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Futurist Timbres: Listening Failure in Milan, 1909–1914

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Timbre
EditorsEmily I. Dolan, Alexander Rehding
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780190637224
Accepted/In press30 Mar 2016
E-pub ahead of print30 Jun 2018
PublishedJan 2020

Publication series

NameOxford Handbooks
PublisherOxford University Press

King's Authors


This chapter tracks timbre through the mediated public sphere of Milan, as it came to congeal in Italian Futurism. Long mythologized as the origin of noisy art, sound scholars have yet to consider what the movement’s timbres meant in their time. They emerged beneath the rubric of “musical sensibility”—a coinage that harked back to timbre’s eighteenth-century emergence under the sign of aesthetic attention within Western modernities. The Futurists’ activities can thus be broadly historicized; vice versa, in their own context, timbre becomes estranged as a centuries-old concern. The Futurists’ interest in timbre dates them; it also proves their undoing: they set out to colonize the world of timbre, but social and technological factors intervene. Thus, while Futurism may not yield origins for modernism, it underscores the relational nature of listening—especially listening for timbre, which, as the social organization of concentrated listening, unexpectedly manifests when aesthetic attention breaks down.

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