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11 May 2022

The Art of Noises

“In antiquity, life was nothing but silence. Noise was really not born before the 19th century, with the advent of machinery. Today noise reigns supreme over human sensibility.” Luigi Russolo

Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori

Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori, from Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori (Milan, 1916). X.629/13035.

Futurism was a multidisciplinary artistic and social movement. Futurists wanted to reinvent all art forms: painting, sculpture, literature, photography, architecture, book production, dance, even cuisine... Futurist ideals were very radical, both artistically and politically.

Italian futurists, led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, had a huge impact on the avant-garde of the twentieth century and gave popularity to art manifestos. Of the many futurist manifestos, the 11 March 1913 one titled L’arte dei rumori. Manifesto futurista (The Art of Noises. Futurist Manifesto), by Luigi Russolo, had a very long-lasting influence.

Portrait of Luigi Russolo

Portrait of Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori.

L’arte dei rumori is a manifesto of futurist music. It was subsequently published as a monograph in 1916 in Milan by Edizioni Futuriste di “Poesia”, Marinetti’s own publishing house and official publisher of Italian futurists since 1905. The monograph, also titled L’arte dei rumori, expands on the 1913 manifesto and includes pictures and musical scores.

This book is the first to introduce the notions of noise as sound and sound-art. Noise was a product of the industrial revolution and therefore, for Russolo, futuristic. Onomatopoeic and cacophonic ‘words in freedom’ were already linked to the concept of noise as poetry in the early productions of futurist literature, so noise as sound appears a natural evolution of Marinetti’s Parole in Libertà.

The author of this book, painter turned musician Luigi Russolo, categorizes various types of noises and also created 21 rudimentary experimental noise making machines able to reproduce some noises for the futurist orchestra: intonarumori, including ‘howlers’, ‘bursters’, 'cracklers', ‘hummers’. These Leonardesque magic boxes with levers and trumpets were used for a composition, which reproduces the noise of the urban industrial soundscape: Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a city).

Concerts with intonarumori were organized in 1913 in Modena, and in 1914 in Milan and London, with 10 shows in the Coliseum. Most of Russolo’s instruments were destroyed during WWII and there is only one surviving phonograph recording of the instruments playing together with an orchestra. The full score of Risveglio di una città is also missing, apart from the two pages of notation reproduced below. Nevertheless, attempts to rebuild Russolo’s instruments and reproduce his musical performances happened in the course of the last century.

Score for Risveglio di una città

Score for Risveglio di una città, from L’arte dei rumori.

Russolo’s efforts to emancipate noises and to broaden the definition of music were truly revolutionary, but futurist music was not well received by the audience. The public was not ready at the time. However, the use of synthesizers, the invention of noise music, concrete music, soundscape art, sound-art, electroacoustic and electronic music, are all linked to Russolo’s production of writings, music, and instruments. Musicians who were directly influenced by his work include Pierre Schaeffer, Edgard Varèse and John Cage.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

Further reading

Claudia Salaris, Marinetti Editore, (Bologna 1990) YF.2009.a.20485

Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise (futurist manifesto, 1913), translated by Robert Filliou, Originally published in 1967 as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press, 2004 

Barclay Brown, ‘The Noise Instruments of Luigi Russolo’ Perspectives of New Music, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1981, pp. 31–48 PP.8000.mn 

If you are interested in finding out more about our Italian collections, join us at the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website

 

05 May 2022

John Cruso of Norwich: a man of many parts

John Cruso (b. 1592/3) of Norwich, the eldest son of Flemish migrants, was a man of many parts: author, virtuoso networker, successful merchant and hosier, Dutch church elder and militia captain. His literary oeuvre is marked by its polyvocality. He wrote verse in English and Dutch, often sprinkled with Latin and French. He was also a noted military author, publishing five military works, which made a significant contribution to military science before and during the English Civil Wars. These works display Cruso’s knowledge of the canon of classical and Renaissance literature, allowing him to fashion himself as a miles doctus, a learned soldier, and to contribute to military science in Stuart England. Cruso’s great nephew, Timothy, studied with Daniel Defoe at the Dissenters’ Academy in Newington Green, London, and thus inspired the name of Defoe’s great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe.

Cruso’s parents, Jan and Jane, left Flanders in the years after the Iconoclastic Fury and Alva’s Council of Troubles. They arrived in Norwich, which already had a thriving Stranger community and Jan worked as a textile merchant.

The Strangers’ Hall in Norwich

The Strangers’ Hall in Norwich, the merchants’ house of the Flemish Strangers (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

Their eldest son, John, received a classical humanist education at Norwich free grammar school, which he would draw on in his published verse and prose. He became a freeman and took over running the family hosiery and cloth business from his father. In 1622, he published his first verse, a Dutch elegy. This appeared in a collection of Latin and Dutch elegies to the late minister of the London Dutch church, Simeon Ruytinck. It included verses by Constantijn Huygens and Jacob Cats and is arguably the most important Anglo-Dutch literary moment in the seventeenth century. In the late 1620s, Cruso wrote three English elegies, including one sonnet, on the late minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Lawrence Howlett. He was also the subject of an English verse by the Norfolk prelate and poet, Ralph Knevet.

Between 1632 and 1644, Cruso published several military works. In 1632, he published Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie, which was the first book published in England devoted solely to the cavalry. This was republished in 1644. In 1639 and 1640, Cruso published his English translations of two French military works, one of which was re-published in 1642. In the same year, as the opening shots in the First English Civil War were being fired, he published two military handbooks on the construction of military camps and the order of watches. He also had time, it seems, to publish two Dutch verses, an elegy to Johannes Elison, the late minister of the Dutch church in Norwich and an amplificatio on Psalm 8. His final publication, in 1655, was a collection of 221 Dutch epigrams, printed in quarto by Arnold Bon in Delft.

Title page of John Cruso, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie

John Cruso, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie (Cambridge, 1632) 717.m.18

Title page of John Cruso, Castrametation

John Cruso, Castrametation, or the Measuring out of the quarters for the encamping of an army (London, 1642) 1398.b.7.

Most of Cruso’s works are in the British Library. A copy of the epigram collection, EPIGRAMMATA Ofte Winter-Avondts Tyt-korting (‘Epigrams or Pastimes for a Winter’s Evening’), shelfmark 11555.e.42.(4.), is the only known copy of this work.

Title page of I. C., Epigrammata, ofte Winter Avondts Tyt-korting

Title page of I. C., Epigrammata, ofte Winter Avondts Tyt-korting (Delft, 1655) 11555.e.442 (4).

On the title page, Cruso uses his initials, I.C. In this copy someone has made C into O with a pen. Beneath the title are two lines from the Roman epigrammatist, Martial, which hint at the scabrous nature of some of the verses: ‘Non intret Cato theatrum meum: aut si intraverit, spectet’ (‘Do not let Cato enter my theatre: or if he does enter, let him look’), and ‘Innocuos permitte sales: cur ludere nobis non liceat?’ (‘Allow harmless jests: why should we not be allowed to joke?’). Many of Cruso’s Dutch epigrams are like Latin epigrams written by Sir Thomas More, and Cruso may have been inspired by some of these. One example is Epigram 94:

In Nasutissimum
Vergeefs ghy voor u Huys een Sonne-wijser stelt;
Want gaapt maar, en men stracx aan uwe Tanden telt
De Uyren van den Dach. De Son dat wijst gewis
End uwen langen Neus den besten Gnomon is.

(On someone with an extremely large nose.
In vain, you place a sundial in front of your house;
For just open your mouth and people will be able to
Count the hours of the day by your teeth. And the sun shows
That for sure your long nose is the best style (gnomon) for the sundial.)

We know little about the reception of this collection, but the fact that the British Library has the only extant copy is one example of the importance of the Library to modern scholarship.

Christopher Joby, Adam Mickiewicz University

Christopher Joby is Professor in Dutch Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, and Visiting Scholar at the Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. His research focusses on the intersection of the Dutch language and culture and other languages and cultures in a historical context. His latest book is John Cruso of Norwich and Anglo-Dutch literary identity in the seventeenth century (Cambridge: D S Brewer, 2022) DRT ELD.DS.659151 (non-print legal deposit)

27 April 2022

Reframing the Tin Book

In 1913, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), founder and chief promoter of Italian Futurism, extended the Futurist revolution to the field of typography:

My revolution is aimed at the so-called typographical harmony of the page, which is contrary to the flux and reflux, the leaps and bursts of style that run through the page. On the same page, therefore, we will use three or four colours of ink, or even twenty different typefaces if necessary […]. With this typographical revolution and this multi-coloured variety in the letters I mean to redouble the expressive force of the words, Destruction of Syntax –Imagination without Strings – Words in Freedom (1913).

The so-called ‘Tin Book’ is one of the best examples of the radical rethinking that the Futurists applied to the arts and the book in particular.


 

3D model of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (Rome, 1932). HS.74/2143, Courtesy of Archivio Tullio d’Albissola

The British Library's copy of the Tin Book, digitised as part of the AHRC funded project Interdisciplinary Italy 1900-2020. Interart/Intermedia, was manufactured in Savona in 1932. A selection of word-in-freedom texts by Marinetti are accompanied, on the verso, by a ‘chromatic-poetic’ Futurist synthesis by Tullio d’Albisola (1899-1971), a second generation Futurist whose activities spanned ceramics, poetry, and design. The arrangement has been seen by critics as a potential flaw of the project: we cannot read simultaneously Marinetti’s words-in-freedom and d’Albisola’s visual chromatic-poetic response. Be that as it may, this object-book is no less revolutionary in the way it invites an expanded multi-sensorial reading, signalled by the proper title of the book: Parole in Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (‘Futurist Words in Freedom - Olfactory, Tactile, Thermal’).

Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste

The act of opening the book and turning the pages is first and foremost an acoustic experience. Italian artist and critic Mirella Bentivoglio performed a reading in 1982 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The performance piece was called Jouer la page. This is how she describes it: ‘air pressed between the pages at different times and distances from the microphone produced unexpected results. The tin book proved to be a regular instrument furnished with a sounding-box. The cylinder of the spine is an elementary flute through which the pages seem to materialize as sounds’.


 

3D model of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste

The Tin Book took an industrial material and turned it literally into poetry, fusing art and industry. The metallic sound evokes the ‘infinite variety of noises’ of modern life which Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) saw as part of the extraordinary diversity of sound (including music-sound and noise-sound) that would generate the new Art of Noises (The Art of Noises. A Futurist Manifesto, 11 March 1913).

The material and its sonic qualities de-familiarize the reader with the traditional sensorial experience of reading a paper (or digital) book. The association with industrial sounds, turns the book into a machine, and, on a more ordinary level, reminds the reader of the colourful packaging of tin boxes and glossy advertising metal plates that were part of interwar material and visual culture.

The smooth and rough surfaces of the pages have a visual equivalent in shiny and duller areas of the lithographed images, blurring the boundary between text, image, and object. The act of reading the Tin Book pushes meaning to the surface, allowing the reader to experience a multi-sensorial perception in which meaning is not principally held by the words in the book. The process recalls also the principles of the tavole tattili which Marinetti had composed in the later 1910s, especially during the war years. In the 1921 Manifesto of Tactilism, Marinetti introduced the new art of touch—tactilism—which was a means to reconnect with the sense of touch and use it as another important channel of communication and means to experience the world.

The introduction of concrete elements in poetry was a seismic shift in the concept of literature: the fundamental overlapping between word and image (and their connection to sound and touch) opened up new pathways to explore the boundaries between the arts, exposing the artificial separation between arts and media. The Futurist tin books, by playing with the sonic qualities of the book as object, took literature into the realms of sculpture, design and modern technology.

Giuliana Pieri, Professor of Italian and the Visual Arts and Executive Dean (School of Humanities), Royal Holloway University of London

Further reading

Futurist Manifestos, ed. by Umbro Apollonio (London, 2009).

Giovanni Lista, Le Livre Futuriste. De libération du mot au poème tactile (Modena, 1982).

Mirella Bentivoglio, ‘The Reinvention of the Book in Italy’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, 24.3 (1993). 93-96. 6613.160000

'The Tin Book', European Studies Blog, 12 March 2014

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, Prof Giuliana Pieri is among the speakers of the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website.