For one Thursday a month, the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands stays open till 10pm and presents free, cutting-edge performances by local and international artists. This month's ArtScience Late event was a performance by the whimsically named Orchestra of Futurist Noise Intoners, held in conjunction with the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the museum.
The orchestra performed on 16 mechanical "noisemakers" - hand-cranked noise generators inspired by da Vinci, after designs by Luigi Russolo (1885-1947), the painter and composer who was a radical exponent of the "futurist" art movement. Music Director Luciano Chessa researched these instruments, which were all destroyed in the mid-20th century, directed their reconstruction and designed this eclectic programme of 11 works, including two premieres and Italian sound poetry.
Even compared to other new music performances this was a colourful affair, with 16 music teachers, students, musicologists and enthusiasts cranking wooden boxes and pulling levers that would vary their pitch and sound. Producing noises that ranged from drones to whirs, clicks, rattles and some rather rude sounds, and complemented by the spoken voice and a megaphone, this was as much performance art as a musical recital.
Chessa was a star. Even though the sound poems he performed were in Italian, his drama, rhythm and musicality totally captivated the sizeable audience. In Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Bombardamento di Adrianopoli, the sounds of war that he reproduced evoked as much excitement as any war movie soundtrack.
The music performed ranged from repeating patterns of clicks and drones, to more structured works with clearly defined parts or sections. Chessa provided excellent direction, but with no more than cranks, levers and the boxes themselves to tap on like percussion instruments, there was limited scope for individual virtuosity or creativity, although timing and alertness were paramount.
As a musical experience, the Orchestra of Futurist Noise Intoners offered an enjoyable and engaging experience, exploring noises and soundscapes that audience members are not likely to hear again in the near future. Two centuries after da Vinci invented his mechanical noisemakers, his countrymen Antonio Stradivari, the Guanerius family and other masters from Cremona brought the violin to its apex, and a century later the pianoforte was fully developed to its present form. Russolo's futurist instruments are intriguing and fun contraptions, but the future still belongs firmly to these classical instruments.