Sound: Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noise

Music has never been something I believed I had a keen ear towards. I enjoy music and played piano but never understood the technicality of it and the study of musical sounds. However, I have always enjoyed putting away the earbuds and sitting and listening to daily sounds around me. Typically I would take walks at lunch during work or sit on the bus in silence or open my bedroom window and hear the sounds from outside. But none of this was ever silence to me, so I resonated with Luigi Russolo’s writing about how daily noises can be more pleasing to the ear than traditionally accepted music.

Russolo’s manifesto opens up the expanse of sounds that we may not realize we interpret each day and prompts us to be active in discovering these noises that exist around us through machines, nature and people. Without a background in music, it is interesting to me that instrumental sounds which were established by people are called pure sounds. I would think that the sounds resulting from nature or from experiences in our life—whether in the city or rural areas—would be called pure. It is also worth noting that these noise sounds, when given words by Russolo in his six categories of noises, are comparative to literature onomatopoeias.

Russolo has a clear stance on the superiority of noise sounds but his piece “Awakening of a City” did not convince me so. As previously mentioned, I think some noises can be quite pleasing to listen to, but as Russolo mentioned, “the variety of noises is infinite” so I believe there must be many unpleasing noises too. I actually listened to the “Awakening of a City” prior to reading The Art of Noise and I was able to pick up slight resemblances between the noise in his piece and the sounds of music I have listened to. As I was listening, I sketched out how I was visualizing this noise piece in my head, not with the intention of accuracy but to be able to see what I was hearing. After reading the manifesto, I think my visualization may have related to the speed and slowing down movements of the piece as well as the volume intensity. Overall, this type of noise sound is intriguing and seems to tell a story in the dramatic nature of its composition — a story that doesn’t necessarily imitate nature or machinery but tries to compose them together to create something new that you may not hear or notice in everyday life.