As a musician and composer, Francesco Balilla Pratella was part of the Futurist circle. Between 1910 and 1912 he published three manifestos on Futurist music (»Manifesto dei musicisti futuristi,« 1910; »Manifesto tecnico della musica futurista,« 1911; »Distruzione della quadratura,« 1912). In his music pieces, he expands the spectrum of sounds produced by traditional instruments through further chromatic differentiation and also by allowing for improvisation and irregular rhythms. Russolo knew Pratella from Paris and regularly corresponded with him. In 1913, Russolo wrote his own manifesto, »L’arte dei rumori« (The Art of Noises), in which, as a fine artist and self-taught musician, he went far beyond Pratella’s approach, propagating a renewal of music through everyday noises. Rather than using traditional instruments to produce such noises, he wanted to generate them by technical means. For this purpose, he began in 1913 to invent—partly in collaboration with Ugo Piatti—»intonarumori« (noise generators), which were wooden boxes of various sizes and shapes equipped with levers, cranks, diaphragms, and sound funnels, which he named according to the sound produced: howler, buzzer, hisser, gurgler, or rattler. In 1924, Russolo constructed the »Rumorarmonio« (noise harmonium), also referred to disparagingly as the »Russolophone.« In addition to a keyboard, it had seven levers and two pedals, making it possible to combine seven sounds at twelve pitches on a single instrument. In 1926, Russolo developed the Enharmonic Bow as a mechanical device that makes instrument strings vibrate in such a way that the higher-frequency sounds overlap. And in 1929, he invented a special attachment for organ pipes that expands the fullness and spectrum of sound they produce.
The first Futurist concert was performed on April 21, 1914, at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, featuring 18 »intonarumori,« followed by a further concert in Genoa. After being confronted with public protests in Italy, Russolo reaped resounding applause that same year in London. The intonarumori, the »Rumorarmonio,« and the »Enharmonic Bow,« all of which were patented, were used in music pieces and to accompany silent films until the late 1920s. They never became a fixture on the music scene in the long run, however. Sound film, which was introduced in around 1930, finally spelled their demise. None of Russolo’s inventions went into serial production, and none of the originals survived beyond World War II.
Compositions by Alexander Mossolov, George Antheil, Maurice Ravel, and Igor Stravinsky, whom Russolo met in London in 1914, take up elements of Russolo’s noise music. John Cage explicitly referred to his L’arte dei rumori, and Erik Satie, Pierre Schaeffer, who coined the term »concrete music,« as well as Mauricio Kagel and the noise music that emerged in the 1980s were indebted to his work. Unlike bruitism, which mimics everyday noises, noise music uses synthesizers and computers to generate abstract sounds.