4. Painting Noise: La musica
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98  The Process Russolo’s interest in synesthesia and the occult is most in evident in what is undoubtedly his best-known work, the large oil painting La 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 Chapter 4 Painting Noise: La musica La musique La musique souvent me prend comme une mer! Vers ma pâle étoile, Sous un plafond de brume ou dans un vaste éther, Je mets à la voile; La poitrine en avant et les poumons gonflés Comme de la toile J’escalade le dos des flots amoncelés Que la nuit me voile; Je sens vibrer en moi toutes les passions D’un vaisseau qui souffre; Le bon vent, la tempête et ses convulsions Sur l’immense gouffre Me bercent. D’autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir De mon désespoir! —Charles Baudelaire, from Les fleurs du mal Painting Noise: La musica  . 99 progress since the years of his earliest youth.” 1 The different versions of the painting are evidence of a complex gestation period. A first version in ink on paper (1911) shows many of the elements of the final version of the painting yet also significant differences. This version of La musica has neither hands nor masks, and its crudity suggests that it may be a forgery.2 If proved authentic, it would most likely have preceded the first oil-on-canvas version of the same subject, which was shown in Milan at the Prima Esposizione d’Arte Libera on April 30, 1911, with its first title, Dinamismo musicale. Early in 1912 Russolo painted the subject again, this time changing the title to La musica and creating the version known today.3 Dinamismo musicale is fully documented in Boccioni’s caricature of the futurist serata held at the Politeama Garibaldi in Treviso on June 2, 1911, and reproduced in the Milanese Uno, due, tre on June 17, 1911. This vignetta shows three futurist paintings: Russolo’s Dinamismo musicale, an early version of Boccioni’s La risata (before it was repainted after having been disfigured by an anonymous viewer), and Carrà’s Nuotatrici. Although Boccioni’s vignette offers only a caricature of Russolo’s painting, it is nonetheless possible to distinguish in it Russolo’s central figure of the many-armed pianist (fig. 17). In Figure 17. Umberto Boccioni, caricature of the futurist serata at the Politeama Garibaldi in Treviso on June 2, 1911, reproduced in Uno, due, tre, Milan, 17 June 1911. 100  .  from the formative years to 1913 place of the masks that appear in the final version of La musica, here the pianist’s head is surrounded by a multitude of insects, which are meant to represent materializations of a spiritual energy that, in the form of a wave, is gushing vigorously from the pianist’s open head.4 What Experience? In a letter to Pratella of January 20, 1913, Marinetti introduced Russolo as a “formidable pianist”and proposed that he be asked to perform a piece of Pratella ’s synesthetically titled Poema dei colori at a futurist soiree being planned at the Teatro Costanzi.5 Marinetti’s hyperboles asides, Russolo was likely a competent keyboard player; possibly Russolo painted himself as the pianist in La musica.6 However, since the central character in that painting lacks the distinctive features that characterize Russolo’s many self-portraits (particularly the spirited eyes and pointy Mephistophelian goatee), this remains debatable. The final version of La musica shows a pianist performing in a state of rapturous enthusiasm, as it can be understood in its etymological connotation of possession. The features of the pianist’s face, moved by excitement, can barely be distinguished. The hands are represented in a mad, virtuosic dash along an infinite keyboard. Like other canvases by Russolo, the painting has an almost hypnotic character , evoked in this case by the series of concentric circles that gradually shade from palest to darkest blue and radiate from a point behind the pianist, who remains the painting’s center of gravity.7 Beyond the concentric circles, two other elements frame the figure and underline its central position. A wave of blue rises from the instrument to spread into the air; and, like the skulls...


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