Futurism was an artistic and social movement that was prominent in the early 20th century. It celebrated themes about modern-day concepts such as fast speeds, technology, youth, violence, and the industrial city. It originated in Italy but gradually spread to other areas of Europe.
Futurism describes a diverse art movement including many mediums of art – painting, sculpture, poetry, theatre, music, architecture, and gastronomy, to name a few. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti catalyzed the movement in 1909 with the Manifesto of Futurism. Like all the forms of modernism, Futurism also rejected traditional musical paradigms. It is unique from the other modernism movements, though, in its emphasis on the creation and study of experimental sounds inspired by machinery.
In 1911, Futurist composers Francesco Balilla Pratell and Luigi Russolo published progressive manifestos outlining the tenents of the emerging Futurist idiom. Pratella was concerned with liberating composers and performers from conservatories and competitions. He called for promoting new work over old works and for abstaining from determining whether or not a work of music well-constructed. There were numerous other manifestos written by both Pratella and Russolo, but the underlying ideological values remain relatively consistent throughout their ideas. Futurists not only wanted to break away from traditional sounds and musical forms, but they also sought freedom from performance and pedagogical traditions within their respective musical communities.
The distinguishing technique of Futurist composers was their imitation of machines. In 1913, Russolo composed The Art of Noises. In this piece, he created his own instruments known as the intonarumori. They generated acoustic noises which resembled machine sounds and whose pitches and dynamics could be altered. There were twenty-seven versions of the intonarumori, each one able to produce a unique sound. Russolo outlined the different “noise-sounds” that the intonarumori was capable of making such as roars, thunderings, explosions, hissing, puffing, screeching, and crackling. He was predominantly inspired to define and categorize noises by the new sounds of the industrial cities. The novelty of noises produced by machines captivated Futurist musicians, and their devotion to studying and reproducing them formed the foundation of their creativity. In his essay accompanying The Art of Noises, Russolo predicted that “the motors and machines of our industrial cities will one day be consciously attuned, so that every factory will be transformed into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.”
This quote, written in the early 20th century, never was fulfilled. To this day, rarely do people describe a factory as “consciously attuned” or akin to “an intoxicating orchestra of noises.” Though Russolo and his contemporaries fulfilled many points of their manifestos, such as creating music infused with technology, they were unrealistic in their ideas of the role of technology as a form of music on non-musicians.
Listen to the following video of a composition by Russolo written for the "intonarumori" and decide for yourself --- were the Futurists onto something significant? Can you imagine how novel the sounds produced from machines would have been at the time? These are interesting topics, debated and pondered by professors all over the world.