other oddities

some call it music. some call it noise. either way you view's okay with me.

One of my more recent projects involves the fabrication of a custom designed instrument based on the Intonarumori; a peculiar drone instrument invented by the Italian futurist Luigi Russolo somewhere during the period between 1910 and 1930. Russolo built these instruments expressly with the intent to perform the music outlined in his famous Art of Noises manifesto.

The instrument is essentially an acoustic resonator inside of which resides a tensioned string against which a rotating wheel makes contact. The faster the wheel rotates, the crazier the tone becomes. The tensioned string is attached to a drum head made from animal skin so that when the string vibrates, that vibration causes the drum head to produce a resonant tone. By tweezing the string's tension through the use of a wooden lever, the user/player can change the pitch of the drone tone. On Russolo's personal instruments (and those built against drawings left behind by the inventor) pulling the wooden handle raised or lowered the tone, and a conical horn attached to the wooden resonator box amplified the sound much like a megaphone.

See the design concept rendering of the instrument below.

design concept for a modern intonarumori

I've equipped my design with easily interchangeable wheels; each with some physical property that effects a different tone. For example, one wheel might have rather coarse "teeth" resembling a woodworkers circular saw blade. The coarse teeth would tend to produce an effect reminiscent of repetitive plucking. The faster the wheel turns, the quicker the plucking tempo. Another wheel might have a smoother surface edge which tends to produce a more even tonality.

Intonarumori ("noise makers" in Italian) made "noise," but not at considerable volume due to the fact that they were essentially acoustic devices.

My version of Russolo's Intonarumori features additional functionality: some internally affixed sprocketed discs which are manually rotated with an ordinary mechanics ratchet wrench. The rotating discs vary in size and physical characteristics and produce a variety of rather raspy mechanical tones. I've utilized some modern repositionable transducer pickups that allow for amplification when placed at different surface locations inside and outside the barrel. Finally, I've devised some nifty MIDI apparatus to bring the whole concept into the twenty-first century!

Because the resonating chamber is not wooden but rather fashioned from a 55-gallon steel barrel, the tonality and overall resonance properties produce a completely different sound.