Audio culture – introduction / Liberation of sound – Edgard Varese / Luigi Russolo – “Art of Noises”

Luigi Russolo was part of the futurist movement that saw the beauty in the modern city and found amaze- ment in technology. In his manifesto, ‘the art of noise’, Luigi Russolo describes the breaking of the 12 tonal music structure that was the common until after the industrial revolution. He describes the modern orchestra (of his time in 1913) twenty ridiculous men slaving to increase the plaintive meeowing of violins, he contin- ues and describes the orchestra’s sounds as pitiful. Russolo wanted to introduce noise as a valid sound in the modern orchestra by utilizing machines that would make these sounds, rather than to imitate sounds with conventional music instruments – to bring into the creation of music the every day life and sounds of mod- ern living. He built machines that created rumbles, roars, whistles, hisses, gurgles, screeches, and crackles. I always saw him as the rst sound artist, utilizing sound as his main sculpturing material.

Varese, an accomplished piano composer, shared the same love for ‘tech’ and noise as Russolo, he saw all music as a series of organised noises. Varese, maybe as opposed to Russolo, wanted to add to the western 12 tone system a technological/electronical layer that will liberate it from its constraints. he wanted to add new timbers to the accustomed ear and introduce di erent ‘colors’ that western music then didn’t allow – sounds that we are well accustomed to in today’s modern music(EDM, IDM, POP or ROCK for that matter). Varese saw music and sounds as colors and objects. his masterpiece, poeme electronique, that was conceived for the Phillips pavilion for the 1958 world fair was an audio visual experience that was years ahead of its time.

As many others, Varese and Russolo saw progress and technology as their medium for creation. they both were early adopters of new techniques, embraced and led the change with the creation of recorded and per- formative music. All art utilizes some sort of technology for its creation, I see the futurist (Those who came after them in france – musique concrete) as the leading locomotive as the leading change in music in the last century.

Listening response #01 – ‘I am sitting in a room’, Alvin Lucier.

The sound piece, I am sitting in a room by Alvin Lucier astounded me the first time I heard it. The piece itself is a quite simple; a man sitting in a room, recording himself on tape recorder as he narrates the act and the meaning of his action. He then feeds the tape recording back to the room and records the played back version that accumulates the rooms sonic resonances and sound characteristics. He does this 32 times throughout the piece and this abstracts the artist’s voice from its sonic characteristics and meaning and throughout the piece.

I like to think about this peice as a futoristic peice. As Luigi Russolo claimed in his manifest/letter to Fran- cesco Balilla Pratella in 1913, “the human ear has become accustomed to the speed, energy, and noise of urban industrial soundscapes, furthermore, this new sonic palette requires a new approach to musical in- strumentation and composition.” Russolo proposes a number of conclusions about how electronics and other technology will allow futurist musicians to “substitute for the limited variety of timbres that the orchestra possesses today the in nite variety of timbres in noises, reproduced with appropriate mechanisms”

The industrial revolution was a catalyst for artists like Russolo who started getting in uenced by the new city landscapes and technology and incorporate it in their work as a tool and as a main theme.

Alvin Lucier’s ‘I’m sitting in a room’ also brought Walter Benjamin’s book ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ to mind. In his book, Benjamin states that after the industrial revolution, things have changed in the art world. “the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impend- ing in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain una ected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby a ecting artistic inven- tion itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”

The way I see it, ‘I’m sitting in a room’ addresses these themes exactly, and in an extremely elegant way. It is simple, yet sophisticated as it takes the human condition/material and transforms it with technology to something else that is profoundly not expected.

Acousmatic Listening journal

Listening #01

  • short cling – high pitch short attack and release
  • A series of short high pitch hits, long release, about 1/2 a second between hits.
  • 2 seconds long high pitch hiss, long release.
  • Ascending and descending from high to low pitch – triangle waveform.  
  • low pitch Thumps – about 2 second between hits.
  • long high pitch drone with low hum.