restricted access 5. Russolo and Synesthesia
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110 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 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 as a sudden change in direction. In fact, the music that Russolo imagined and produced in 1913 was not radically different from the music he had painted in the preceding years. But how did his transition to sound take place? To formulate a convincing hypothesis on the nature of Russolo’s activity circa 1912–13, it is useful to sketch his research profile, substantiating it with all the available evidence. Ingenious Ingenuousness The mantra of Russolo’s ingenious ingenuousness, so frequently repeated in the available biographical sketches written about him, implies that his intellectual journey suffered from a lack of technique and, consequently, a lack of continuity , organicness, and deliberation. It suggests that, as engraver and painter, as well as in the field of music, Russolo was a dilettante. Chapter 5 Russolo and Synesthesia La nostra sensibilità moltiplicata, dopo essersi conquistata degli occhi futuristi avrà finalmente delle orecchie futuriste. —Luigi Russolo,“L’arte dei rumori: Manifesto futurista” (1913) Russolo and Synesthesia . 111 Unlike Balla or Carrà, he was self-taught. And although, as Maffina has emphasized, Russolo’s early works were prints (principally etchings), which require considerable technical ability, many have said that Russolo was technically the least accomplished of the five signatories of the technical manifesto of futurist painting.1 The cliché of Russolo’s ingenuousness is rooted in a legitimate critical opinion, according to which his technical weakness (amply compensated for, it is occasionally recognized, by his theoretical strength) both explains his lack of critical success and, at the same time, constituted one of the primary reasons for his aesthetic originality. As Martin has written, “Russolo’s technical innocence may have given him the freedom of a most original interpretation of the revolutionary precepts of the technical manifesto, influencing his colleagues and setting a precedent for the surrealists.”2 However, this putative ingenuousness is thought to have allowed him to abandon painting, change direction, and undertake full-time musical activity . How could this have happened by chance? Maffina, in describing the sequence of Russolo’s diverse interests in painting, music, and the occult arts, judged that among them “no link can be found.”3 This critical model may be partly defensible, but the portrait of Russolo as an ingenuous dilettante, leaping randomly from one discipline to another, fails to convince because it ignores the coherence of his intellectual development. Russolo never earned a conservatory diploma. It must have annoyed the official musician of the futurist movement, Balilla Pratella, when Russolo invaded his own field, notwithstanding that Pratella, in his first manifesto, had railed against the institutional obsolescence of the regii conservatori di musica. Pratella never made his uneasiness explicit, and relations between Pratella and Russolo always appeared to be harmonious. But to avert problems Marinetti decided to carve a separate space for Russolo’s art of noises— which in any case had no connections with Pratella’s futurist music— within the futurist movement. Russolo was obviously wary of the fiery Pratella, for at the end of his manifesto he wrote what sounds like a disclaimer: “I am not a musician by profession , and therefore I have neither acoustical predilections, nor works to defend. [. . .] Thus, more temerarious than a professional musician could be, not worried about my apparent incompetence, and convinced that audacity has all rights and all possibilities, I was able to intuit the great renewal of music through the Art of Noises.”4 112 . from the Formative Years to 1913 Critics often cite this passage to confirm the idea of Russolo’s ingenuousness . But I would suggest that he is actually boldly claiming a space for himself : he raises the issue of incompetence, but note his use of the adjective apparent. Russolo had long been interested in music, and through his synesthetic investigations he had probably already devoted intense hours of study to the theory of vibrations, acoustic science, and...