wrote the futurist manifesto The Art of Noises
). He outlined the different types of sound
he intended to incorporate and believed should be incorporated in new music1
. To produce these sounds he and Ugo Patti
built the Noise Intoners
The Intonarumori had to be easy to play and able to reproduce their sounds at different pitches. They looked like large wooden boxes, of different sizes, with a phonograph horn or a tuba coming out of the front. In 1914 Luigi gave his first concert comprised entirely of these noise machines.
After the intial demonstrations of the Intornarumori in 1913 Russolo wrote the following rebuttal/explination about what he was trying to achieve. This essay is also intresting because it describes how the Noise Intoners generated their sound, though unfortunately it never fully explains how the diaphrams are excited.
The Futurist Intonarumori
by Luigi Russolo
June 1913, Milan
On June 2, at a Futurist evening in Modena before 2,000 people who overcrowded the Teatro Stocchi, I explained and demonstrated one of the first intonarumori instruments invented and constructed by me in collaboration with the painter, Ugo Piatti. The perfect function of this apparatus or instrument (that has the special name of exploder), reproducing by a series of 10 whole tones the characteristic noise of a motor starting up, provoked violent enthusiasm and at the same time - like everything about our forceful movement - infinite discussions, and, naturally, bursts of imbecile or superficial laughter.
After having read numerous and diverse comments about the "Art of Noise" (March 11, 1913) that have been published principally by foreign newspapers - from Temps to Matin, from Berliner Tageblatt to Neues Wiener, from the Daily Chronicle to the Evening Standard I was persuaded that all these newspapers have not understood in its essence, however clearly enunciated, the intuitive principle of that manifesto, and what should have been the practical realisation that must have been logically derived from the principle.
Several - the major part - have imagined only a cacophony as a practical result; a deafening and disorderly medley of noise without sense or any logic; others have imagined a simple imitative or impressionistic intention to copy the noises of life. Lastly, others have seen in that manifesto only the desire to launch sentences and snobbish theories to amaze the good bourgeoisie.
All this, naturally, did not discourage me and it also did not hide from me the many and grave difficulties that must be overcome in order to arrive at a practical realisation of the manifesto. I continued to work and to do research on the subject.
If from afar I heard and still hear laughter, jokes, or expressions of incredulity about my idea, near me, instead, I have had and have among my old and new Futurist brothers an atmosphere of rousing enthusiasm.
I will point, first of all, to the enthusiasm and to the inexhaustible young faith of that great animator who is my dear and great friend, Marinetti, who is still vibrating from the great acoustic emotion of his experience assisting in the siege of Adrianople.
In my long and patient laboratory research I have had and I have a faithful companion, an ingenious and untiring researcher, the painter Ugo Piatti.
What I said in the manifesto, "We want to intone and regulate harmonically and rhythmically these extremely varied noises," is today a reality, and the instruments that realised the "intoned noises" are, by now, incessantly multiplying them.
Without going into the particular techniques, I shall briefly point out the practical results already obtained and those that are deemed to be possible in a short time by already completed studies.
Acoustics has taught us very little, since, having been applied to the study of pure sounds until now, it has almost completely neglected the study of noise.
Except for several general laws on sounds that also serve in part for noise, acoustics had to proceed almost uniquely by means of continual and repeated experiments.
Above all, it was necessary for practicability for these intonarumori instruments to be of the greatest simplicity possible and it is this, exactly, that we have succeeded in perfectly.
It is enough to say that a single taut diaphragm suitably placed gives, by variation of its tension, a gamut of more than 10 whole tones, with all the passages of semitones, of quarter-tones and also smaller fractions of tones.
The preparation of the material for this diaphragm by means of special chemical baths varies according to the timbre of noise that one wishes to obtain. Then, by varying the means of excitation of the same diaphragm, one also can obtain a different noise, in type and in timbre, always preserving, naturally, the possibility of varying the tone. There are four different means of excitation used before now and the corresponding instruments have already been completed.
The first gives the sound of exploding, automobile-motor type; the second gives a crackling sound, the fusillade type; the third gives a humming sound, the dynamic type; the fourth gives the sound of different varieties of rubbing.
In these instruments it is enough that the simple shifting of a graduated lever gives the tone of noise that one wants, also its smallest fraction. The rhythm of every single noise can also be equally regulated, so one can easily calculate in bars the even and uneven tempos that exist.
These instruments, because of their extreme simplicity, are already perfect enough so that they need only small modifications of a secondary nature.
The research to obtain noises (always, it is well understood, tuneable) of the first series listed in the manifesto is now already complete: the "Roars," "Thunders," and the "Bursts"; of the second series: the "Hisses"; of the third: the "Bubblings"; of the fourth: the "Screeches" and the "Rustles." The relative instruments for these noises are already in execution: the "Roarer," "Thunderer," "Burster," and the "Bubbler."
And now I shall say some words about the effects that noises thus intoned produce on those who listen.
As I pointed out in the manifesto, noise that comes from life we immediately restore to the same life (contrary to that which makes the sound) reminiscing quickly in our minds about the things that produce the determined noise that we hear. The restoration to life has, therefore, a character of an impressionistic fragmented episode of the same life. But as in every art, and thus also in the Art of Noise, we must not limit ourselves to an impressionistic fragmented reproduction of life.
Noise must become a primary element in shaping the work of art. That is, it must lose its own accidental character in order to become an element sufficiently abstract so that it can reach the necessary transfiguration of every primary element in the abstract material of art.
Well then, although the resemblance of timbre to imitated natural noise is attained in these instruments, almost to the point of misleading, nevertheless, as soon as one hears that noise varies in tone, one becomes aware that it quickly loses its episodic, uniquely imitative character. It loses, that is, all its character of result and effect, tied to causes that produce it (motor energy, percussions, rubbings produced by speed, clashes, etc.) and that are due to and inherent in the same purpose of the machine or of some other thing that produces the noise.
It loses this character of effect by transforming itself into element and into primary material.
And when noise is thus liberated from the things that produce it we dominate it, transforming it into our desired tone, intensity, and rhythm; we hear noise quickly become automatic material, malleable, ready to be shaped by the wishes of the artist who transforms it into an element of emotion, into a work of art.
And it is thus that choosing, dominating, and co-ordinating noises, we have already in part reached that new unexpected delight of which we spoke in the manifesto "The Art of Noise."2
1 See The Art of Noises for a full explanation of Russolos reasoning behind the introduction of noise into music (in case you're lazy it can summed up as music is getting more dissonant, our industrial world has conditioned reactions in us to noise, lets add noise to music because it should be pretty neat)
2found at http://www.futurism.fsnet.co.uk/manifestos/manifesto19.htm