11 May 2022
“In antiquity, life was nothing but silence. Noise was really not born before the 19th century, with the advent of machinery. Today noise reigns supreme over human sensibility.” Luigi Russolo
Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori, from Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori (Milan, 1916). X.629/13035.
Futurism was a multidisciplinary artistic and social movement. Futurists wanted to reinvent all art forms: painting, sculpture, literature, photography, architecture, book production, dance, even cuisine... Futurist ideals were very radical, both artistically and politically.
Italian futurists, led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, had a huge impact on the avant-garde of the twentieth century and gave popularity to art manifestos. Of the many futurist manifestos, the 11 March 1913 one titled L’arte dei rumori. Manifesto futurista (The Art of Noises. Futurist Manifesto), by Luigi Russolo, had a very long-lasting influence.
Portrait of Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori.
L’arte dei rumori is a manifesto of futurist music. It was subsequently published as a monograph in 1916 in Milan by Edizioni Futuriste di “Poesia”, Marinetti’s own publishing house and official publisher of Italian futurists since 1905. The monograph, also titled L’arte dei rumori, expands on the 1913 manifesto and includes pictures and musical scores.
This book is the first to introduce the notions of noise as sound and sound-art. Noise was a product of the industrial revolution and therefore, for Russolo, futuristic. Onomatopoeic and cacophonic ‘words in freedom’ were already linked to the concept of noise as poetry in the early productions of futurist literature, so noise as sound appears a natural evolution of Marinetti’s Parole in Libertà.
The author of this book, painter turned musician Luigi Russolo, categorizes various types of noises and also created 21 rudimentary experimental noise making machines able to reproduce some noises for the futurist orchestra: intonarumori, including ‘howlers’, ‘bursters’, 'cracklers', ‘hummers’. These Leonardesque magic boxes with levers and trumpets were used for a composition, which reproduces the noise of the urban industrial soundscape: Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a city).
Concerts with intonarumori were organized in 1913 in Modena, and in 1914 in Milan and London, with 10 shows in the Coliseum. Most of Russolo’s instruments were destroyed during WWII and there is only one surviving phonograph recording of the instruments playing together with an orchestra. The full score of Risveglio di una città is also missing, apart from the two pages of notation reproduced below. Nevertheless, attempts to rebuild Russolo’s instruments and reproduce his musical performances happened in the course of the last century.
Score for Risveglio di una città, from L’arte dei rumori.
Russolo’s efforts to emancipate noises and to broaden the definition of music were truly revolutionary, but futurist music was not well received by the audience. The public was not ready at the time. However, the use of synthesizers, the invention of noise music, concrete music, soundscape art, sound-art, electroacoustic and electronic music, are all linked to Russolo’s production of writings, music, and instruments. Musicians who were directly influenced by his work include Pierre Schaeffer, Edgard Varèse and John Cage.
Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections
Claudia Salaris, Marinetti Editore, (Bologna 1990) YF.2009.a.20485
Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise (futurist manifesto, 1913), translated by Robert Filliou, Originally published in 1967 as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press, 2004
Barclay Brown, ‘The Noise Instruments of Luigi Russolo’ Perspectives of New Music, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1981, pp. 31–48 PP.8000.mn
If you are interested in finding out more about our Italian collections, join us at the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website.
16 February 2017
In a week which begins with World Radio Day (13 February),it is appropriate that we should also commemorate the 110th birthday on 16 February of an author and critic who was one of the leading figures of the early years of Czechoslovak broadcasting – Dobroslav Chrobák.
Portrait of Chrobák from Jozef Bob, Moderný tradicionalista Dobroslav Chrobák (Bratislava, 1964) X.908/15392.
Born in Hybe, Slovakia, as the second of four children of a tailor, Chrobák was educated in Rožňava and Liptovský Mikuláš before proceeding to the higher technical school in Bratislava and the Czech Technical University in Prague, graduating in 1934. He was still a schoolboy when, in October 1918, the new independent republic of Czechoslovakia came into being. It was an exciting time not only in politics but in the arts, with the emergence in 1920 of the Devětsil movement with its fascination with the transformation of language into visual art and the possibilities of technology. In 1925, when the student Chrobák was writing his short story ‘Náraz priam centrický’ (‘Centric impact’), Jaroslav Seifert published his verse collection Na vlnách TSF (‘On the waves of the TSF’; British Library Cup.408.kk.11.), laid out by Karel Teige as typographic poems, celebrating the power of wireless telegraphy to transport the reader to Paris, Australia, New York and back again.
On graduating Chrobák returned to Bratislava to work for Československý rozhlas, the national radio company which had begun broadcasting in 1923, as editor of its publication Rádiožurnál. By 1945 he had risen to become the director of short-wave broadcasting throughout Slovakia, and two years later he was appointed as the principal director of the Slovak division of the organization.
However, Chrobák’s writings were not concerned with technical advances but reflected his interests in nature, folklore and the Naturalist movement in fiction. As a student he had collected proverbs and examples of folk wisdom, but also admired authors such as Hermann Hesse and Knut Hamsun whose example encouraged him to turn away from descriptive realism in favour of evocations of the primeval and mythical quality of the natural world. He was also a skilled translator, particularly from Russian (notably of Turgenev’s Home of the Gentry as Šľachtické hniezdo, 1934) and the editor, with Štefan Letz, of the Slovenský literárny almanach (Prague, 1931; X.981/1419), illustrated below.
His 1932 history of Slovak literature, Rukoväť dejín slovenskej literatúry provided readers with a concise guide to writing in Slovak from the earliest sources through the Hussite era, the Reformation and the Enlightenment to Romanticism and Realism.
Cover of Rukoväť dejín slovenskej literatúry (Prague, 1932) X.909/645.
The British Library also holds modern editions of Chrobák’s major prose works, including the collection of short stories, Kamarát Jasek (1937), which established him as a writer of fiction (Bratislava, 2000; YA.2003.a.10244), and his 1943 novel Drak sa vracia (‘The Dragon Returns’; Bratislava, 1971; X.989/12935), one of the most significant examples of Slovak naturalism. The ‘Dragon’ of the title, Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, is found in the forest as a small boy by the potter Lepiš who raises him to be his assistant. When old Lepiš dies, the villagers blame his foster-son for his death, beat him and drive him away as a Jonah-like figure associated with other misfortunes such as drought, sterility, and the death of a village woman in the fields. The novel begins with Simon, a farmer, reporting to his wife Eva that the Dragon has returned to the village, and suspecting that she may take the opportunity to visit him, as she had been in love with him before the villagers drove him out. Eva, although she still loves the Dragon, keeps away from him despite the lack of any genuine emotional bond with her husband, with whom she has little in common apart from their shared work on the farm. Further drought causes a fire to break out in the mountains where the villagers’ animals are wandering in search of food. The Dragon proposes a way of saving them, and the villagers join forces with him and Simon; the latter, however, suspects the Dragon of selling the cattle and sheep to the Poles and, running back to the village, sets his potter’s hut on fire. When the Dragon finally reappears with the herds and flocks, accompanied by his sweetheart Zoška, Simon acknowledges his mistake and begs the Dragon’s forgiveness,while the latter in turn admits that he had wronged Simon by abandoning Eva when she became pregnant. Seeing him with Zoška, Eva realizes that it is time finally to abandon her feelings for him and appreciate Simon and the life which they have built together, and the novel ends with an epilogue which reveals that the whole story was narrated by Eva to her little grandson: ‘...And then? And then – that was all. They loved each other and lived happily together until the end of their days... Sleep, little son!’
Chrobák was also a prolific contributor to the fields of art and literary criticism, and this, together with his professional duties, gave him less time than he might have wished to devote to fiction. His premature death at the age of 44 on 16 May 1951 followed an unsuccessful operation to remove a brain tumour, and his funeral took place three days later in his native Hybe. His achievements in connecting this remote area with the main currents of European culture – both literally and figuratively – remain considerable and deserve wider recognition.
Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services