Luigi Russolo, Luciano Chessa, and sixteen composers

by Bart on October 28, 2009

Guess what, I got to see and hear the Intonarumori! 

Actually, I saw recreations of sixteen of the Intonarumori as reconstructed, based on the best surviving evidence and descriptions, by the contempory composer Luciano Chessa, in performance in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago.  Some background: The Italian Futurist composer, painter and thinker Luigi Russolo ((1885 – 1947) put forth in 1913 a theory of music based on the idea that it was incumbant upon musicians of the time to leave behind the pastoral past and embrace the clangorous sound world of the machine age.  In keeping with this idea, he created and concertized with a series of noise-instruments which he called Intonarumori. The original instruments are no longer extant.  The current presentation included performance of a recently uncovered 1916 composition for the instruments, plus compositions by fourteen contemporary composers including the project’s director, Luciano Chessa. 

The instruments lined up on stage are a most intriguing sight – sixteen boxes with sound horns protruding in front, cranks and levers from on top and behind.  Some of the instruments produce recognizable pitch with a fair degree of pitch control and accuracy; others less so.  The sounds do indeed show a close affinity to modern industrial sounds – not so much the loud aggressive sounds Russolo’s writings might seem to suggest, but the quieter, richly textural hummings and scruffings of every day machines and appliances, as brought forward in various moods by the dozen-plus composers.

Under the name Metal + Machine + Manifesto, the show travels to New York for Performa  09 on November 11, and to Milan in December.

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