7. Intonarumori Unveiled
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137 Three Levels 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?1 Like most futurists, Russolo was moved by a cosmogonic ambition. Fran- çoise Escal is the only musicologist to have touched upon this aspect of Russolo ’s activities. In a brief 1975 article, Escal claims that in the development of the art of noises Russolo’s aural frame of reference first shifted from Nature to the Real; Escal understood the Real to be the meeting place of noises from nature and those produced, directly or indirectly as a result of human industry , by machines. When Russolo first turned his attention to the noises of the Real (Nature plus Man), he did not limit himself to merely imitating or representing reality. Escal explained that in effect,art is not the re-production,re-presentation,of life,and the art of noises especially is not an inventory, a collection of noises of the exterior world, of the real. [. . .] To an aesthetics of representation, Russolo opposes an aesthetics of creation. Futurist music“will obtain the most complex and new sonic emotions not through a succession of noises imitative of life, but rather through a fantastic combination of these varied tones”: in between the noises and the art of noises there is the mediation of the artist as full, inspired subject.2 Chapter 7 Intonarumori Unveiled 138  .  The Art of Noises and the Occult Unfortunately, Escal, instead of elaborating on his own brilliant intuition, reverted to framing Russolo’s aesthetics of creation as a mere regurgitation of romanticism, concluding that “Russolo remains a prisoner of the traditional (i.e., romantic) conception of the author as a superior being elected to deliver his message to ordinary mortals.” 3 In 1975 the critical climate was not sufficiently mature, and the debate on exchanges among the disciplines of the artistic avant-garde, science, and occultism had yet to begin. Whereas Lista (who in that same year edited a second French edition of The Art of Noises) considered the messianic side of Russolo’s thought, which is concerned with the spiritual, metaphysical, and irrational, to be regressive and reactionary, Escal on the other hand dismissed Russolo’s thought as conservative. Escal believed that Russolo’s occult was a cumbersome and obsolete debt from nineteenth-century romanticism; he interpreted Russolo’s approach to be a way of playing with the worn-out metaphor of artistic creation rather than actually engaging in the act of Creation , and therefore considered it unworthy of further investigation. Within the occultist ferment at the turn of the century among theosophy, science, and spiritism, and as used in séances and materializations, the term creation assumed greater significance than it had ever held for the romantic generation. The creation of life as intended by the occultists lay within the field of black magic, since the ability to give life, like that of taking it away, is a divine prerogative and therefore outside the human sphere. Alchemy is the most important of the occult disciplines dealing with creation, and creation was one of its most ambitious goals. Creation never occurred out of nothingness ; it was always an artificious operation of transformation, obtained through an infusion of energy.4 For Russolo, the intonarumori was an alchemical experiment in the creation of life, which futurists believed was the only process capable of producing an art that could truly be called “spiritual.” In Russolo’s experiment, raw matter (in the form of pure noise) is transformed by means of a mechanical instrument (the intonarumori) functioning as an alchemical crucible or vas, through a cunning process with a mechanical side (enharmonic transformation ) and a spiritual one (infusion of energy).5 At another level, the noises produced by an orchestra of intonarumori (a chaotic, complementary multiplicity that can be read within the alchemical opposites of salt and sulfur, i.e., masculine and feminine) are transfigured through the catalyst (in alchemy Intonarumori Unveiled  . 139 the catalyst would be mercury) of futurist simultaneity and dynamism into a synthesis fusing these opposites into unity. This process is articulated at three levels. In the first level, noise becomes spiritual as a result of the intonarumori being tuned and...