Photo credit: Windell H. Oskay,
on creative engineering and new media art

Intonarumori (1913)

August 25th, 2009


Experimental music instruments by Luigi Russolo.

Russolo, an Italian futurist painter and composer, made these wonderful noise-making instruments 1913. There were 27 different versions, each named, and each making some sort of noise or sound; like that of machines, but turned into music. Inside each of the boxes was a rotating wheel. The wheel would cause a string to vibrate, and the vibrations would be transmitted to a membrane and create the sound coming out the speaker. The wheel would be set in motion either by simply turning a crank, or in some cases, electrically. A lever on top controlled the tension of the string, and so also the pitch of the sound.

This embrace of noise and machines are of course emblematic of the futurist movement. There is a manifest by Russolo, called The Art of Noise, where he goes on about how he wants to use noise to make music rather than just traditional instruments.  “This limited circle of pure sounds must be broken, and the infinite variety of ‘noise-sound’ conquered. ”

You could discuss the political implications of this – Italian, futurist, just before WW1:  but personally I just love the simplicity of the design of these boxes, and this great image with Russolo and his companion Ugo Piatti (with the impeccable bow tie). Noise artists everywhere clearly owe something to Luigi Russolo.