following is an excerpt from an article about the theatrical aspects of Noise
published in Glissando magazine.
Do TNB use elements of theatre like movement, gestures, or dance and, if so, is it planned or spontaneous?
There is movement, but purely in a functional sense. Terms like ‘theatre’ or ‘gesture’ imply something false or contrived or (worse still) something ‘artistic’ which we reject completely. There's a misconception in certain quarters that the black suits and masks are worn as a pantomime costume or are designed to intimidate which is not the case. It's strictly an exercise in anonymity and to remove the idea of a personality, and consequently expectation, from the event.
Everything you see and hear is directed and completely spontaneous. This may sound like a contradiction, but both states can exist simultaneously and cancel one another, neither composed or improvised, both of which are largely musical or artistic constructs which we have no interest in. Time passes, events occur.
To what extent, if any, does the environment / venue dictate a performance? What are its limitations? Do you ever feel tempted to go outside that territory?
This is a difficult question as TNB largely shaped what is considered ‘Noise music’ today while not actually sounding anything like the scene it helped to spawn. Most Noise musicians (Noisicians) now are just that; musicians - using the same old hackneyed cliches of volume, dramatic preconceived performance moves and professionalism for career advancement that have been around since the dawn of Rock & Roll (and before, no doubt.)
TNB operate completely in the area of non-music; there is no pretence or allusion to music or art at any stage, all of this is rejected. In this way there is no territory and consequently, no limitations.
Obviously most established music venues are laid out in a similar fashion with a stage area where the performers are kept visibly or physically separate from the audience. TNB generally have no interest in observing this distinction as it's how traditional ‘music’ or ‘theatre’ is demarcated; clearly anything which is a throwback to these situations is not of any interest. Therefore, TNB regard all areas of the room and indeed the fabric of the building itself as fair game; the floor, the walls, the structural supports, found objects and so forth can (and generally are) incorporated into the proceedings. No limitations. In the past, found items have included garbage-container lids, washing machine parts, knitting needles, newspapers, Pop music cassettes, broken amplifiers, air-raid early warning system parts, cutlery, broken furniture, glass and on one occasion a plaster statue of a famous Classical music composer who watched over the proceedings.
It would therefore be fairly impossible to go outside of this territory as it has no real definition to start with once the old music hall rules have been dispensed with. Even the electricity being cut and the venue collapsing would mean we could carry on acoustically using the rubble as a sound source.
What is the role of the audience at a show? Does the presence of an audience influence the performance?
TNB ‘performances’ happen despite the audience, rather than being influenced by them. Stages have been invaded by audience members getting carried away by the proceedings, venue sound personnel have cut power to PA systems, equipment forcibly unplugged and so on; the proceedings carry on regardless as volume is not always the end-game. Silence is often far more interesting.
TNB ‘performances’ have also happened without any audience whatsoever, in private, or publicly cancelled only to go ahead anyway. There's a rejection of anything that could be perceived as an ‘art event’ or ‘Rock & Roll show’ which most audiences are still looking for despite their declarations of being 'avant garde’ and so forth. TNB offer no ‘polished’ performances, no personality, no content, no bravado, no beginning, no end.
The following is an article by Paul Hegarty published in 'Organised Sound' journal.
TNB combine the use of non-musical instruments, art inspiration, and a critique of musicality that is designed to renew. They released their first album Changez Les Blockeurs in 1982. The 'instrumentation' is made up of objects and bits of rooms being scraped, dragged, thumped, scratched, etc. The soundworld that emerges is something that continues throughout their work, albeit sometimes featuring more processed elements, especially if in collaboration with others. What marks this first album out is its refusal to go beyond what is actually a very limited set of sound possibilities - whilst there is continual clatter, it does not aspire to variety. Unlike other of their releases, there is a dynamic, with changes in emphasis, mainly in the percussive elements – 'Part One,' for example, calms down toward the end, dissipating any momentum it might have acquired and in place of what could have been construed as rhythms are staccato metallic scrapes. Throughout, the percussiveness is jerky, but also insistent, as if trying to create an object that is both resistant, massive, and also something that exists only to be pummelled away. 'Part Two' ends with quiet creaks (having taken in a dog yapping and something like elephantine trumpeting.) Clatters give way to bumps and finally, a hiss like dust. On the face of it, this is very similar to the recordings and performance of Einsturzende Neubauten, who use electrical tools, metals, bits of buildings, and so on at about the same time. But the German group are using destruction, where TNB are destructive of instrumentation. TNB refuse the evocations that characterise 'Industrial music,' and collapse signification into material. Initially, unlike Pierre Schaeffer or Nurse With Wound, the sound seems to maintain its ‘dramatic context’ – i.e. we know, and are encouraged to notice, what is being played, however unusual it is in the context of music (recording, performance, artwork.) But TNB refuse a virtuosity of the newly musicalised object. If a chair or wall is to be used ‘as percussion’ it will not be salvaged as a musical instrument, but will retain its flatness, its essential unmusicality. Later recordings and performances even lose the residual possibility of ‘properly playing’ objects in an indistinction of sound. Refusal is a key part of their strategy.
Also in 1982 came the 'TNB Manifesto,' which lays out a strong rejection of all art, the past and meaning. In being 'anti-music, anti-art, anti-magazines, anti-books, anti-films, anti-clubs, anti-communications' they aim for new thoughts, new actions etc. Their rejection is purposeful, but also contains the same seeds of contradiction propagated by the multiple Dada manifestos: 'we will make a point of being pointless.' Their philosophical nihilism (as opposed to the use of that word as an accusation of hypocrisy, cynicism or violence) is complete: everything is to be refused, even the meaning of the refusal. They are genuinely rehearsing and re-presenting the purpose of Dada – a continual questioning and destruction being in its own right creative, and not just a way of clearing a path, or effecting a cleansing (as some parts of Futurist manifestos suggest.) The manifesto does announce ‘we must destroy in order to go forward!,’ but the important thing is how this is achieved – the going forward of TNB music is always a dwelling in the destruction of musicality. They recall the era of high modernism as a refusal of all that came before or at the same time. The manifesto summons a moment where the artistic avant garde imagined they could change society through art and exclamation marks. This manifesto doesn’t quite work in the way it seems to at first: it is much more of a commentary on writing manifestos: a meta-manifesto, which, because it takes 'the manifesto' idea seriously, ends up being less than a manifesto (and this in a good way.) It both means what it says and realises the impossibility of this working, replaying Nietzsche’s dictum 'Nothing is true! Everything is possible!' The sounds that we get are in place of music, and this writing is in place of a real programme for change. Above all, what characterises the attitude and the sound is refusal – hence the 'blockade,' but how to keep this fresh without changing is a dilemma.
One of the ways out has been collaboration, and ultimately the outward contagion that bears fruit on Viva Negativa! (2005/06), two four-album sets of 'versions' of TNB works. But before we get there, it is worth tracking TNB a bit further in their own right. The 'Live Offensives' of Gesamtnichtswerk (2003) continue the harsh, often jerky percussiveness, with pipe rolling and bashing to the fore on Live at Morden Tower (10/83.) All four performances establish a mass of sound that avoids light and shade in favour of a randomly phased strobing of sounds. There is no attempt to make high-quality recordings, so tape hiss and loss of sharpness also become part of the block of sound that is set up. Noise music is always an attempt to re-assert the material over the musical, and this means not hiding the process of production as digital sound attempts/claims to do. Loss of quality is not inherently something to do with Noise music, as mp3 sound compression and selective heightening of vocals over other elements demonstrate, but the boundary between means of reproduction and material to be reproduced in TNB's material blurs, as does the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable on a recording, as does the distinction between music and non-music (where, in this case, music would just mean the sounds purposely created or replayed by 'musicians.') Everything about TNB entails refusal, and yet this refusal to even be anti-art is potentially problematic, because firstly, it is a common gesture, and secondly, it had in this case produced a large body of 'not-even-anti-art.'
The title of their collection, Gesamtnichtswerk, is important here. It reminds us of Wagner’s dream of the 'total art work' – the Gesamtkunstwerk, but the art is replaced by nothing, a nothing that is emphasised in the sleeve notes, as being outside of everything, an emptiness that becomes total rather than being a contained space of nothingness, or some sort of nothing reserve. In place of art then, is nothing – no renewal, no radicality to inspire. As it is a collection, it is not about a total single moment of nothing but the sprawl of nothing where there should be something, which means the 'total' part refers to the entirety of music and art (scraps of which litter the booklets.) Clearly, though, creation has occurred in this nothingness, just as many currently suspect of black holes, but creation based on refusal is not the same as affirmative art, art that believes itself, and this because, not despite, of the 'manifest.' The gesture is backed up by a material working-through of 'nothing' where art/music is supposed to be, and where a space has been cleared, there will be no building, only more clearing. The third CD of Gesamtnichtswerk offers two 'symphonies': Simphonie in X Major and Simphonie in O Minor (1991): neither of which are recognised keys for composition … Simphonie in X Major begins with huge industrial blasts, and moves through phases o machinery destroying itself – there are rhythms, made up of booming and howling. After 7.10 in the 'First Movement,' the noisier part stops and gives way to scraping and thumping, building back up to more overwhelming blasts. The 'Second Movement' is crashier. Simphonie in O Minor is mostly quiet hiss, fizzing, and, gradually rising in volume from virtual inaudibility, a background throbs within it. The symphony is of course the privileged mode of 'classical' music at its height as an elitist art (culturally as well as in terms of class reception and production.) Like the realist novel, its steady narrative and teleology reassures the higher classes of European society. Its structure makes it easy to construct a linear history of aesthetic beauty around it, suggesting a sense of order at all levels. Modernist experiments moved away from the symphony and/or sonata form, and in the case of Noise music, attempted to leave form behind (somewhat optimistically and didactically.) TNB take the symphony into the woods and pound it until it stops speaking its language of reconciliation and resolution. Narrative is specifically undone through the nonlinear trudge through 'nonmusic' in the first 'simphonie' and through absence in the second (without being the smug silence of John Cage’s 4'33".) This rejection of narrative is crucial in returning us to the question of influence – which can no longer be heard in terms of inheritance but must be seen as agonistic and retrospective. Not only this, but it is undone – not refused, the spurious belief in individual genius unconnected to history stripped back.
This rejection of the notion of the creative genius (as seen in Dada) extends to TNB collaborations, which range from Organum through The Haters to Merzbow, to the 'versions' or 'tributes' on Viva Negativa! The working methods are kept obscure, but it mostly seems as if material is being shared and altered, rather than the Jazz model of the individual player finding a like-minded spirit and realising some sort of meeting of musical minds through presence. Similarly, TNB collaboration is not like remixing, where one self-present individual brings their style to another, in a mutual reinforcement of supposed greatness. Instead, individuality is swamped as the material gets more isolated from any controlling 'artistic' force, and aims for the selfgeneration and self-maintenance of living organisms. From the descriptions here, it might seem this is a very dry 'music' but it breathes, albeit slightly toxically. Its self-containedness, its removal from individual fingerprints being the key to its uncontrollability for listener and performer alike. This is not to say there is no recognisable style, or that a TNB/Organum recording (such as Pulp (1984) doesn’t suggest elements of individual styles combining. But once the 'music' is essentially made of noises, structured noisily and disruptively, without offering a welcoming form, any recombination takes it further from artistically recognisable modes of talent, skill, etc. even if a certain audience would 'appreciate' this music as if it had those attributes.
The manifesto too exists as if it were a manifesto, as if it returned us to Dada, but without being merely a knowing reference or something in a 'retro' style. It is there again at the opening of the Viva Negativa!, both written and recorded on seven-inch single. Underneath it lies several hours of material, where TNB material has been ingested by others and 'tributes' made: the manifesto’s seriousness (it is not ironic, in the sense of smugly deriding those early twentieth-century manifestos, but it is a humorous take on the idea, I think) is essential for its own failure, and therefore its capacity to set up a tortuous, 'aporetic' path through the material. Its contradiction through eight albums of 'covers,' four of them literally coming after the manifesto, in box 1, is part of the noise not being simply within TNB 'music,' as it establishes an effect that stretches out of the record itself, between records, between TNB and others, between TNB and listeners, and so on. Like Dada, the manifesto cannot but does succeed. It becomes impossible to fail, but to succeed as 'not-even-anti-art' is failure. This 'failure' is what defines noise in its encounter with music, for noise must fail to be noise if it is accepted, and of course it fails if not heard as well. This failure is where noise resides, the fate it selects for itself, or has selected for it.
Noise must be only as if it were music, not as a new musicality, and all this is signalled in the relations set up the TNB manifesto and their actual musical practice, something akin to Bataille’s 'formless,' which travels between and undermines both form and formlessness. No assessment of influence and the way it plays out in art could ignore Harold Bloom’s influential The Anxiety of Influence, originally published in 1973. Bloom argues that a later poet is in a continual struggle with precursors, and realises their work as if free of influence, but all the while making that influence come to be, in the new poem. Many have misunderstood the 'anxiety' of the title, as Bloom is not shy of pointing out in his preface to the second edition. The anxiety is not separate or prior to new creation: 'what writers may experience as anxiety and what their works are compelled to manifest, are the consequence of poetic misprision, rather than the cause of it. The strongmisreading comes first.' (Bloom 1997.) The later poet develops as artist through six stages or 'ratios,' beginning with a misreading that is never excised ('clinamen') and continuing through various reworkings until ultimately, the later poet becomes the precursor, thereby belatedly making the earlier poet into precursor ('apophrades.') Influence becomes unavoidable, and something that 'cannot be reduced to source-study, to the history of ideas, to the patterning of images.' (ibid.: 7.) Anxiety and influence come late, not early, such that 'a poem is not an overcoming of anxiety, but is that anxiety' (ibid.: 94.) Bearing in mind the seeming absence of worry in TNB with regard to their artistic precursors, they offer good examples of Bloom’s idea of 'anxiety': the presence of Dada or Surrealism, for example, represent a creative misinterpretation rather than a happy wallowing in older, better forms. That those movements are thought to belong to the past (chased away by a succession of other avant-garde movements) heightens the possibility of 'misreading,' without becoming cosy irony or nostalgia, but an awareness of the influence as an inevitable connector. TNB’s collaborations represent a way of incorporating influence, of annulling it respectfully. The collaboration is away of realizing equality, but what is produced heightens Bloom’s idea of anxiety in that influence cannot be surmounted and all attempts to do so only emphasize its lurking (creative) force. Influence is no longer linear, in this view, and nor is it capable of being clearly delineated: 'misreading does not simply occur between two texts, but spans and in fact constitutes the history of the poetic tradition' (Allen, 1994.) Again, it is worth noting that 'misreading' is not the implication of an error by Bloom, by the process of reading itself, which is always removed from the source (and we could extend this, to the author.) The field of poetry, of creative writing in general, even art in general, is composed of misreadings. So when the influence of influence is raised, as it is by TNB, to become something problematic, rather than hidden, this is a playing out of Bloom’s theory. In fact, they can tell us something about its reach, can display its functioning. This is in large part because the actual precursor, for TNB (seen from a Bloomian perspective) is not a movement, or an artist, but music. It is music that must be re-read (misread), re-appropriated, denied, destroyed and so on, and finally music is brought back to an origin through its denial (i.e. the beginning of all music is its emergence from other sounds, which then become thought of as noise.)
TNB’s Gesamtnichtswerk even undoes the idea of a historical compilation, not just through conceptual framing, but also through closing on the twenty-minute silence of ‘Null Bei Ohr' ('Nil By Ear.') This is not a reference to, or repetition of Cage (but in being silent, it makes itself the anxiety of such a repetition.) At the end is nothing, in place of Noise music. As it occupies time, the listener awaits, attentive – is it going to burst into sound? Is it made of frequencies beyond hearing? Is it about the machinery of recordings? All of this was never about listening, it almost says.
The following is an article by Thomas Bey William Bailey entitled 'Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art): The Sound Too Intense Even For Dictators?'
‘There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character.’
‘Let us demolish these fetid blocks of security, of tradition, of certainty, of unquestioning worship…..let us be murderers of the past! The obscene progression of regression shall be halted by us, The New Blockaders! Let us be anonymous. O brothers and sisters, let us work in subtle ways, and then at dawn our hour of glory shall come! Let us be chameleons, let us enter their ranks unnoticed… only attacks from behind ever succeed! Let us sever this parasite called history, it has nothing to do with us…' Sleeve notes from TNB's Changez Les Blockeurs (1982.)
The second quote above comes from The New Blockaders, one of ‘anti-music’s’ most legendary merchants of storm and stress. For those unfamiliar with their sound, do give it a try sometime: persistent listening will be rewarded by amusing visions of garbage cans being overturned and dragged through the street, motor vehicles being dropped one on top of the other, or maybe even a situation like the kind outlined in J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise - affluent apartment dwellers throwing social convention to the wind, joyously resorting to primal nature while fighting petty battles over elevator shafts and vandalizing ‘enemy’ building floors. There isn’t any regimentation, or really any music at all, to be found on TNB recordings - instead there is a strong feeling that human labour has been totally abolished in favor of meaningless play and/or the building of new communication methods from scratch. TNB are one of the nerve-shredding highlights of the underground ‘cassette culture’ of the 1980s, a culture which provided urban deviants with 1,001 nights of metallic clamour before its main technicians became fatigued, mutated into more technologically-enhanced beasts, or (in some notorious cases) found religion and repented of their Bacchanals.
The New Blockaders, in making such statements and such sounds, are nothing if not the late-20th. Century descendents of the Italian Futurist movement. The Futurists operated and agitated from about 1909 until the defeat of the Mussolini’s fascist forces, and, although their allegiance to fascism can be questioned in their later years, they did initially lend an air of artistic or poetic legitimacy to its violence: take, for example, the actions of April 15, 1919, when the Italian socialist newspaper Avanti! had its offices and its communications apparatus (linotype machinery) wrecked by an unholy alliance of Futurists and arditi (the former frontline soldiers who would become so useful in furthering fascist policies of the ‘20s.) Over time, the Futurist coterie led by F.T. Marinetti (a ‘multi-disciplinary artist’ well before the term existed) would eventually see fascist politics as being insufficently innovative, while the Duce would eventually seek an artistic movement that better combined Italian traditionalism with progressive tendencies (and, of course, he would find marauding thugs like the arditi more useful in accomplishing his aims than the curious abstractions of poets and cultural theorists.) Outside of Mussolini’s Italy, Futurism’s acceptance by fascist demagogues was also called into question when Adolf Hitler, hosting an exhibit of Nazi-denounced Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) in 1938, included a selection of Italian Futurist works in the show. Nothing could earn the enmity of the Nazi cultural elite quicker than the suggestion that brave new artistic enterprises could be totally distinct from previous ones - as Futurist architect Antonio Sant’elia stated in 1914, ‘every generation must build its own city.’
This now-infamous exhibition (which never did travel to Italy, thanks to some outrage and protest on the behalf of Marinetti), was first unveiled in 1937 and avoided the outright prohibition the works of modern art’s prime movers, which could have led to their martyrdom. Instead, it dragged the offending works into the limelight (this was one of the most highly-attended art exhibits in Germany ever, to that point) and forwarded the pretense that the German public was free to judge this work for themselves. Come the following year, though, persecution of ‘degenerate’ artists would begin outright, with some of the brightest minds of Surrealism, Bauhaus, Cubism etc. fleeing for the less suffocating environments of Switzerland or New York. True unmediated creativity would be next to impossible with the Gestapo continually breathing down artists’ necks, and ‘acceptable’ artwork would have to be starkly formalist, presenting a neatly photogenic portrait of man and nature: anything but this kind of literalism was surely the product of cultural parasites, perverts, and the gleefully insane.
Der Fuhrer’s deliberate snubbing of the Futurist artwork endorsed by his chief ally might seem puzzling, but then again, the curatorial logic behind the Entartete Kunst exhibit was not exactly water-tight to begin with: for an exhibit which claimed to lay bare the corruption and moral sickness of the ‘Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy’, only 6 of the artists on display were actually Jewish. Card-carrying Nazi party member Emil Nolde also had over a thousand of his paintings removed from German museums in 1937, many of them making the cut for inclusion in Entartete Kunst. The branding of select Futurist works as ‘degenerate’ did point out, if nothing else, the fundamental difference in the utopian visions of the two fascist dictators: while Hitler consolidated power through promises of resurrecting a vainglorious past, Mussolini used the Futurists to conjure a utopia yet to come - one where the dominant aesthetic would be one of unyielding dynamism and intensity. Technology and automation would be romanticized too, if not outright sexualized - the 1914 play by Marinetti, Elettricità sessuale, would bring robots to the stage years before Karel Capek brought the term into the international literary vocabulary, or a full 13 years before Fritz Lang immortalized them on celluloid in Metropolis. Herein lies one of the major offenses of Futurism against the German völkisch spirit, expounded on by Hitler and ideologists like R. Walther Darre. While Marinetti’s poetic works outline these ideological differences quite well, the activities of the Futurist sound artists made the stark contrast even more vivid. With the pugilistic Luigi Russolo as their spokesman, penning the immensely influential pamphlet L’arte dei Rumori (The Art of Noises), characters such as Francesco Batilla Pratella and Giacomo Balla would batter away at the concept of harmonic music - to them it was all nothing but a protracted nostalgic sigh. They would write musical odes to typographic machines and, in their poetry, often reduce the human voice to a kind of exasperated exclamation machine. And just think how a quote like the following one from Russolo‘s L’arte… might have rankled Hitler, who adored the epic bombast of Wagner’s orchestral pieces:
‘It is hardly possible to consider the enormous mobilization of energy that a modern orchestra requires, without concluding that the acoustic results are pitiful. Is there anything more ridiculous in the world than twenty men slaving to increase the plaintive meowing of violins?’
Hitler, had he been able to personally obtain a copy of L’arte dei Rumori, must have had one of his notorious fits of pique while reading this passage - let alone the ones right before it, in which Russolo claimed that the public was ‘fed up’ with the ‘heroic and pastoral symphonies,’ and that orchestral music was lacking in tone colour, despite all the polyphonic and atonal experiments then sweeping Europe. Russolo’s assessment of the concert hall is loaded with even more venomous contempt: he rejects it as a ‘hospital for anaemic sounds,’ in the same way that Futurist boss Marinetti likened museums to cemeteries.
Thanks to such dismissals of formal, classical grandeur, it’s no wonder that Hitler was hostile towards the Futurist undertaking as a whole. He had already slammed them at the Nuremberg rally of 1933, shortly after his ascendancy - and again in 1934 when the Futurists compiled an exhibition for showing in Berlin. Hitler was incensed that this group of racial aliens would attempt to create a heroic art movement purely from their own imaginations, rather than acting as the echo chamber for history. Now then, to say that Russolo didn’t share some of the same crusading tendencies as Hitler would be fallacious: a tincture of Nietzschean adventurous masculinity, for one, hangs over L’arte dei Rumori when Russolo claims ‘the characteristic of noise is to bring us brutally back to life.’
When it came to the presentation of music and sound, the Futurists certainly put their money where their mouths were. Their German contemporaries in the Bauhaus movement were content to adopt Jazz as the ‘house music’ of their movement (the Bauhaus contained a Jazz ‘big band’ from 1923 until its own designation as Entartete Kunst, and Bauhaus architect Adolf Loos was so enamored with singer Josephine Baker that he designed a home for her.) As early as 1913, though, Luigi Russolo was already hard at work forging not only his own music, but his own instruments as well. Russolo’s principal innovation here were the intonarumori: basically waist-high acoustic boxes connected to bullhorns and operated by hand-cranks or electric buttons - they didn’t require athleticism or extreme agility to operate; they were economical instruments which needed just a minimum of human input to create a bracing sonic output. The intonarumori had only about a one-octave range, adjustable in tones or semi-tones, but 27 different types were created according to the type of sound they were meant to generate: there were howlers, cracklers, exploders, thunderers, crumplers etc. These could then be assembled into an orchestra in their own right - one requiring a fraction of the manpower needed to keep those violins 'mewling.' The instruments were built in collaboration with the painter Ugo Piatti, confirming the multi-disciplinary, non-‘specialist’ nature of Futurist art. It is also worth noting that Russolo considered himself a Futurist painter who just happened to have some novel ideas about music, not a trained musician or composer in any sense of the word - through this alone he has a special kinship with the artistically omnivorous factions of the 20th. Century avant-garde: Fluxus, Aktionismus, the ‘Factory’ scene centered around Andy Warhol, and Industrial music, to name just some of the more publicized ones. This is to say nothing of individual composers like Iannis Xenakis, who occasionally saw music from the view of a practicign architect. The musical spin-off from the wildly successful Entartete Kunst show, Entartete Musik, reserved its critical ire for German composers like Schoenberg, and for black Jazz - but by damning and forbidding Futurist visual art within the Reich, Hitler was, by default, also forbidding its sonic manifestations.
No educational narrative on radical modern sound, let alone an assessment of post-Industrial musicians, can be totally complete without some mention of Russolo. L’arte dei Rumori is reverently quoted in at least one crucial CD retrospective of post-Industrial sound and the number of sound artists now paying homage to Russolo, whether they’re aware of it or not, is manifold. Marinetti’s insistence that extreme violence was an aesthetic device (since, after all, life and art were inseparable) was taken to heart by more than a few of the post-Industrial scene’s more confrontational performers: early 80s concerts by artists like Minus Delta T sometimes devolved into riot situations requiring police intervention, and the demanding physicality of performances by Z’EV and Einsturzende Neubaten localized the violence to within the performers’ own bodies, while re-envisioning the metallic waste products of the industrial beast as magical totems. Things become paradoxical here again, because while the Nazi tastemakers fetishized steel and iron, they still had one foot planted firmly in their ‘blood and soil’ cosmology extolling the peasantry as the backbone of the Aryan race. As it went, the peasantry was bound to nature - irrevocably characterized as feminine - and here was this movement of radical Italian agitators whose warrior-poet founder listed ‘contempt for women’ as one of the planks in the Futurist platform (unsurprisingly, I haven’t been able to find a single female member of the Futurist movement in their entire chronology of activities, suggesting that maybe this was more than just a splash of acidic humour.) The exclusion of women and the casual misogyny of the Futurists is a point that many progressive artists will still struggle with today when citing them as an influence. Although, to be fair, women composers would be in short supply until well after the smoke had cleared from the two World Wars - the Futurists were hardly the only ‘boys’ club’ in this respect.
At the end of the day, the failed Austrian painter-cum-great dictator was just lazily stamping anything he couldn’t understand as being degenerate - but in the case of the Futurists, he may have secretly feared their prophetic ability to show what his will-to-conquest would result in. Not only were they thumbing their noses at the very institution of historical romanticism, but they were distorting his own dreams of mechanized war into hallucinogenic, lurid colors possibly too intense for him to handle. These outlandish blaring intonarumori, and these concrete sound poems composed of confrontational non-words like TAMTOUMB were just too much to take in at once. Even state sponsor Mussolini – who appointed Marinetti to his ‘Italian Academy’ in 1926 - really had no stomach for this stuff, and preferred to relax to Verdi in his free time. The Duce always claimed to know more than he really knew about the arts (he once laughably attempted to prove that Shakespeare was an Italian whose identity was hijacked by Anglo-Saxons), and simply gave up on Futurism at one point in favour of art that bore the purely representative motifs of social realism.
Nowadays virtually anyone can make their own shrieking, rumbling, hissing intonarumori on a home computer, simply by plugging some code into a program like SuperCollider, or by hooking together signal-generating modules in software like Pure Data. A rapidly expanding number of non-academic people are doing exactly that, willfully allowing the human presence in music to be diminished as the sound itself becomes more voluptuous. There is at least a little bit of Futurist poetry in the determined gaze of today’s laptop-assisted noisemakers; their blank faces chilled by the lunar glow of their computer screens. However, their noise seems less accompanied by the wild-eyed destructive urge that the Futurists espoused: in a world as saturated by violence as this one, noise seems to be more of a psychological defense for intellectual outcasts than an offensive weapon. The present world has surpassed even the Futurists’ wildest fever dreams of velocity and warfare, as entire populations go into debt to finance erotically slick stealth bombers and remote-control pilot-less drones. This makes it all the more interesting that the appreciation of pure machine noise is still seen in the West as a deviant act. Who knows - maybe the next ‘great dictator’ will curate an exhibit of the ‘degenerate’ sound artists who are re-appropriating and distorting the sounds of the military-industrial complex, and using them to their own ‘perverse’ ends. Just like Entartete Kunst before it, that promises to be one hell of a show.