The Art of Noises

Using noise in a musical context is today quite straight forward using samplers and synthesizers. E.g the band Art of Noise made good use of the Fairlight CMI sampler in 1980s and 90s. Their hit single Close (To The Edit) make good use of industrial and mechanical noises.

But before of the birth of the sampler and even the synthesizer you were let to your own imagination. One man that had imagination was italian Luigi Rossolo. In 1913 he wrote a letter to a friend Pratella argueing that the human ear has become accustomed to the speed, energy, and noise of the urban industrial soundscape; furthermore, this new sonic palette requires a new approach to musical instrumentation and composition. He proposes a number of conclusions about how electronics and other technology will allow futurist musicians to “substitute for the limited variety of timbres that the orchestra possesses today the infinite variety of timbres in noises, reproduced with appropriate mechanisms”.


The next step for Luigi Rossolo was to invent a number of instruments he called The Intonarumori (noise intoners). Here’s a list of some of his inventions:


  • Gracidatore (the Croaker)
  • Crepitatore (the Cracker)
  • Stroppicciatore (the Rubber)
  • Scoppiatore (the Burster)
  • Sibilatore (the Whistler)
  • Gorgogliatore (the Gurgler)
  • Ululatore (the Howler)
  • Ronzatore (the Hummer)


Each instrument was constructed of a parallelepiped wooden sound box with a metal radiating horn on its front side. Inside the box was a wheel that, when turned by means of a crank or electric button, caused a catgut or metal string to vibrate. The wheel could be made of either metal or wood, and the shape and diameter of the wheel varied depending on the model. At one end of the string there was a drumhead that transmits the vibrations to the speaker. The pitch of the vibrating string was controlled by both the speed that the wheel was cranked and by the tension of the string, which was controlled by a lever on top of the box. The lever allowed the performer to play glissandos or specific notes, and also allowed the performer to change the pitch by small intervals. The intonarumori often had a range of more than an octave.


If you want to build your own contemporary instruments today, Reaktor by Native Instruments is a good tool. In the Reaktor User Library you can find a number of instruments that are inspired by Rossolo created by Rick Scott and Dieter Zobel.


~ by steelberryworkers on December 11, 2008.

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