futurist: Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult

Luciano Chessa
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Luigi Russolo, Futurist
    Book Description:

    Luigi Russolo (1885-1947)-painter, composer, builder of musical instruments, and first-hour member of the Italian Futurist movement-was a crucial figure in the evolution of twentieth-century aesthetics. As creator of the first systematic poetics of noise and inventor of what has been considered the first mechanical sound synthesizer, Russolo looms large in the development of twentieth-century music. In the first English language study of Russolo, Luciano Chessa emphasizes the futurist's interest in the occult, showing it to be a leitmotif for his life and a foundation for his art of noises. Chessa shows that Russolo's aesthetics of noise, and the machines he called theintonarumori, were intended to boost practitioners into higher states of spiritual consciousness. His analysis reveals a multifaceted man in whom the drive to keep up with the latest scientific trends coexisted with an embrace of the irrational, and a critique of materialism and positivism.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95156-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On a summer evening the Russolos were entertaining a guest, when Russolo, pleading fatigue and sleepiness, went to bed. The lady and the guest continued chatting for a little longer, until she, the good nights said, retired. While ascending the internal staircase, her gaze was attracted upward: something that had never happened to her. It was then that she saw a kind of white ghost appearing at the banister of the landing, and quickly recognized its familiar face: it was Russolo, leaning on the banister, all illuminated by the full moon.

    His wife gazed at him amazed and asked what...

  6. PART ONE. Luigi Russolo from the Formative Years to 1913

    • CHAPTER 1 Futurism as a Metaphysical science
      (pp. 13-42)

      It is surprising how little the common perception of futurism has changed since 1967, when Maurizio Calvesi complained about the “reductive general idea of Italian futurism as a simple exaltation of the machine and superficial reproduction of movement.”¹ Although the futurists did not always agree among themselves on a definition of the movement, they certainly would not have shared a view that reduces futurism to merely materialistic terms.² If a similarly reductive attitude can already be found in Varèse as early as 1917, the reduction of futurism to a materialistic movement within post–World War II art criticism was likely...

    • CHAPTER 2 Occult Futurism
      (pp. 43-70)

      Celant maintains that both Balla and Bragaglia were pointed to the reading of occult texts by the brothers Arnaldo and Bruno Ginanni Corradini, counts of Ravenna. Given the brothers’ precocious interest in the occult sciences, their influence on the futurist movement in occult matters during the early years may have been decisive.¹ Describing them as “the most esoteric futurists,” Celant cites a claim by Ginna that illustrates their formative readings: “We provided ourselves with spiritualist and occult books, my brother and I, through the publishers Dourville and Chacormac. We read the occultists Elifas Levi, Papus, theosophists like Blavatsky and steiner,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Spotlight on Russolo
      (pp. 71-97)

      At its core, the art of noises was for Luigi Russolo a process of conjuring the spirits, a process he divided into two parallel moments: one in which noise became spiritualized, the other in which spirits materialized. Russolo first painted this process in 1911, and he began to put it into practice a year later.

      Some scholars have mentioned the relationship between Russolo and the occult arts in his early years as a painter (either when analyzing key artworks, or in passing), and the occult is certainly part of all discussions of his late creative phase—for several years after...

    • CHAPTER 4 Painting Noise: La musica
      (pp. 98-109)

      Russolo’s interest in synesthesia and the occult is most in evident in what is undoubtedly his best-known work, the large oil paintingLa musica.This painting is centrally important to my investigation, as it sets out the poetics of music that Russolo was working out in the years immediately preceding his manifesto on the art of noises.

      Buzzi has confirmed the importance of this work in Russolo’s artistic and intellectual development, claiming that the painting was Russolo’s “work in progress since the years of his earliest youth.”¹ The different versions of the painting are evidence of a complex gestation period....

    • CHAPTER 5 Russolo and Synesthesia
      (pp. 110-121)

      An in-depth analysis ofLa musicais essential to understanding Russolo’s research in the transition years immediately preceding his manifesto of March 11, 1913, “L’arte dei rumori: Manifesto futurista,” and fully to contextualize the art of noises that the manifesto inaugurated. Read in this context, the painting can be seen to set out a clear and well-conceived poetics of music, and to exhibit the profound spiritual notions that in the brief span of a year had brought Russolo to sound.

      The continuity of Russolo’s theoretical journey cannot be sufficiently emphasized: his embarking upon full-time musical investigations should not be read...

    • CHAPTER 6 Russolo’s Metaphysics
      (pp. 122-134)

      Futurism is concerned with the essence of reality, because all that exists isessentiallycomposed of vibrations of different intensities in the ether. Like Boccioni and Carrà, Russolo was convinced that an artist’s true objective was to penetrate bodies and discover this essence. Futurists believed that investigation, analysis, and comprehension of the real ought to be guided by an epistemology founded on a solid metaphysical basis that would allow them to look into the depths.

      To those who have recontextualized it in these terms, art can no longer be mere imitation of the surface of the real but instead becomes...

  7. PART TWO. The Art of Noises and the occult

    • CHAPTER 7 Intonarumori Unveiled
      (pp. 137-150)

      Russolo considered the intonarumori to be more than simply musical instruments. But what then does that make the special compositions Russolo wrote for the intonarumori, which he first calledreti di rumori(networks of noises) and thenspirali di rumori(spirals of noises)? And what is the real significance ofRisveglio di una città(Awakening of a city), the most famous of these spirali?¹

      Like most futurists, Russolo was moved by a cosmogonic ambition. Françoise Escal is the only musicologist to have touched upon this aspect of Russolo’s activities. In a brief 1975 article, Escal claims that in the development...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Spirali di Rumori
      (pp. 151-168)

      On November 1, 1913,Lacerbapublished Russolo’s article “Conquista totale dell’enarmonismo mediante gli intonarumori futuristi” (Total conquest of enharmonism through the futurist intonarumori). In it Russolo defines his first two works,Risveglio di CapitaleandConvegno d’automobili e d’aeroplani,asreti(networks) of noises. A few months later, on March 1, 1914,Lacerbapublished his “Grafia enarmonica per gl’intonarumori futuristi” (Enharmonic notation for the futurist intonarumori), which includes the two famous pages taken fromRisveglio di una città(notice the change in title); here, too, Russolo still called his composition arete di rumori(network of noises) (fig. 20).


    • CHAPTER 9 The Arte dei “Romori”
      (pp. 169-196)

      Russolo scholars share a particular admiration for the speed with which the artist completed his instrument-building projects.¹ Maffina, for instance, in his biography of Russolo, writes: “It is nothing less than surprising that in such a brief period—not just the crafting time needed for their construction (which was perhaps entrusted to various artisans) but also the study time for understanding the various mechanical principles that would lead to the desired results—Russolo was able to perfect fifteen instruments.”²

      The idea of building new musical instruments occurred to Russolo during the performance of Balilla Pratella’sMusica futuristaat the Teatro...

    • CHAPTER 10 Controversial Leonardo
      (pp. 197-208)

      The futurists took a rather contradictory attitude toward Leonardo, which can only be explained if one separates his work from its canonization. Futurist public attacks on Leonardo centered not on his work but on what he represented of the past. Typically, futurist rage toward the past has been explained through a hermeneutical script by Marinetti, according to which the obsessive shadow of the cultural saints of the past and the adoration of their works—especially in a country with a rich history, such as Italy—were an unbearable weight slowing futurism’s dynamic aims.

      Marinetti’s carefully orchestrated act of turning one’s...

    • CHAPTER 11 Third Level
      (pp. 209-224)

      Beyond the process of spiritualizing / sanctifying the noise (first level) and that of synthesizing different noises into unity (second level), Russolo contemplated a third level. During the creative process described so far, the inspired artist is transported to a higher plane of consciousness, which allows him to comprehend the world from a privileged point of view. At this stage the artist enters a new level, one in which he can communicate with the spirits of the dead he has conjured up, who fluctuate in the same plane, awaiting reincarnation.¹ The intonarumori were thus intended as a portal to the...

  8. Conclusion: Materialist Futurism?
    (pp. 225-230)

    The question whether there are such things as black or red magic, mediumistic séances or ideoplastic materializations, is not germane to my discussion. But what about the intonarumori? Were they or were they not a “portal to the beyond”? Or were they only a metaphor for it? That, too, does not matter. Artworks are screens over which artists project their (he) art’s desires, their poetics: considered from this point of view, artworks are always revelatory. What really matters—and what I have proposed—is that Russolo and other futurists believed in these occult concepts from the very beginning.

    Russolo’s theosophy...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 231-284)