“The Art of Noises” and acoustic concepts of sound and noise

Hans-Gunter Lock (Estonian Academy of Art, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre)

e-mail: hans-gunter.lock@artun.ee


Luigi Russolo's groundbreaking publication “L'arte dei rumori” (The Art of Noises) deals with several terms related to acoustics and psychoacoustics. As the title of the book mentions, “noise” is the central expression there, a noun which is used ambiguously up to today.

Although Russolo was far to be a scientist in the field of acoustics, we can state, that he was familiar with fundamental achievements of the last 150 years, referring to Helmholtz and Chladni. He assumes a continuous historical development from monophony to polyphony, from single tone to complex chords, from consonance to dissonance which might seem today as a simplification. Concluding a development from dissonant sounds to noise sounds and proclamating these ideas he anticipates the developments of the acoustic and electronic avant-garde music and other related genres in the second half of the 20th century.

In spite of this quite prophetic view, in Russolo's text remain even just questionable understandings and statements. The use of the term “enharmonic” in the context of continuous pitch changing and assuming fundamental tones for any kind of noise seems to be questionable or might not be clear for contemporary readers. Even much less convincing is Russolo's classification of noises, which might be more an emphatic proclamation than a sophisticated concept. This paper will offer a review of some of Russolo's problematic acoustical assumptions, respecting the level of knowledge in the beginning of the 20th century as well as considerations of contemporary psychoacoustics.


  • Russolo, Luigi (1967). L'Arte dei Rumori. Milano: Edizioni Futuriste di "Poesia", 1916, english transl. The Art of Noise, transl. by Robert Filliou, Great Bear Pamphlet, Something Else Press.
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