Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) was an Italian Futurist composer, occultist, and designer of a family of musical instruments called the Intonarumori, or “noise intoners.” In his 1913 manifesto The Art of Noises, Russolo argued that traditional music could no longer capture the senses and imagination of the modern listener, a city-dweller surrounded by the constant cacophony of “noise sounds.” He envisioned a new kind of orchestra, composed of purely mechanical instruments – the Intonarumori – that each created a sound from one of six “families of noise” (roaring, hissing, scraping, etc.) that resembles the sounds one encounters in modern life. The first orchestral performance in Modena in 1914, perhaps the first noise show in history, ended in a riot. Since then, many of the instruments were lost over the years, or destroyed during World War II.
In 2009, Luciano Chessa (composer, multi-instrumentalist, and friend of the station – his most recent visit to The Pit was in Dec. 2016) resurrected the Intonarumori in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Italian Futurism, in collaboration with Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Working from Russolo’s original designs, Chessa’s team constructed 16 replicas of the Intonarumori devices, large wooden boxes containing intricate mechanical noise generators operated by an external lever or hand crank, with a phonograph-style horn to amplify the sound. Chessa then invited his colleagues and friends to compose new works for the orchestra, to be performed alongside Russolo’s original compositions. The works were performed at several locations, including the Ex-Alumix factory in Bolzano, Italy, by the Trento Risuona Improvisation Orchestra (T.R.I.O.).
This 2X LP from Sub Rosa collects the recordings from this 2010 performance. Blixa Bargeld contributes a driving, droning piece (T1), Pauline Oliveros has the sounds scattered as they rise up from silence (T2), Margareth Kammerer offers a night-shift blues tune with female vocals (T12), Pablo Ortiz creates a wild, dissonant tango that you could almost dance to. Several pieces incorporate operatic vocals (T3, T5, T7, T11). Extensive liner notes are included inside the gatefold. In the hands of such brilliant musicians, these century-old instruments sound fresh, and somehow, from the grinding-gear sounds, they are able to generate a surprising variety of textures and moods. It’s all the more impressive that there isn’t an amp of electricity flowing. Russolo’s words resound today as strongly as ever: “Today noise reigns supreme over human sensibility.”