To comprehend why the Italian futurist composer Luigi Russolo wrote this letter or even cared about the Futurist movement, we must first comprehend Russolo’s passion for both visual and musical artwork. He was devoted to music, and as a musician, he was continually influenced by various sound combinations. This was something he used to include in his self-made noise intoners. His motivation for writing this letter was to lobby for the music that he wanted to flourish in the future, as a result of his passion for art and music. He further advocated that there wouldn’t be any perceived differences between different kinds of sounds including natural or industrial noise or that of an artistic sound for that matter.
The first and foremost reason that Russolo had identified was with how primitive people used to understand any kind of sound that they heard in the course of time. Since they had limited understanding of things, and in particular sounds, they started to give it religious and mystic meanings. He says, “It became surrounded with religious respect, and reserved for the priest”.
In the above statement, you can clearly understand Russolo’s disapproval of how the primitive people started treating sounds of various nature. Since it started to be associated with priests, the upgradation and development of it became slower. It became restricted to one aspect of life, that is religious and also that is somewhat not a part of the ordinary lives of people because it became attached to mystic characteristics. Due to all of these reasons, other forms of art started to flourish as they were made a part of human’s lives, however, music became a secluded realm.
Another reason that Russolo stated in the letter is the theoretical view attached to music by the Greeks. Since, as per the Pythagoras and related theories, only a few consonants were taken into consideration rather the whole lot of sound. This further reduced the scope of music and barred its development. Russolo is his letter clearly mentions how the Greeks had played a major role in not letting the world realize the different harmonies present in different kind of sounds.
Both of the above reasons limited the scope and understanding of this broader phenomenon of noises and sounds. Gradually, when music and sound started to make a little progress in the Middle Ages, Russolo mentions that people didn’t themselves tried to explore it further however they waited for time to reveal things to them and unfold development rather than them working towards it.
Russolo had, in his entire life, advocated the importance of sound and music and thus, he wanted the world to perceive it the same way he does or perhaps how music is meant to be perceived. His thoughts towards music were that the varying nature of sounds should arouse different kinds of emotions in human beings. Whether it’s a shrill a noise or a heavy tone – everything needs to appeal to people and emerge different kinds of feelings in them. In his words, “In the pounding atmosphere of great cities as well as in the formerly silent countryside, machines create today such a large number of varied noises that pure sound, with its littleness and its monotony, now fails to arouse any emotion”.
Thus, in his view, this amalgamation of sounds that music make comes in varying colors and tones that reach our ears. In his view, our ears also need to satiate its hunger by listening to nice sounds and music that appeal to our ears. So, he thinks that in order for our ears to be satisfied we need to stop restricting ourselves and we need to explore the beauty of different sounds and make a relation between noise and sound.
The first solution that he proposes to the problems he had discussed in his letter is that the sounds are different as per their vibrations. These vibrations, he has further explained in his letter, are made up of pitches that are intensity and tempo. So, in order to make different sounds appeal to us, we need to be clear of what is pleasant and then fix or balance the dominant sound as per its likeability. Doing this, we will end up regulating the sound and giving it a new life in terms of what is produced and what reaches to our ears. This is how he tried to explain how sound should be extracted from mere noise.
Apart from vibrations, he further gets into more details of fixing the pitch of the noise and how to score or equalize the noise without losing its sheer soul. These pitches and their fixtures are important because according to Russolo they gave us a rotating sound of let’s say ascending and descending orders.
With these solutions, Russolo further gets a little more philosophical with the reactionary power of noise and points out how noise is everywhere around us and how it is playing a major role in impacting our emotions and our lives altogether. According to him, noises help in removing irregularities in our lives and give our lives a new meaning. Thus, he says, if random noises have so much impact he wants people to understand what greater impact can a harmonized or a scored sound would bring to us, which is basically orchestrated music. And thus, it will have so much of benefit in store for all of us.
He further dives into the different categories of sounds that appeal to human ears and makes the reader understand how different mechanical sounds arouse a range of different feelings in us without us basically realizing it. Such that a whistle has a different impact on us and does a loud cracking noise or a thunder. Our fears, our feelings of love and even our feelings of surprise – all are associated with the kind of sounds and pitches we hear all around us.
How does Russolo’s concept for the evolution of music and its solutions compare or contrast to Milton Babbitt’s opinions from Who Cares if You Listen?
The kind of importance that Russolo had given to sounds and its understand as well as the emphasis on it evolution, the same significance is reflected if Babbitt’s article of Who Care if you Listen. Babbitt also has tried to highlight the fact that music is a serious business and it needs to be understood with an open mind. Babbitt talks about the complexity and technicality involved in sounds and music and compares these technicalities with any given aspect of life and subtly says that only specialist can understand its true meaning.
Both the composers have been afraid of people’s closed mindedness towards music and its wider scope. They both have advocated that this ignorance towards sounds and its studies have made composer to think that they should live aloof and far away from general masses who don’t seem to understand what they do. As per Babbitt, just like Russolo, music has been through a series of polishing and growth. Though it appeared to be growing at a very slow pace but that also is because people couldn’t understand its central place in their lives and kept on giving it a secondary value.
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