From Victorian Theatrical Melodrama to the Futurist Serate: The fall and rise of kinetic emulation as a scenographic evocation of the modern landscape

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


When Luigi Russolo published his manifesto “The Art of Noises” in 1913, he envisaged a musical performance incorporating new forms of orchestral instrumentation that might represent the modern industrial landscape. Futurism’s perception of the past, specifically in terms of its legacy of compositional performance and visual art was scornfully negative. The past had to be destroyed in order to create new art forms with their own modes of expression and delivery. However, I argue that in their production of sound for performance, and within musical composition, the Futurists before World War One did little more than redeploy existing theatrical technologies and orchestral instrumentation. Largely of necessity, the machinery and instruments of the past were used to produce new sounds.

This chapter examines Futurist experiments in the production of noise-sound generation through the development of the intonamori. These were adapted from the mechanical kinetic emulators of 19th century commercial theatre production, specifically from Victorian melodrama where noise-makers such as wind machines, rain machines and thunder sheets created an imitative sceneographic construct of “The Melodramatic Storm”. This had been the last mainstream incarnation of scenographic sound support for the performed text for several decades. Ironically, the use of sceneographic sound in the theatre was halted primarily because the technology could no longer represent the contemporary industrial and urban landscape. Yet it was this pre-industrial technology that the Futurists adapted to attempt to evoke the modern world in music and theatrical performance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationModernism's Intermedialities
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Futurism to Fluxus
EditorsChris Townsend, Rhys Davies, Alex Trott
Place of PublicationNewcastle upon Tyne
PublisherCambridge Scholars
Pages1 - 24
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)978-1-4438-5478-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2014


  • Futurism
  • Melodrama
  • Intonarumori
  • Kinetic Emulation
  • Performance
  • Russolo
  • Pratella

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