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Luigi Russolo, Futurist

Noise, Visual Arts, and the Occult

Luciano Chessa

Publication Year: 2012

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 the intonarumori, 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.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Like every work that aspires to be scientific, this book is not the result of a solitary effort; rather, it is the product of a multifaceted dialogue. My thanks therefore go first to Mary Francis for having encouraged me from the inception of this dialogue, for her constant and enthusiastic support, and for guiding me through the treacherous traps that accompany all publications. Other key participants...

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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...

PART ONE. Luigi Russolo from the Formative Years to 1913

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pp. 11-25

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1. Futurism as a Metaphysical Science

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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.” 1Although 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...

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2. Occult Futurism

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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.....

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3. Spotlight on Russolo

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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...

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4. Painting Noise: La musica

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pp. 98-109

Interpretations of La musica tend to follow similar paths. Zanovello cited the first public reviews of the painting, which indicate that the work generated substantial interest in the artistic community. Filippo Quaglia wrote in the Avanti! issue of June 11, 1911: “With the painting La musica, Russolo achieved clamorous success; he knew how...

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5. Russolo and Synesthesia

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pp. 110-121

An in-depth analysis of La musica is 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...

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6. Russolo’s Metaphysics

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pp. 122-134

Futurism is concerned with the essence of reality, because all that exists is essentially composed 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...

PART TWO. The Art of Noises and the Occult

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pp. 135-149

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7. Intonarumori Unveiled

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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 called reti di rumori (networks of noises) and then spirali di rumori (spirals of noises)? And what is the real significance of Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a city), the most famous of these spirali?uniF6DC...

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8. The Spirali di Rumori

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pp. 151-168

On November 1, 1913, Lacerba published 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 Capitale and Convegno d’automobili e d’aeroplani, as reti (networks) of noises. A few months later, on March 1, 1914, Lacerba published ...

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9. The Arte dei “Romori”

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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...

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10. Controversial Leonardo

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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...

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11. Third Level

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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...

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Conclusion: Materialist Futurism?

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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....


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pp. 231-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780520951563
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520270640

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012