The Futurists

On the other side of the pond, the evil Republicans have been slow to accept the reality of global warming: because it’s been explained all wrong. They need to be told that the Sun is the new nuclear superpower and that we are at war with it. Although this war is likely to be anything other than cold. It’s Star Wars — but for real this time.

That’s how the Futurists would have seen it. Your modern eco-friendly liberal sees technology as the problem but the Futurists, who published their first manifesto in 1909, saw technology as the answer. Finding technocratic, not ‘environmentally sound’ solutions – using technology to solve problems rather than just trying to roll back the clock to a pre-technological age, were what the Futurists were all about. The only way is forward. A Futurist would love expansion at Heathrow, and if you tried to complain about the noise he’d tell you that the sound of planes taking off is beautiful. Their love of modernisation, speed and violence influenced architecture, painting, poetry, music and sculpture became and informed later movements such as Dada and Surealism.

The Russian Futurists even wrote an opera called Victory Over The Sun. 100 years later it looks as though the sun might be winning, but The Neo Futurist Collective are going to be recreating the Futurists’ most well known musical performance — despite the loss of nearly all of the original score. We spoke to founder Joseph Young about the project.

Joseph Young of The Neo Futurist Collective speaks:

It’s a contentious idea to celebrate urban noise — we spend most of our lives trying to block it out; from plugging ourselves into an iPod, to losing ourselves in our own thoughts as we walk down the street. The last thing we actually want to do is to listen to the world around us. As a sound artist, my job, as I see it, is to get people to appreciate the beauty and the interest in every day urban sounds; the musicality if you like, or the simple delight in texture and juxtaposition. Then there is also the paradigm of visual noise — junk emails, billboard advertising — we are assaulted by visual messages on the streets and at our computers every day. What if I could turn this around and create a piece of work that celebrated modern life and provided a sense of optimism for our dysfunctional urban future?

Hence, (Re)Awakening of a City! — inspired by the legacy of the Italian Futurists, and in particular the Art of Noises manifesto by Luigi Russolo. This revolutionary manifesto proposed doing away with traditional orchestral instruments and replacing them with intonarumori (or noise makers): mechanical instruments designed to recreate the sound of the early 20th century sprawl. Factories, cars, aeroplanes etc… The concerts of these instruments caused (literal) riots in theatres all over Europe, including 10 sold out performances at the London Coliseum in 1913 — the same sort of impact created by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring around that time.

So why is this work largely unknown, even to those educated in art history? The answer is twofold:

  • The founder of Futurism, FT Marinetti, was invited to sit on the Ruling Council of Mussolini’s burgeoning Fascist Party immediately after the First World War. This association has tainted the entire canon of futurist artworks historically, from critic Walter Benjamin through to the present day. (Marinetti wasn’t too good on misogyny either…)
  • The intonarumori and the musical scores that were created for them, were destroyed either during the First World War (most of the Italian futurists were fierce patriots and volunteered to fight), or those that survived were lost during World War II in Paris, where Russolo relocated. The only things that did survive are detailed descriptions of the instruments, reviews from live performances, photographs and the first 7 bars of the score to Awakening of a City, one of Russolo’s composed noise symphonies; and this only survived because it was reprinted in the magazine, Lacerba.
  • It is self-evidently impossible to try and defend Marinetti’s association with the Fascist Party, although this was short-lived. So I won’t… I have written in detail about this on the project blog, so please go there if you wish to enter into that particular debate. What I did was to gather a group of established artists to go back to those 7 bars of extant score for Awakening of a City, and use it as a jumping-off point to create a collaborative piece of work that would seek to redefine urban noise as a pleasure rather than a pain. Through sound and video art, to painting, performance and text, I commissioned my artists to respond to the call for a radical celebration of urban noise. (Re)Awakening of a City, the resulting work, will have its launch at Sonic Arts Network Expo in Brighton this July.

    The first thing to do was to create our own manifesto, and declaim it on the streets. This we did on the 20th February in Jubilee Square, Brighton. The manifesto draws heavily on the form of junk emails and the Tristan Tzara Dada manifestos, and is available for download on the project web site. Next up, at the beginning of April, is an evening of scratch performances to an invited audience that will investigate the project premise from a “musical”, visual and performance point of view. This is all before I attempt to bring the four constituent pieces together (including the manifesto) in a single piece of work this July.

    In the meantime, please come and make a NOISE with us. You are invited to contribute to our blog, join our Facebook group and to let us know of any interesting initiatives that could feed into the work. Like the original futurists, I have a grand vision, and want to use the blueprint, which we are creating here, to inspire work all over Europe. Let us reawaken our cities and embrace a noisy future!!!


    1. Hi,

      I am graduating this year at the School of Media, Art and Technology in the Netherlands and am planning to make some replicas of the intonarumori. I came upon this site using google and saw the picture of the rebuild intonarumori here. Does anyone have an idea where I could find blueprints for these instruments? Thanks in advance.


      Roel van Doorn

    2. I know this is three years late, but I’ve just finished my intonarumori if you’ve not built one yet you might want to check out my blog. I’m still looking for the plans of the two lever and larger floor standing models should’ve come across any.