"The Art of Noises " by Luigi Russolo :: Italian Futurist

'The Art of Noises'
Luigi Russolo

Dear Balilla Pratella, great Futurist composer,

In Rome, in the Costanzi Theatre, packed to capacity, while I was listening to the orchestral performance of your overwhelming Futurist music, with my Futurist friends, Marinetti, Boccioni, Carrà, Balla, Soffici, Papini and Cavacchioli, a new art came into my mind which only you can create, the Art of Noises, the logical consequence of your marvelous innovations.

Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibility of men. For many centuries life went by in silence, or at most in muted tones. The strongest noises which interrupted this silence were not intense or prolonged or varied. If we overlook such exceptional movements as earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, avalanches and waterfalls, nature is silent.

Amidst this dearth of noises, the first sounds that man drew from a pieced reed or streched string were regarded with amazement as new and marvelous things. Primitive races attributed sound to the gods; it was considered sacred and reserved for priests, who used it to enrich the mystery of their rites.

And so was born the concept of sound as a thing in itself, distinct and independent of life, and the result was music, a fantastic world superimposed on the real one, an inviolatable and sacred world. It is easy to understand how such a concept of music resulted inevitable in the hindering of its progress by comparison with the other arts. The Greeks themselves, with their musical theories calculated mathematically by Pythagoras and according to which only a few consonant intervals could be used, limited the field of music considerably, rendering harmony, of which they were unaware, impossible.

The Middle Ages, with the development and modification of the Greek tetrachordal system, with the Gregorian chant and popular songs, enriched the art of music, but continued to consider sound in its development in time, a restricted notion, but one which lasted many centuries, and which still can be found in the Flemish contrapuntalists' most complicated polyphonies.

The chord did not exist, the development of the various parts was not subornated to the chord that these parts put together could produce; the conception of the parts was horizontal not vertical. The desire, search, and taste for a simultaneous union of different sounds, that is for the chord (complex sound), were gradually made manifest, passing from the consonant perfect chord with a few passing dissonances, to the complicated and persistent dissonances that characterize contemporary music.

At first the art of music sought purity, limpidity and sweetness of sound. Then different sounds were amalgamated, care being taken, however, to caress the ear with gentle harmonies. Today music, as it becomes continually more complicated, strives to amalgamate the most dissonant, strange and harsh sounds. In this way we come ever closer to noise-sound.

This musical evolution is paralleled by the multiplication of machines, which collaborate with man on every front. Not only in the roaring atmosphere of major cities, but in the country too, which until yesterday was totally silent, the machine today has created such a variety and rivalry of noises that pure sound, in its exiguity and monotony, no longer arouses any feeling.

To excite and exalt our sensibilities, music developed towards the most complex polyphony and the maximum variety, seeking the most complicated successions of dissonant chords and vaguely preparing the creation of musical noise. This evolution towards "noise sound" was not possible before now. The ear of an eighteenth-century man could never have endured the discordant intensity of certain chords produced by our orchestras (whose members have trebled in number since then). To our ears, on the other hand, they sound pleasant, since our hearing has already been educated by modern life, so teeming with variegated noises. But our ears are not satisfied merely with this, and demand an abundance of acoustic emotions.

On the other hand, musical sound is too limited in its qualitative variety of tones. The most complex orchestras boil down to four or five types of instrument, varying in timber: instruments played by bow or plucking, by blowing into metal or wood, and by percussion. And so modern music goes round in this small circle, struggling in vain to create new ranges of tones.

This limited circle of pure sounds must be broken, and the infinite variety of "noise-sound" conquered.

Besides, everyone will acknowledge that all musical sound carries with it a development of sensations that are already familiar and exhausted, and which predispose the listener to boredom in spite of the efforts of all the innovatory musicians. We Futurists have deeply loved and enjoyed the harmonies of the great masters. For many years Beethoven and Wagner shook our nerves and hearts. Now we are satiated and we find far more enjoyment in the combination of the noises of trams, backfiring motors, carriages and bawling crowds than in rehearsing, for example, the "Eroica" or the "Pastoral".

We cannot see that enormous apparatus of force that the modern orchestra represents without feeling the most profound and total disillusion at the paltry acoustic results. Do you know of any sight more ridiculous than that of twenty men furiously bent on the redoubling the mewing of a violin? All this will naturally make the music-lovers scream, and will perhaps enliven the sleepy atmosphere of concert halls. Let us now, as Futurists, enter one of these hospitals for anaemic sounds. There: the first bar brings the boredom of familiarity to your ear and anticipates the boredom of the bar to follow. Let us relish, from bar to bar, two or three varieties of genuine boredom, waiting all the while for the extraordinary sensation that never comes.

Meanwhile a repugnant mixture is concocted from monotonous sensations and the idiotic religious emotion of listeners buddhistically drunk with repeating for the nth time their more or less snobbish or second-hand ecstasy.

Away! Let us break out since we cannot much longer restrain our desire to create finally a new musical reality, with a generous distribution of resonant slaps in the face, discarding violins, pianos, double-basses and plaintive organs. Let us break out!

It's no good objecting that noises are exclusively loud and disagreeable to the ear.

It seems pointless to enumerate all the graceful and delicate noises that afford pleasant sensations.

To convince ourselves of the amazing variety of noises, it is enough to think of the rumble of thunder, the whistle of the wind, the roar of a waterfall, the gurgling of a brook, the rustling of leaves, the clatter of a trotting horse as it draws into the distance, the lurching jolts of a cart on pavings, and of the generous, solemn, white breathing of a nocturnal city; of all the noises made by wild and domestic animals, and of all those that can be made by the mouth of man without resorting to speaking or singing.

Let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.

Nor should the newest noises of modern war be forgotten. Recently, the poet Marinetti, in a letter from the trenches of Adrianopolis, described to me with marvelous free words the orchestra of a great battle:

"every 5 seconds siege cannons gutting space with a chord ZANG-TUMB-TUUMB mutiny of 500 echos smashing scattering it to infinity. In the center of this hateful ZANG-TUMB-TUUMB area 50 square kilometers leaping bursts lacerations fists rapid fire batteries. Violence ferocity regularity this deep bass scanning the strange shrill frantic crowds of the battle Fury breathless ears eyes nostrils open! load! fire! what a joy to hear to smell completely taratatata of the machine guns screaming a breathless under the stings slaps traak-traak whips pic-pac-pum-tumb weirdness leaps 200 meters range Far far in back of the orchestra pools muddying huffing goaded oxen wagons pluff-plaff horse action flic flac zing zing shaaack laughing whinnies the tiiinkling jiiingling tramping 3 Bulgarian battalions marching croooc-craaac [slowly] Shumi Maritza or Karvavena ZANG-TUMB-TUUUMB toc-toc-toc-toc [fast] crooc-craac [slowly] crys of officers slamming about like brass plates pan here paak there BUUUM ching chaak [very fast] cha-cha-cha-cha-chaak down there up around high up look out your head beautiful! Flashing flashing flashing flashing flashing flashing footlights of the forts down there behind that smoke Shukri Pasha communicates by phone with 27 forts in Turkish in German Allo! Ibrahim! Rudolf! allo! allo! actors parts echos of prompters scenery of smoke forests applause odor of hay mud dung I no longer feel my frozen feet odor of gunsmoke odor of rot Tympani flutes clarinets everywhere low high birds chirping blessed shadows cheep-cheep-cheep green breezes flocks don-dan-don-din-baaah Orchestra madmen pommel the performers they terribly beaten playing Great din not erasing clearing up cutting off slighter noises very small scraps of echos in the theater area 300 square kilometers Rivers Maritza Tungia stretched out Rodolpi Mountains rearing heights loges boxes 2000 shrapnels waving arms exploding very white handkerchiefs full of gold srrrr-TUMB-TUMB 2000 raised grenades tearing out bursts of very black hair ZANG-srrrr-TUMB-ZANG-TUMB-TUUMB the orchestra of the noises of war swelling under a held note of silence in the high sky round golden balloon that observes the firing..."

We want to attune and regulate this tremendous variety of noises harmonically and rhythmically.

To attune noises does not mean to detract from all their irregular movements and vibrations in time and intensity, but rather to give gradation and tone to the most strongly predominant of these vibrations.

Noise in fact can be differentiated from sound only in so far as the vibrations which produce it are confused and irregular, both in time and intensity.

Every noise has a tone, and sometimes also a harmony that predominates over the body of its irregular vibrations.

Now, it is from this dominating characteristic tone that a practical possibility can be derived for attuning it, that is to give a certain noise not merely one tone, but a variety of tones, without losing its characteristic tone, by which I mean the one which distinguishes it. In this way any noise obtained by a rotating movement can offer an entire ascending or descending chromatic scale, if the speed of the movement is increased or decreased.

Every manifestation of our life is accompanied by noise. The noise, therefore, is familiar to our ear, and has the power to conjure up life itself. Sound, alien to our life, always musical and a thing unto itself, an occasional but unnecessary element, has become to our ears what an over familiar face is to our eyes. Noise, however, reaching us in a confused and irregular way from the irregular confusion of our life, never entirely reveals itself to us, and keeps innumerable surprises in reserve. We are therefore certain that by selecting, coordinating and dominating all noises we will enrich men with a new and unexpected sensual pleasure.

Although it is characteristic of noise to recall us brutally to real life, the art of noise must not limit itself to imitative reproduction. It will achieve its most emotive power in the acoustic enjoyment, in its own right, that the artist's inspiration will extract from combined noises.

Here are the 6 families of noises of the Futurist orchestra which we will soon set in motion mechanically:

1 2 3 4 5 6
Rumbles Whistles Whispers Screeches Noises obtained by percussion on metal, wood, skin, stone, tarracotta, etc. Voices of animals and men:
Roars Hisses Murmurs Creaks Shouts
Explosions Snorts Mumbles Rustles Screams
Crashes Grumbles Buzzes Groans
Splashes Gurgles Crackles Shrieks
Booms Scrapes Howls

In this inventory we have encapsulated the most characteristic of the fundamental noises; the others are merely the associations and combinations of these. The rhythmic movements of a noise are infinite: just as with tone there is always a predominant rhythm, but around this numerous other secondary rhythms can be felt.


1. Futurist musicians must continually enlarge and enrich the field of sounds. This corresponds to a need in our sensibility. We note, in fact, in the composers of genius, a tendency towards the most complicated dissonances. As these move further and further away from pure sound, they almost achieve noise-sound. This need and this tendency cannot be satisfied except by the adding and the substitution of noises for sounds.

2. Futurist musicians must substitute for the limited variety of tones posessed by orchestral instruments today the infinite variety of tones of noises, reproduced with appropriate mechanisms.

3. The musician's sensibility, liberated from facile and traditional Rhythm, must find in noises the means of extension and renewal, given that every noise offers the union of the most diverse rhythms apart from the predominant one.

4. Since every noise contains a predominant general tone in its irregular vibrations it will be easy to obtain in the construction of instruments which imitate them a sufficiently extended variety of tones, semitones, and quarter-tones. This variety of tones will not remove the characteristic tone from each noise, but will amplify only its texture or extension.

5. The practical difficulties in constructing these instruments are not serious. Once the mechanical principle which produces the noise has been found, its tone can be changed by following the same general laws of acoustics. If the instrument is to have a rotating movement, for instance, we will increase or decrease the speed, whereas if it is to not have rotating movement the noise-producing parts will vary in size and tautness.

6. The new orchestra will achieve the most complex and novel aural emotions not by incorporating a succession of life-imitating noises but by manipulating fantastic juxtapositions of these varied tones and rhythms. Therefore an instrument will have to offer the possibility of tone changes and varying degrees of amplification.

7. The variety of noises is infinite. If today, when we have perhaps a thousand different machines, we can distinguish a thousand different noises, tomorrow, as new machines multiply, we will be able to distinguish ten, twenty, or thirty thousand different noises, not merely in a simply imitative way, but to combine them according to our imagination.

8. We therefore invite young musicians of talent to conduct a sustained observation of all noises, in order to understand the various rhythms of which they are composed, their principal and secondary tones. By comparing the various tones of noises with those of sounds, they will be convinced of the extent to which the former exceed the latter. This will afford not only an understanding, but also a taste and passion for noises. After being conquered by Futurist eyes our multiplied sensibilities will at last hear with Futurist ears. In this way the motors and machines of our industrial cities will one day be consciously attuned, so that every factory will be transformed into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.

Dear Pratella, I submit these statements to your Futurist genius, inviting your discussion. I am not a musician, I have therefore no acoustical predilictions, nor any works to defend. I am a Futurist painter using a much loved art to project my determination to renew everything. And so, bolder than a professional musician could be, unconcerned by my apparent incompetence and convinced that all rights and possibilities open up to daring, I have been able to initiate the great renewal of music by means of the Art of Noises.


Rhythm and Noise - Naut Humon - Z'EV

Where South San Francisco ends, desolation begins. In November 1980, flyers began appearing on neighborhood telephone poles announcing an upcoming Rhythm & Noise show. "Crisis Data Transfer," the poster promised. No location was given, but a recorded phone message provided detailed directions to "The Compound."

The Compound sits among a grim terrain of decaying housing, abandoned warehouses, electrified chain-link fences and packs of wild dogs. It was R&N's first show. Upon arrival, walkie-talkie-wielding attendants drove our cars away, leaving us to warm our hands at scattered timer fires. The scheduled showtime came and went and still we waited and shivered in the damp Bay air. Finally, a huge steel grate door was raised and we entered into billowing smoke and ten channels of surround-sound. The interior was banked with video screens of all sizes and enough sound equipment with which to construct a small village, most of it with that homemade hacker's look to it. "Vaudeo" they called it: video narratives set to live and manipulated soundscapes. The music screeched, droned, undulated, and even, on occasion, harmonized -- always with some semblance of a beat. Rhythm & Noise -- a well-named ensemble. The Compound is scarier than ever now that crack kings control the territory. The video screens are gone and the cavernous interior is jammed with hanging steel drums, hollow tubes, huge springs, wires -- wires everywhere -- and a baby grand piano. A control tower houses an intimidating array of sound equipment -- analog, digital, sampling, synthesizing, hybridizing, mixing boards, keyboards. A Mac II waits in the wings.

Naut Humon, quintessential sound traffic controller began my tour slamming his arm down on a keyboard and manipulating the sustained sound for two roller-coaster minutes. Then he layered digitalized samples into an oscillating techno swamp. Synthesizers added electronic pterodactyls to the mix. Past sessions with percussionists, singers, and other musicians were called up to lend texture and spark. Finally this work in progress, "Running on Radar," treated the ears to soundwaves come full circle: noise tamed into post-modern lyricism. Naut Humon is the thread tying R&N together through the years. Z'ev, Nik Fault, Rex Probe, Michael Belfer, Comfort Control, and Diamanda Galas have been collaborators, but Humon is Rhythm and Noise:
"...In the early '70s Z'EV entered the picture. He was working with all these metal assemblages. He'd tune these racks of scrap until they were welded sculptures with sound functions. I'd quit Cal Arts so I could invest my money in equipment. We formed a group called Cellar M to combine live percussion with electronic manipulation. We did some good work, but dissonance wasn't hip yet." --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Q: How fully did you work out the pieces you performed with Z'ev?
A: There were definite flight plans, but they had room for spontaneous combustion.
Q: When did Rhythm & Noise emerge as a distinct entity?
A: In 1976, Nik Fault, Rex Probe, and I began a heavy period of research and development. We sold a lot of what we had and began to build most of our equipment. We started to develop The Compound, though we didn't actually perform until 1980. The punk/industrial movement was strong by that time, so we got some recognition, but people still couldn't understand it emotionally. At least not the way they could understand Led Zeppelin or whatever else they were used to listening to.
Q: You hadn't recorded anything yet?
A: Right. That's where Throbbing Gristle had an edge. They had a product. We had always avoided that. It wasn't until 1984 that the Residents convince us to record on their label Ralph Records.
Q: Is it possible to point to any roots for your music?
A: Our roots are more in timbre than in rock 'n' roll. We were definitely aware of people like Stockhausen and Xenakis. I listened to Hendrix, but the thing that was interesting was that he was adding noise to the blues and making it popular. I saw a bridge between Hendrix and Stockhausen. The challenge was to understand noise in an emotional manner.
Q: What distinctions do you make between live and recorded versions of your pieces?
A: Live performance should be different from what you experience in your living room. On the one hand, you have to create links to the past, to what is familiar, but live music should offer a sense of involvement, of immediacy, of surprise. It fascinates me how many rules you can break.
Q: You've talked about the concept of "dissonant convergence."
A: These are not necessarily contrary terms. R&N is realizing-embracing more mass harmonic structure because we are working to understand the harmonic of noise as well as the dissonance. The question is, do dissonant sounds form harmonics or a larger dissonance? You have the effect and the after-effect. Each sound becomes a memory capsule that you place in your own spectrum. It meshes with each subsequent sound. You determine its esthetic. One man's noise is another man's poison. Another question is, do you always need a beat, a rhythm, a pulse to make the relationship with the timbre, to make it speak to you or to the masses? It's hard to break out of pop shells. People don't understand things that aren't part of their existing paradigms. They want to be able to hum it, to remember it from high school days. I like how hip-hop is played through jam boxes so loud that distortion becomes part of the esthetic. In Cairo, the muezzin chants through loudspeakers so tinny and loud that noise becomes part of the prayer. And boom cars -- it's no longer, "My Cadillac is bigger than yours," now it's, "My noise is bigger than yours because I have five woofers." It's an intentional misuse of the technology. It proves that attitude depends on how you listen. You might like the music you hear while inside a club, but it might sound like noise if you live across the alley. We sound like noise to a lot of people."



Industrial Culture | "True Stories About True Gore", by Jack Sargeant

"Why do we watch a car accident on the freeway, or rush to see a fire, to drink in the tempestuous loveliness of terror, or simply to catch a glimpse of our destiny?" - True Gore
"That's my primary goal. To get on people's nerves. So I always try and have something in them which I'm sure will get on somebody's nerves. And it's not a success unless people...or somebody...walks out, as far as I am concerned" - Monte Cazazza.

Opening with the credit "The Gore Brothers Present..." True Gore (1986) is the logical heir to the mondo movie, that bizarre genre that welds together the freak show, anthropological curiosity, and pure, salacious voyeurism. Directed by Matthew Causey, with Monte Cazazza credited as "creative consultant", the low-budget True Gore is reminiscent of the later, more notorious, mondo movies such as Faces Of Death (Conan Le Cilaire, 1979), and its many sequels. While these now-legendary genre films were produced for box office release most were considered too extreme, even for the sleazoid crowds inhabiting the scummy cinemas of 42nd Street and Times Square, and it was on video that they found their audience, in recognition of this True Gore, like many of the mondo movies of the late eighties, was produced directly on video(1).

Divided into four sections - The World Of The Dead, The Eroticism Of Decay, Art And Death, and The Science Of Death - True Gore feigns an attempt at structural coherence, but the optical effects created using a video synthesizer and designed to mask the identity of the film's unnamed narrator, the purposefully clichéd narration, and the occasionally misspelled subtitles belay its low budget. However, this should not be used as a reason to decry the film, so much as it should be seen as a signifier to other mondo texts, which themselves are in part characterized by their less than pristine appearance, indeed the style adds to the illicit thrills offered by the genre. Like many of the later mondo films, True Gore focuses primarily on images of injury, death and decay(2), however, in addition to those images familiar to the genre, the film also contains many segments culled from Monte Cazazza's own underground filmmaking practice(3).

The first section of the film - The World Of The Dead - consists of re-photographed images culled from medical textbooks and police training manuals, forensic pathology and medical education films, and some original footage shot in a morgue. These grisly images of damaged and rotting flesh are followed with clearly faked footage of a suicide victim laying in a blood filled bathtub, casually slashed wrist dangling over the side of the bath, blood dripping onto the linoleum floor(4). Where this section becomes most disturbing is in its usage of the aural footage of Jim Jones' last speech as 956 members of the People's Temple commit suicide slurping cyanide contaminated fruit juice. The suicide soundtrack - dubbed over photographs depicting various iconographic elements of the People's Temple, including their discipline room - was culled from Cazazza's extensive archive, and was also released as a picture disc by the World Satanic Network Service(5).

As the film's second section starts the narrator states, with a showman's faux cynicism, "in the underground of the world these films are created for the sickest minds". This is followed by a collage of shots taken from the legendary First Transmission video, produced by the Temple Of Psychic Youth(6), and depicting scenes of ritualized SM sexual experimentation. These images are familiar to anybody who witnessed Psychic TV in their pre-acid house daze. Cazazza was, of course, a regular collaborator with P. Orridge and Psychic TV. The accompanying extra-diagetic soundtrack consists of Cazazza's "Sex Is No Emergency". This segment also contains images - "from Amnesty International" the narrator states - depicting a man being suspended over an oil-drum filled with water, before being dunked and beaten. For added effect a snake is thrown over the drowning man's head. The footage is fake. The victim is Cazazza. This scenes is followed by some genuinely disturbing images of vivisection: a live pig is tied down and military scientists stand over it holding a blow-torch, which is then played slowly across the squealing animals flesh which rapidly blackens, burns, and splits open. Next a cat has its scalp pealed and a chunk of its brain removed, as the narrator observes such experiments appear as senseless exercises. These images of genuine cruelty appear all the more horrific because of their juxtaposition with the fake footage.

True Gore's third section, Art And Death, focuses once more on Cazazza's underground movies, as the narrator wryly comments, "at least it was self inflicted" the sequence is culled from Cazazza's 13 minute Super 8 collaboration with Tana Emmolo Smith, SXXX-80 (1980), a film which gleefully depicts what many would consider polymorphic sexual dysfunction as home movie, and was produced as a result of equal parts ennui and mischief on Cazazza's part. The extract presented in True Gore depicts Cazazza digging at a sore on his penis with a metal scalpel, and Smith letting a gigantic black centipede scuttle over her labia. Mimicking the fake-decorum of the death film genre, Smith's vagina and Cazazza's penis, both of which are visible in the original short film, are hidden behind tastefully positioned black squares, this is after all not a sex film(7).

The extract from SXXX-80 is followed by a sequence taken from the 40 minute video Night Of The Succubus (1981) which documents a chaotic performance between Cazazza, Survival Research Laboratories and San Francisco Industrial band Factrix. From this ostensibly performance art documentation the film returns to the theme of necrophilia and lustmord. The ensuing footage, supposedly depicting two psychotic paraphyliacs, is faked, with a female necrophile played by artist Debra Valentine, and a male murder played by Cole Palme, who, despite being in shade, should be familiar to the film's audience, having just appeared in the previous scene playing bass and singing with Factrix. The performances given by these actors are convincing primarily because the scenes were shot in one take, with the actors reading from a script, the occasional stumbled words and phrases serve to create a haunting, confessional atmosphere.

The film introduces the thematic of AIDS as the latest plague threatening to annihilate humanity. Notably, given the media treatment of the virus as "gay" and "junkie plague" at the time of True Gore's production, the film draws attention to the fact that AIDS is a disease that can attack anyone "we are all victims", drawls the narrator. Genuine autopsy footage ends the section of the film.

The Science Of Death - True Gore's final section - consists primarily of stock footage depicting the shivering survivors of the Nazi Death Camps, which is intercut with images from Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph Of The Will (19 ). This is followed by what the narrator describes as "our homage to the Scientific Age". To the Atom Smashers' song "A Is For Atom" the film juxtaposes images from Cold War propaganda films with scientific cartoons explaining radiation, and images of the burned and mutilated survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The film closes with the narrator walking through a graveyard, and telling the audience "to live in fear of death is a waste of life". A short, sombre scene follows, depicting row-upon row of tombstones. The soundtrack consists of church bells. The camera spins through the graveyard and positions the viewer gazing out from an open grave. This cuts to the image of a laughing mechanical clown, once more suggesting the carney roots of the mondo genre, and the wound black humour of True Gore's aesthetic. End.


(1)Other direct to video mondo film's include Nick Bougas' excellent Death Scenes (1989) and Death Scenes 2 (1992), and the Brain Damage production Traces Of Death (1993).

(2)Earlier mondo movies - produced in the sixties - whilst presenting some violent images, also luxuriated in scenes of indigenous cultures (and especially those cultures for whom nudity is a norm), nudist colonies, occult ceremonies, and safari scenes, all of which have subsequently became visual staples on television. The genre's interest in sex and sexuality boomed in the early seventies, with titles such as Alex De Rezny's Sexual Encounter Group (1970), Sex And Astrology (1970), and Sexual Freedom In Denmark (1970), as well as Pat Rocco's Sex And The Single Gay (1970), but was rapidly rendered as pointless with the explosion and subsequent availability hardcore pornography in the seventies (following the massive success of Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat which - in 1972 - served to partially legitimize hardcore, and also served to show the massive market for such movies). Finally it was the continued taboos surrounding violence and death that remained, and these have subsequently become the focal point of mondo movies. This thematic eruption is also due to the increasing availability of footage depicting violence and death, due - primarily - to the popularity of video technologies which are utilized by news gathering teams, as well as the emergency services, thus guaranteeing a virtual glut of available visceral footage.

(3)Cazazza has directed, produced, and collaborated on a string of movies, including, amongst others: Revolt 2000 (1974) in which he acts like a terrorist and builds a bomb using information from Assassin magazine, the film is now lost. Diary Of A Rubber Slave (1976) subsequently stolen, Mondo Homo (1976) - another engagement with the mondo genre, filmed in secret at the notorious gay bar The Slot, the film was one of the first to depict fist fucking - subsequently stolen. Mystery Movie (co-directed with Genesis P. Orridge, 1976, whereabouts unknown). Death Wish (1977), consisting of re-photographed tv footage. Black Cat Tea (co-directed with Mary Quayzar, 1979/80), Behind The Iron Curtain (1980), SXXX-80 (co-directed with Tana Emmolo Smith, 1980), Night Of The Succubus (co-directed with Factrix, 1981), and Catsac (with Michelle Handelman, 1989) . In addition Cazazza has produced and collaborated with Handelman on Blood Sisters (1991), and collaborated with Psychic TV on the videos Terminus and Eden Three (1987).

(4)The usage of re-constructed / fake footage is one of the central aspects of the mondo genre in its latter incarnation as a grim sideshow of annihilation.: "Although many of the sequences involving killings were fabricated, the filmmakers attempted to make distinguishing fake from fact as difficult as possible" (David Kerekes and David Slater, Killing For Culture, An Illustrated History Of Death Film From Mondo To Snuff, Creation Books, 1995 (first published 1994) p.113).

(5)The World Satanic Network Service aka Vagina Dentata Organ released a string of records documenting various extreme events, including Cold Meat, which consisted of the sound of somebody breathing - and dying - whilst on an infribulator, and came as a picture disc depicting photographs of Maralyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in death.

(6)This video depicted various rituals undertaken by members of the Temple Of Psychic Youth, and was frequently screened, in both whole and part, during the early eighties. In 19 however a copy fell into the hands of a right-wing fundamentalist group, who used the tape to `prove' Satanic abuse.

(7)It is an oddity of the mondo genre that, whilst depicting death with glee, depictions of sexual organs are less common, with producers and directors frequently choosing to hide them behind visual effects, this reaches its zenith in Death Women - a Japanese film of unspecified date and direction - which depicts extreme images of female corpses - strangled, crushed, torn, ripped, savaged, and burned - yet tastefully pixellates any images of the corpses' pubic region and vaginas.

©Jack Sargeant


Minimal Man [MP3s + Webpage]

Check out the tribute page I made for MINIMAL MAN (aka PATRICK MILLER) on mySpace, which currently has 4 tracks up for listening (not downloadable):
  1. She Was A Visitor
  2. Ascension
  3. Show Time
  4. High Why

*I will also be posting 1 or 2 Minimal Man mp3's sometime soon, on this blog...any requests?


Iannis Xenakis: Phillips Pavilion, Poème Electronique, Edgard Varèse [Brussels 1958]

The Philips Pavilion was more than a building at the fair -- it was a multimedia experience displaying the technological prowess of the Philips company by combining light, sound, and color.

Le Corbusier's involvement in the Philips Pavilion is often overestimated. In reality, most of the designing was carried out by his collaborator Iannis Xenakis (b.1922) a Greek architect and music composer working in Le Corbusier's office at the time.

These photographs taken from a 1958 issue of Philips Technical Review depict the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Located in a small site next to the Dutch section and away from the center of the fair, the pavilion hosted a futuristic multimedia display featuring images, colored lighting and music and sounds called the "Poème Electronique."

Some of the greatest artistic minds of the twentieth century were involved in its creation, including the architect
Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and the composer Edgard Varèse (1883-1965). But most importantly, the Philips Pavilion represented an important artistic phenomenon through its synthesis of architecture, visual media and music.

The purpose of the pavilion was to exhibit the technology of the Philips corporation, a Dutch electronics company specializing in everything from sound production to fluorescent lighting to X-ray technology. Philips' aim was obviously promotional, integrating corporate advertisement into an exhibit much like the pavilions by General Motors and Ford at the Chicago fair of 1933 and the New York fair of 1939. But rather than having a traditional pavilion that would display their products for the visitors to browse through, Philips chose to create an integrated work of modern art that would utilize its wide array of technologies. Therefore, the Philips pavilion had no exhibits per se; rather it was a kind of exhibit in itself; an all-encompassing showcase of what the Philips corporation could offer.

For the execution of this unique undertaking, Philips selected the French architect Le Corbusier, one of the greatest modern designers of the twentieth century. Philips executives approached him in January 1956 to design, in the words of artistic director Louis Kalff, a "spatial-color-light-music production" for the Philips corporation (Treib 2). Le Corbusier was by this time near the end of his career, but also at the height of his powers, as demonstrated by his recently completed masterpieces including the Unit‚ d'Habitation in Marseilles (1946-52) and the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France (1950-54). Philips executives no doubt expected a first-class design from Le Corbusier, but they also expected him to direct the entire concept of the Poème Electronique and all of its images and lighting, in addition to the architecture. In effect, Philips gave Le Corbusier carte blanche to create their pavilion, insisting only that he utilize the various technological media the company was producing.

Le Corbusier's involvement in the Philips Pavilion is often overestimated. In reality, most of the designing was carried out by his collaborator Iannis Xenakis (b.1922), a Greek architect and music composer working in Le Corbusier's office at the time. Xenakis would later become famous for his use of rigorous mathematical concepts and relationships in his music, but at this time was not well known. This may be part of the reason that he receives less recognition for the design than he probably deserves, coupled with Le Corbusier's prestige and public exaggerations of his own role. Le Corbusier was more concerned with what was going on inside the pavilion and cared little about its exterior appearance. Even the spectacle inside was not completely his own, for the music was by Edgard Varèse, a well-known composer at the time and a pioneer in the field of electronic music and the use of non-instrumental sounds, exemplified by Ionization (1930-31) and Deserts (1949-54). It was Le Corbusier, however, who insisted that Varèse be chosen to compose the music, for Philips wanted to enlist the talents of the more famous but less radical British composer Benjamin Britten. But after succeeding in his plea, Le Corbusier left Varèse a completely free hand in composing the music.

Although Xenakis was the principal designer of the Philips Pavilion, the architecture didoriginate with Le Corbusier's general concepts. These consisted of descriptions of a "stomach" to contain the Poème Electronique, with a twisted path for entrance and exit and warped, curving walls on which to project the colors and images. This basic concept was about as far as Le Corbusier's architectural involvement went. The shape of the building would be left for Xenakis to determine. The pavilion was to serve as a small auditorium, where approximately five hundred seated visitors could see the images projected on all the walls around them, as if it were an irregularly shaped planetarium. His point of departure for the structure was a series of conjoined hyperbolic parabaloids-curved planes mathematically generated entirely from straight lines-that would form a tent-like enclosure for the stomach-shaped floor plan. The sloping walls of the hyperbolic parabaloids would satisfy Le Corbusier's idea of irregular warped surfaces for the projection of images. The geometric form also appealed to Le Corbusier's desire for mathematical rationality while the dramatic slopes and contours of the pavilion related to a more expressionistic idiom.

The execution of the design proved to be problematic. Xenakis' own structural solution involved a tensile structure of steel cables strung from steel posts at the ends of the "tent" to form the hyperbolic parabaloids. It was rejected on the grounds that the interior would require more solid, acoustically insulating walls. Le Corbusier and the sound engineers wanted a structure of concrete to keep exterior noise from interfering with the presentation. But the complex shapes of Xenakis' hyperbolic parabaloids made it impossible to build a conventional poured concrete structure. The solution that would satisfy both Xenakis' ideas and the acoustical requirements of the Poeme Electronique was a system of precast concrete panels hung in tension from wire cables. Because hyperbolic parabaloids are generated by straight lines, the method of using precast panels was easy to implement. This ingenious compromise was devised by Hoyte Duyster, the chief engineer for the Philips project. The panels were constructed in a hangar shed from a simple sand mold that matched the curvature of the pavilion. Once the panels were cast around the sand mold, they were numbered, shipped to the construction site and quickly assembled. They would hang on steel cables strung from thin concrete ribs that were cast in place. These ribs are visible in the photograph where the walls converge at the ends of the pavilion. The result was a quickly and efficiently constructed building that fulfilled the requirements of the Poème Electronique.

While the design of the pavilion was underway, Le Corbusier was busy figuring out what would be happening inside. Le Corbusier wanted the Poème Electronique to consist of an eight-minute film made up of an array of still photographs highlighted by changing washes of colored light on the interior surfaces of the pavilion. The underlying concept related to Le Corbusier's own view of the progress of humankind through history and into the future. However, the Poème would not be a presentation of concrete images associated with events or historical developments. It was meant to be abstract and highly symbolic, with groups of stills chosen to make a statement about humanity. These images, including such diverse subject matter as tribal art, baby faces, animals, machinery, Charlie Chaplin and even a mushroom cloud, were arranged in rather confusing combinations and juxtapositions. For example, Charlie Chaplin and the mushroom cloud would be shown next to each other in an attempt to show the absurdity of modern warfare. The eight minutes was made up of seven sequences: "Genesis," "Matter and Spirit," "From Darkness to Dawn," "Manmade Gods," "How Time Molds Civilization," "Harmony," and "To All Mankind." The actual filming of the images was carried out by Philippe Agostini, a celebrated filmmaker who further enhanced the visual potency of the PoŠme with his techniques of quick montage, innovative framing methods, and rotation, reflection and movement of the images. The color projections were integrated into this grand scheme and were laid out in a sequence that would help dictate the mood of each image or series of images. All visual media utilized Philips' latest projection equipment. The final result was a highly original visual arts spectacular showcasing Philips technology, but more importantly an artistic expression of Le Corbusier's vision of humanity, laced with all its propaganda and personal biases (including images of Le Corbusier's designs meant to suggest mankind's hope for the future).

The audio component of the Poème Electronique however, was completely devoid of the influence of Le Corbusier. Varèse was given free reign in this respect, composing the music sporadically from the time he accepted the commission in 1956 to when it was recorded in late 1957, while the pavilion itself was nearly complete. The music was purposefully to have no relationship to the visual components of the presentation, so that the entire ensemble would not be one of coherence, but one of abstraction and juxtaposition. The eight-minute composition consists of a combination of electronically generated sounds and "concrete" sounds, or real-life sounds and noises that have been recorded. While to most ears the "music" sounds like a lot of swirling and tapping noises with bizarre human voice sounds, it is actually a carefully structured composition with a recurrence of themes leading to variations and climaxes. But the music also had a spatial dimension, in that different sound sequences were directed out of one of the hundreds of speakers that were mounted on the pavilion walls. The effect was a sense of "moving music," where sounds would whisk across the space in a manner that would enhance the rising and falling aspects of the composition itself. The music was the final dimension in this showcase of Philips' technology, for it was all recorded using the company's high-tech audio equipment, and projected from their sound reproduction equipment and speakers. And although it had no direct relationship with the rest of the Poème Electronique, Varèse's music was integral to the final ensemble because it presented a audio component that was as equally modern and abstract as the architecture and images.

The combination of Xenakis' architecture, Le Corbusier's visual ensemble, and Varèse's
music provided a very memorable experience. Millions of people visited the Poème Electronique, and all agreed that was new and different. The general public was for the most part baffled by the bizarre images and sounds. Howard Taubman of the New York Times called it "the strangest building at the fair," and remarked that "the sounds that accompany these images are as bizarre as the building" (17). This attitude is generally representative of the public response to the building. The response of critics specializing in art and architecture, however, was extremely varied. A Swedish critic characterized the pavilion as "a deeply fascinating realization of a dream which has tempted artists since...Wagner: the dream of the total work of art" (Romare 175). Although this view is typical of the pavilion's supporters, its detractors often focused on specifics rather than the ensemble in its entirety. The architecture in particular was harshly criticized for its awkwardness and uncomfortable ambiguity between structural rationality and free-form expressiveness. Italian architect Ernesto Rogers thought that "where the result should have been a fluid sequence of convexities and concavities..., there are disturbing elements for reinforcing....It is not a fulfilled architecture, it is not a clear composition; it is only the indication of new architectonic dimensions" (4). Rigid tectonics and smooth, curving surfaces tended to cancel each other out. Varèse's score would exercise the most lasting influence of any aspect of the Philips Pavilion. While not enthusiastically received by the public, it influenced an entire generation of avant-garde composers with its use of electronic music, including the American John Cage and the German Karlheinz Stockhausen. In the end, the area afforded least attention and recognition by the Philips corporation became the most memorable part of their exhibit. The Philips Pavilion is mentioned only briefly when discussing the career of Le Corbusier, as a footnote to an already distinguished career. But the Poème Electronique by Edgard Varèse was one of his greatest accomplishments.

The Philips Pavilion was demolished on January 30, 1959. Like most world's fair buildings, it was a temporary structure never meant to remain standing beyond the duration of the fair. But because it was demolished, the work of art is lost forever. We can see pictures like these, look at Le Corbusier's images, even listen to Varèse's score, but the complete ensemble integrated into a single space surrounding and moving around the visitor is something that can never be recreated. Therefore, the Philips Pavilion and its Poème Electronique remain an artistic achievement that have left their mark on precisely eight minutes of history.

~Aaron Zephir


VIDEO: Poeme Electronique (Edgar Varese)

REQUIRED VIEWING: "Poeme Electronique", by Electronic Music pioneer Edgar Varese & Le Corbusier. (Originally presented in 1958 at the World Expo in Belgium)