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Acoustics of the Intonarumori
Stefania Serafin - firstname.lastname@example.org
Medialogy, Aalborg University Copenhagen
Lautrupvang 15, 2750 Ballerup, DK
Popular version of paper 2aMU7
Presented Session: Tuesday Morning, May 17, 2005
ASA/CAA '05 Meeting, Vancouver, BC
The Intonarumori (noise intoners) were a family of musical instruments
invented around 1913 by the Italian Futurist composer and painter Luigi
Russolo. Each instrument was made of a
parallelepiped sound box with a speaker on its front. Inside the box, a
metal string was excited by a rotating wheel. The speed of the wheel
changed by the player by using a crank, while the tension of the string
varied by using a lever. Such instruments were acoustic noise
generators which allowed to simulate different everyday noisy
sonorities. According to Russolo, the Intonarumori created different
everyday sounds, from rumbles to screeches.
The Intonarumori were a consequence of Russolo's theories regarding the
structure of the futuristic orchestra.
With the belief that the traditional orchestra needed some new
in his book ``The Art of Noises'' he proposed a taxonomy of noise
sounds having six families of noises. Noises were divided in rumbles,
whispers, screeches, percussion noises and human and animal voices.
The 27 varieties of Intonarumori built by Russolo
and his colleagues aimed at simulating such variety of
noises. The different names of the instruments were
created according to the sound produced: howling,
thunder, crackling, crumpling, exploding, gurgling, buzzing,
hissing and so on.
During World War II, all the original Intonarumori got destroyed.
Several attempts to rebuild such instruments were made. Among them, the ones
shown in Figure 1 are some reproductions recently shown at the exposition Sounds and Lights at the Pompidou Center in Paris.
Figure 1: Reproductions of Russolo's Intonarumori as shown at the exposition
"Light and Sound" in Paris, December 2004.
As seen in Figure 1, the external appearance of each
Intonarumori is similar. Each instrument is made of a sound box with a
radiating horn attached at one extremity. The different timbres of the
are mainly do to the different excitation mechanisms, and are the
origin of the names of the instruments.
As an example, in the Gracidatore (the Croaker), whose excitation
mechanism is shown in
the shape of the rotating wheel allows to obtain plucked string
The wheel, rotating at a speed controlled by an external crank, excites
a vibrating string attached at two extremities of the wooden soundbox.
The player, as in the other instruments, is able to control the tension
of the string by using an external lever.
Figure 2: The excitation mechanism of the Gracidatore.
In the Crepitatore (the Cracker), shown in Figure 3, the excitation mechanism
is a metal wheel, and two levers are present, as well as two vibrating strings.
This allowed the string attached to the drumskin to be different from the one
excited by the rotating wheel.
Figure 3: A reproduction of the Crepidatore.
The same idea was also adopted in the Stroppicciatore (the Rubber).
Documents and patents did not succeed in explaining the role of the two
strings in the resulting sonorities produced by the instruments.
the Ululatore (Howler), described by Russolo as "soft,
velvety and delicate", shown in Figure 4, the excitation mechanism was a
Figure 4: The excitation mechanism of the Ululatore.
Russolo and his assistant Ugo Piatti researched all the physical
aspects that could be varied in order to obtain different timbres and
sonorities, in order to achieve a satisfactory simulation of the
different families of noises.
As an example, the string was either steel or gut, the wheel
either metal or wood, with its rim notched with small teeth or
smoother, and the skins were soaked in a variety of special chemical
preparations. Furthermore, the pressure of the wheel against the
string, stronger than is necessary with a violin bow, created a louder
and noisier sound quality.
Russolo also experimented with more radical Intonarumori, based on
electrical rather than mechanical control, such as the one used in the
Hummer (Ronzatore), which was more a percussion than a string
instrument. It has been suggested that the electrical control might
have been due to the need for a speed that was too rapid to have been
achieved manually. As a supplementary enhancement, a second lever was
added in the Burster (Scoppiatore), the Whistler (Sibilatore) and the
Gurgler (Gorgogliatore). In his writings, Russolo does not explain the
need for such second lever.
The understanding of the sound production mechanism of the
instruments from the Intonarumori family is a fundamental step for the
development of computer simulations of such instruments, as well as
physical reconstructions of them. Such computer simulations are
important for preservation of the instruments and development of new
extended musical instruments.
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