Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved
(Cafe Oto, 20 June 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
'Audience Rival Weird Instruments?' was the quizzical 1914 headline for a review of the Italian Futurists' concert at the 1000-seater London Coliseum. The article's text, which went on to describe and to establish the evidence for the aforementioned weirdness, has been reproduced in full as part of the Art of Noises Centenary Souvenir newspaper, authoritatively compiled by the prime movers behind the 2014 Grand Futurist Concert Of Noises, Dan Wilson and Resonance FM's Ed Baxter.
The 1914 review reports on the audience reaction with amusement: '... it was obvious that a great city could produce quite a lot of noises that [F. T. Marinetti, the Futurists' figurehead and Luigi Russolo, the 'inventor of Futurist music'] had not reckoned with at all - the noises of an angry gallery for one ...' and went on to describe 'a tornado of farmyard imitations from the gallery... which would have done credit to the Royal Show.'
We, the 2014 audience clearly weren't behaving badly enough. Had we raised our fists, smashed furniture, hurled objects through Cafe Oto's plate glass windows, rained down abuse on the performers or mocked them we might have been playing our part in a reconstruction of the original event - but things have moved on. Shock value is time and culture specific and the element of surprise can manifest itself in different ways.
Ed Baxter, directing the Luigi Russolo Memorial Ensemble, performing on intonarumori or 'Noise Intoners', the machines painstakingly constructed by Peter McKerrow and David Baldwin in the spirit of Luigi Russolo's originals, declared that he couldn't stand restaging historic events. Even today 'The 'mild and murmurous tone that issued from the funnels [of the machines] was rather a surprise', as another reviewer from 1914 had put it. The only difference was the quietly reverential reception of the Cafe Oto audience, in contrast to 'the gallery's tones of disapproval' directly received by the Italians.
The half dozen wind-up strings and levers contraptions, encased in perspex so that today's listeners could observe their workings, gave rise to a variety of low key emanations and vibrations as The Awakening of a Great City was evoked, more a chilly breeze finding its route through grey, deserted streets than the cacophonous din that might have been anticipated. But this restraint was authentic and very much as Russolo had decreed, in his dedication to introducing new sounds to music.
The introduction of Sarah Angliss's theramin and Adam Bushell's snare and vibraphone expanded the ensemble's palette to bring dashes of bright luminosity to the earnest, yet delicate, rumblings and grumblings of the intonarumori, and in A Meeting of Motor Cars and Aeroplanes, the honkings of rubber bulb horns and a siren found their places in the mix.
Despite the associations with the political right wing - incidentally, rejected by Russolo - the Futurist's had a strongly anarchic streak, which lies at the root of their appeal today and was encapsulated in the evening's declamatory episodes, acted out in sound poems, in Jerzy Bielski's recitation of Marinetti's first manifesto and, to end, by the combined ranks of the intonarumori and the vocalists, dispersed around the auditorium, instructed by Baxter to 'make as much racket as you can, till I say stop!'
It is hoped that further Futurist-inspired intonarumori concerts will be on the cards - maybe a tour - rather than seeing these specially constructed sound machines following their forbears to obsolescence and silence.
The concert was presented by Resonance104.4FM