The Art of silence and noise

The Art of silence and noise

Itinerary n. 5 + a reflection on J. Cage


Inquiry 1 | Futurist Music
Experimental itinerary No. 5 + a reflection on John Cage

Opening Tuesday 15th October 2019
from 6 pm to 9 pm

From 16th October to 16th November 2019 Via Nassa 3/A | Lugano

The Galleria Allegra Ravizza is proud to present its first experimental thematic itinerary geared towards understanding the use of noise, with an exhibition in various stages, tracing its development from 1910 with the earliest manifestos of Futurist music by Francesco Balilla Pratella, via the great inventions of Luigi Russolo, right up to the 1990s and the revolutionary musical works of John Cage.

Futurismo originated in Italy as an inevitable and unstoppable movement, as an expression of that need for change and novelty arising from the spread of new scientific discoveries. It was this need for renewal that led the young Futurists like Giacomo Balla, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Francesco Balilla Pratella and Luigi Russolo to break out from the restrictive confines of ‘Pastism’ in the name of freedom and change. In this period of great ferment, the figure of Francesco Balilla Pratella (Lugo, 1880 – Ravenna, 1955) is of fundamental importance as the initiator and leading exponent of musical Futurism. A year after the first FuturistManifesto by movement’s founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Balilla Pratella published “The Manifesto of Futurist Musicians” in 1910, expressing Futurist sentiment and the need for renewal. And it was the original publication of this manifesto that constituted one of the early stages along this experimental path, where visitors may read the powerful words of Balilla Pratella directed at young musicians, laden with energy and free from any fear of judgement: “…May the reaction of the ‘Pastists’ wash right over me in all its fury. I calmly laugh and reply with indifference: I have risen beyond the past, and so I call out loud for young musicians to rally around the flag of Futurism.”[1]

Balilla Pratella’s invitation to break paths to the future is taken up by the painter Luigi Russolo (Portogruaro, 1885 – Laveno-Mombello, 1947) who, in response to the great Futurist musician, comes up with “a new art which you alone may create: the “Art of Noises”, the logical consequence of your marvellous innovations.”[2] This extraordinary intuition is presented by Russolo in the 1913 manifesto under the title L’Arte dei Rumori. Indeed, it is here that he writes: “Ancient life was one of total silence. In the 19th century, with the invention of machines, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the very sensitivity of men.”[3] In the text, the Futurist painter analyses the distinction between sound and noise: a difference which must be investigated in order to reach the point of “breaking this tight circle of pure sounds and conquering the infinite variety of ‘noise-sounds’.[4]
Over the months following the publication of his manifesto, with the help of his painter friend Ugo Piatti (Milan, 1888 – Milan, 1953), Russolo begins the construction of his first intonarumori (‘noise-tuners’): musical instruments made up of a rectangular box, a horn and a handle, capable of recreating the six families of noises outlined in his writings.
On 2 June 1913, in the presence of 2,000 onlookers in the hall of the Storchi Theatre in Modena, Russolo presents his Scoppiatore (‘Exploder’), an intonarumore which reproduces the sound of a combustion engine in two octaves. The audience appears to be totally unprepared for a musical performance of this kind: hearty laughter, violent cries, shouts and whistling fill the theatre, drowning out the sound of the engine.
In the gallery display, visitors will be given the chance to listen to those same sounds again, ones that provoked such scandal and hilarity at the time, thus hearing Russolo’s revolutionary intuition for themselves.

While the ‘Pastists’ show themselves to be completely unprepared, blind in the face of such innovative musical machinery, numerous Italian and European artists are surprised and indeed fascinated by them. In France, Russolo’s inventions are enormously appreciated by the famous French director Jean Painlevé (Paris, 1902 – Paris, 1989), to the point that in 1928 he presents his new film “The Octopus” with music provided by the intonarumori. The film, shown in the gallery space, may therefore be listened to along with Russolo’s original noises in a pairing that pays homage to both artists.

In Milan on 4 February 1914, Marinetti writes to Balilla Pratella: “Do not forget, furthermore, that your primary intention, and I believe rightly so, is to include two, three, four or five or more of Russolo’s intonarumori in your orchestral opus ‘Aviatore Dro’. This is of enormous importance, in my view, for while Russolo carries out attempts to create a complete orchestra of intonarumori, it seems to me that you absolutely must give the leading example of a mixed orchestra, or rather, of a usual orchestra enhanced by the presence of intonarumori. Think this over. I believe this innovation to be of key importance to your work…”[5]

A few months later, on 15 May 1914, the famous literary magazine Lacerba publishes the first score for intonarumoriand orchestra, written by Balilla Pratella. Visitors may read the notes of the score on the old pages, worn and yellowed by time, coupled with the marks signalling the presence of the Scoppiatori and Ronzatori (‘Buzzers’), which would be included into the music par excellence of Futurist composition: “L’Aviatore Dro” by Francesco Balilla Pratella.
Balilla Pratella begins to sketch out the three-act work in 1913, completing it the following year. As he himself writes: “my ‘aviator’ is seen and understood by myself through three essential stages of his whole life. In the first act, the man Dro is not a pilot as such, but he is so only potentially. He is driven by instinct, by the desire to surpass the lowness and corruption that surround him, by the aspiration towards the purification of the body and spirit. In the second act, he is decidedly an earthbound aviator. The poor man Dro lives in direct contact with nature, and is preparing for the supreme attempt to lift off from the ground in flight, only to lose himself in the sea of the skies, to flee from his sensual and material self. In the third act, the sky has returned the flying machine to earth in the form of wreckage, and the man is on the point of death.”[6]

It is in fact to the notes (or din) of Dro’s crash that visitors leave the Futurist room only to enter the world of the experimental musician John Cage (Los Angeles, 1912 – New York, 1992), who draws on Futurist intuitions by choosing noise – and in particular silence – as an integral and fundamental part of his musical compositions.
One of the most important and revolutionary works in the history of music is the composition titled 4’33”, which sums up the thought that Cage wishes to put across to us: absolute silence does not exist: “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.”[7] During his concerts, Cage would interrupt the orchestra and for four minutes and thirty-three seconds leave both the room and the spectators to ‘play’ with their own random sounds: the falling of an object, the buzzing of an insect or the breathing of the members of the audience themselves. With this piece, he sets out to demonstrate how the way we actually conceive of silence does not correspond either physically or acoustically to reality, and how ultimately it is still an emission of sound. Human beings are constantly surrounded by sound-noises generated by the environment in which they live – those same noises that Russolo had first sensed the need elevate to ‘sounds’.
Following on from this line of thought, each of us is therefore capable of playing their own 4’33”. During the exhibition, visitors will be given the chance to take part in ‘our’ 4’33”, which will be recorded in the gallery space so that it may be heard live by anyone who wishes to tune in throughout the world.

The itinerary comes to an end in the following room of the gallery, featuring the last work produced by John Cage: Mozart Mix.
Mozart Mix (1991) is the first sound installation produced as an edition, and is made up of a wooden box inside which there are twenty-five cassettes containing the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, along with five cassette players complete with speakers. Here, visitors will be invited to choose five tapes to be played simultaneously, thus revealing how even in an apparently disharmonic overlapping of sounds, harmony still manages to prevail.

[1] F. Balilla Pratella in “Manifesto of Futurist Musicians” (1910)
[2] L. Russolo, in the manifesto “The Art of Noises” (1913), references the three manifestos by Francesco Balilla Pratella: The Manifesto of Futurist Musicians (1910), The Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music (1911) and The Destruction of Quadrature (1912)
[3] L. Russolo, Futurist manifesto “The Art of Noises” (1913)
[4] L. Russolo, Futurist manifesto “The Art of Noises” (1913)
[5] F. T. Marinetti, letter to F. Balilla Pratella, 4 February 1914, in “Caro Pratella”, G. Maffina, 1980
[6] F. Balilla Pratella in “Caro Pratella”, G. Maffina, 1980
[7] J. Cage, “Silence”, 1960