restricted access 9. The Arte dei “Romori”
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169 Supernatural Building Speed 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 artisans) but also the study time for understanding the various mechanical principles that would lead to the desired results—Russolo was able to perfect fifteen instruments.”2 The idea of building new musical instruments occurred to Russolo during the performance of Balilla Pratella’s Musica futurista at the Teatro Costanzi on March 9, 1913, and he announced his intention a few days later, on March 11, in the Art of Noises manifesto. It is well documented that Russolo fashioned the first series of intonarumori at breakneck speed during the next few months. As indicated in Russolo’s article “Gl’intonarumori futuristi,” he had by the end of May 1913 completed four instruments: the scoppiatore, crepitatore, ronzatore, and stropicciatore.3 On August 11, 1913, at the Casa Rossa in Milan, the general headquarters of the futurist movement, he presented a special press concert featuring the sixteen instruments that constituted the first complete intonarumori orchestra.4 Maffina observed: “Despite having grown up in a musical family, Russolo was at that time a painter with only basic music training, so one wonders how he could have acquired the Chapter 9 The Arte dei “Romori” Ed Egli è spento, l’amico leonardesco di tutte le arti —Paolo Buzzi, Ricordi e presagi 170 . the art of noises and the occult knowledge of acoustics and mechanics necessary for the construction of the intonarumori.”5 Maffina attributed Russolo’s engineering speed in large part to Ugo Piatti, Russolo’s acknowledged assistant at the time. Maffina’s thesis is contradicted, however, by the categorized lists of the futurist members in periodicals and books printed by Marinetti’s Edizioni futuriste di poesia, which serve as a useful barometer for the activities of the evolving movement. There Piatti’s name is not included under the rubric “Arte dei rumori” but only that of “intonarumori.” This is the rubric an assistant, or mechanic, would belong to; in fact, “docile mechanic” is how Cangiullo referred to him in connection with Russolo.6 In these lists Russolo incontrovertibly occupies the dominant position. His is the brain behind the project—a fact confirmed by the absence of Piatti’s name on all the patents. Maffina’s thesis appears all the more curious given that up to this point Piatti, like Russolo, was “only” a painter—and unlike Russolo, he does not seem to have had any interest or training in acoustics and mechanics (let alone a family musical heritage). Indeed, while overvaluing Piatti’s role, Maffina also undervalued the influence of Domenico Russolo. Russolo’s father had made and maintained watches and clocks and tuned organs and pianos for a living, and surely this instilled in his son some notion of mechanics and its application to acoustics. But the father’s influence alone could not have been sufficient inducement for Russolo’s undertaking so difficult a task and accomplishing it in so short a time. A spiritual guide came to Russolo’s help: the legacy and aura of Leo­ nardo da Vinci. Leonardo’s Touch Russolo’s fascination with occult traditions is demonstrated by his unwavering admiration for the work of Leonardo and for the metaphysical aims that guided his work. Russolo was aware of both Leonardo’s experiments with acoustics and his projects for building mechanical musical instruments.They formed the main inspiration for Russolo’s intonarumori; the rapidity with which he constructed them was the result of his capitalizing on Leonardo’s research. Russolo did not apply Leonardo’s principles blindly; rather, he extended them, integrating them into his own aesthetics of sound. His expansion of Leonardo’s ideas remained idiosyncratic, and the result was very much his The Arte dei “Romori” . 171 own. But Leonardo’s theory of acoustics was unquestionably an important source for Russolo’s revolutionary aesthetics. Leonardo’s support for the infinite division of the semitone influenced Russolo’s (and perhaps Busoni’s) enthusiasm for enarmonia, and Leonardo’s understanding of “noise” (seen in his differentiation between strepido and romore) was the germ for Russolo’s aesthetics of noises. They further shared an interest in the noises of war; the chapter on that topic in Russolo’s The Art of...