1.2 / Review

Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners

By Jessica Brier November 5, 2009

“We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts.”

F.T Marinetti, The Futurist Manifesto, 1909

Director of Performa RoseLee Goldberg introduced the one-night-only performance of “Metal+ Machine + Manifesto: Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners” at YBCA on the premise that in the modern machine age, there is no such thing as silence. This was a founding tenet for Italian Futurism at the dawn of the 20th century. The Futurists, a group that included visual artists, performers, musicians and composers, and writers, saw the world as an apocalyptic paradise, oxymoronic by nature, where barbarism and ultra-modernism went hand-in-hand. While they embraced a number of seemingly incongruous values and ideas, they whole-heartedly rejected the notion that silence still existed in the modern world. The “noise intoners” and compositions of “Metal+Machine+Manifesto” (MMM) were born out of this belief.

Luigi Russolo. Intonarumori, 1917.

Curated and largely conducted by experimental musician and composer Luciano Chessa, “MMM” included an array of performances that spotlighted noise intoners or intonarumori. As Chessa’s program note explains, the event was literally a recreation of a concert presented in Milan in 1913 by Luigi Russolo, a seminal figure of Italian Futurism and the author of “Art of Noises,” which can be understood as a companion piece to F.T. Marinetti’s “The Futurist Manifesto” (1909). Chessa pointed out that “MMM” was the first recreation of the full ensemble of sixteen noise intoners since the original concert. He invited a veritable who’s who of the Bay Area experimental music scene—performers and vocalists— to bring these alien machines to life.

A past notion of the future is inevitably stranger to us than an idea of our own future. It is perhaps a given that our predictions will always only conform to our present idea of reality, but listening to a concert of “futurist” instruments invented a century ago illuminated the fact that envisioning the distant future is an impossible feat. I was unavoidably struck by how antiquated the intonarumori sound today. They produced anonymous mechanized buzzing, whirring and honking sounds that stood in stark contrast to the quiet we currently associate with technological advancement. But 100 years ago, the future was cacophonous.

Carla Kihlstedt, Mattias Bossi, and Moe Staiano play the Intonarumori

“Metal+ Machine +Manifesto” was commissioned and presented by Performa 09 as part of a weeklong series of concerts and events co-presented by a number of Bay Area cultural institutions, including YBCA and SFMOMA. This series also forecasts further Futurist programming yet to come at SFMOMA. The grandiosity of this roster intends to reflect the sweeping ideals of the movement it celebrates. This commitment to large-scale and wide-ranging programming is commendable, but it is also ironic, given one of the tenets of Futurism: “We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.” Listening to the intonarumori, I wondered if a formal theatre setting was truly what the Futurists had in mind. Whether or not this formalized representation does detriment to the original spirit of such a movement is an ongoing debate. Can an exhibition at SFMOMA or concert at YBCA embody the radical philosophies espoused by the artists they honor?

In this particular case, this very tension added a new layer of meaning to the content presented. This experience was not only about channeling experimental sound art practice from the prior century, it was also about the continuing struggle of avant-garde artists to find appropriate venues for expression. Laughter was ubiquitous during the run of “MMM”, partially in response to the wacky and unpredictable sounds of the intonarumori, but also as a kind of nervous reaction. There seemed to be a shared feeling in the audience that something about this combination of performers, instruments, history and place weren’t quite right, and the resulting confusion fit the bill.

Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners was performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 16, 2009 as part of "Metal + Machine + Manifesto = Futurism's First 100 Years", and Performa 09.

Comments ShowHide

Related Content