In his 1913 manifesto “L'arte dei rumori” (The Art of Noises), Futurist painter Luigi Russolo exhorted readers to “walk across a great modern metropolis with ears more attentive than eyes.” For Russolo, attentive listening to the urban environment enacted a visionary aurality: the city was a mine for “new” noises, such as rumbling motors and jolting trams. However, Russolo's embrace of noise—much like that of Futurist painter Umberto Boccioni and Futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti—was undeniably a product of its time and place. This article excavates the sounds of 1913 Milan as a crucial location for the noises of early Italian Futurism. Not only was this city the Futurists' base, but it also inflected their representations of noise both through its symbolic architectural sites (above all the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele) and the buzz of its human multitudes. In this latter respect, late-nineteenth-century positivist crowd psychology can provide an illuminating context because it shares with Futurism the notion of modern, urban crowd united by a collective unconscious—one that could, moreover, be heard by the attentive listener on a city's streets. This article tracks this historical mode of listening from Russolo's manifesto until the reception of his first concert for an entire orchestra of newly wrought noise intoners—his “Gran concerto per intonarumori,” held at Milan's Teatro Dal Verme in 1914—and explores what was, in this case, a slippery (but critical) distinction between “audience” and “crowd.” Russolo's clamorously received premiere forced its listeners and performers to attend to off- (rather than on-) stage noises, thus raising still-vital questions about where to locate Futurism's noise, influence, and politics.
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