Giacomo Balla (1871-1958)



1. Discussione sul futurismo di due critici sudanesi (1914)

2. Macchina Tipografica (1914)

3. Paesaggio + Temporale (1914) [[ view the score ]]

4. L'Annoiata (c. 1920) (0:36)

5. Canzone di Maggio (1914) (0:41) [[ view the score ]]

6. Funerale a piazza Termini (1918) (0:33)

7. Il Pigro (c. 1920) (0:56)



Real Audio selections performed by Trio Exvoco:
Hanna Aurbacher, Theophil Maier and Ewald Liska
From the LP Dada for Now (Ark Records, Liverpool, UK)

MP3 selections performed by Luigi Pennone, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Sergio Cena
from the LP Futura Poesia Sonora (Cramps Records, Milan)
Recorded in 1976


Futurballa, yes, indeed, Giacomo Balla himself, the necromancer of futurism. Who can say how much futurism (and post-futurism) owes to him? He quickened painting, painting did not suffice, so onwards, colourhythmsound, the word, the theatre.

Balla picked on the concrete aspect of words at liberty: the sound. He isolated it, worked on onomatopoeia, making it the primary element of his lightning-quick "Verbalizzazioni Astratte" ("Abstract verbalizations") and of "Mimiche Sinottiche" ("Sinoptic mimes"). On March 29th 1914, at the Sprovieri Gallery the "Discussione di due critici sudanesi sulfuturismo" ("Discussion of two sudanese critics on futurism") was performed, that is, improvised, round an out-of-tune piano, by Marinetti, Cangiullo and Balla, who played the guitar. Balla's text, jotted down in a note-book, is a witty nonsense which anticipates the "Verses without words" of Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire: "Farcionisgnaco gurninfuturo bordubalotaompimagnusasfacataca mimitirichita plucu sbumu farufutusmaca sgacgnacgnac chr chr stechestecheteretete maumauzizitititititititi". As Fagiolo Dell'Arco rightly points out "In his rediscovery of the value of sound, Balla goes even further than Russolo, the theoretician of 'Intonarumori': towards pure sound and the timbre-word" , the word-colour and, we add, towards the disarticulated phoneme. Here is a summary account of "Afacchina tipografica" ("Composing machine"), performed in 1916, as Virgilio Marchi remembered it:

"One evening we all betook ourselves to the drawing-room of Diaghilev and Semenoff to decide on the choice of 'Feu d'artifice' or of 'Balletto tipografica', a mechanical invention of Giacomo Balla. For this the author arranged us in geometrical order and with the chequered grey stick he was never without directed the machinistic movements and the structures each of us had to perform to represent the souls of the single pieces of the rotary press of a newspaper. I was responsible for a 'STA', reiterated and violent, to be carried out with an arm, gymnastically, which gave me the impression of being in the barrack-yard doing exercises. Balla, needless to say, reserved for himself the hissing sounds, the onomatopoeias' the more delicate verbalizations which issued from his lips interspersed with that memorable Piedmontese 'neh' and with the sound of corks being pulled out of bottles of Frascati by the impenitent and bearded Semenoff, which made everything very intelligently and amusingIy grotesque".

And Bruno Corra in Battaglie" ("Battles") (Milan, 1920) recalls that:

"At the futurist premises in Rome in Via del Tritone, directed with lively intelligence by the futurist Sprovieri, 'Piedigrotta' was declaimed, acted and put into action by Marrinetti, Cangiullo and Balla. From time to time the author leapt to the piano, while alternating with Marinetti and Balla in declaiming his words at liberty. The room was lighted by red lamps which doubled the dynamism of the 'pedigrotesque' back-cloth painted by Balla. The public ceered with wild applause the appearance of our procession of the troupe of dwarfs, shaggy with fantastic hair made out of tissue paper. Greatly admired was the gaily coloured ship which the painter Balla wore on his head. Conspicuous in one corner was the bile-green still-life of three philosophers of the Croce school, amusingly, funereally out of place in the ulta-vivid futurist setting. Those who believe in art as something joyful, optimistic and divinely carefree carried the doubtful with them... The public accompanied with voices and gestures the marvellous uproar which broke out from time to time during Marinetti's declamation, which was very clear and efficacious in its merging with the onomatopoeic instruments ( ... ). At the futurists' Roman premises and Balla's house at Via Paisiello 39, Cangiullo collaborated with Balla and Marinetti in creation of numerous volcanic futurist fantasies. Typical is the funeral of a philosopher- critic: a large tragicomic procession , the young futurists disguised as stove pipes and the corpse sculpted with slaps by Cangiullo and carried on a stretcher, the procession solemnly led by Balla, striking an enormous cowbell with a large painter's brush, murmuring funereally. Balla, apart from being the great dynamist-futurist painter and the most tireless intuitive and generous discoverer and inspirer of young artists to be liberated, encouraged, centuplicated and launched forth, is also the renovator of the guitar. From the guitar he draws forth landscapes, burlesque scenes, protesting crowds, rains, hail storms, battles, etc. Mixing dialogue with sound and with noises of the mouth, he has created such prodigious fantasies as the 'Lezione di equitazione' ('Riding lesson') and the 'Vignaiolo dopo il temporale ('Vine-dresser after the storm'). His very comic and ironic abstract verbalization of a 'Discussione sul futurismo di due critici sudanesi' ('Discussion on futurism between two sudanese critics') is frequently performed to applause in Roman drawing-rooms."

"Funerale a Piazza Termini" ("Funeral in Piazza Termini"), dated 1918 is akin to "Per comprendere il pianto" ("To understand weeping"), 1916, in the sense of Palazzeschi's proposal in "Controdolore" to "transform funerals into masked processions". "Canzone di maggho' ("May song") aims at a graphic representation of the rhythm of growth of a flower, but the optophonic penetration is evident. Balla writes: "silence of velvet, words of every colour" an we shall have acrobatic blocks of colours arranged like the following words : Caffèangocase, Rosvérbastocap, etc. ' Thus was Balla; in Marinetti's words:

"He had the lively carefreeness of a stream frolicking with the flowers and with the rosy feet of children. Late at night, bedded down in the Roman countryside, his face to the zenith, he talked to the constellations, seeking to steal their wood, he was gazing through half-closed eyes at a high jet colourde by iridescent gems".

"And off a hurry, between the oblique rays of a barbaric sunset that, fleeing, fought against the white explosions of the electric lamps. We observed him joyful as he risked getting us run over by the cars, for Balla loves to be grazed by wheels and mud-guards in order to taste danger and to exercise his elasticity."

The name and paintings of Giacomo Balla are too well known to require here a detailed biography. We shall mention only that he was born in Turin in 1871 and move to Rome in 1895. In 1900 he worked for seven months in Paris and, in 1910, with Boccioni, Carrà, Russolo and Severini, was a, signiatory of the "Manifesto dei pittori futuristi" ("Manifesto of the futurist painters") and the "Manifesto tecnico della pittura futurista". ("Technical manifesto of futurist painting,"). Very active in the movement, he was also the teacher of Prampolini and Depero. His works were included in numerous exhibitions of the futurist group. In 1916, with Chiti, Carrà, Ginna, Marinetti and Settimelli, he was a signatory of the manifesto "Cinematografia futurista" ("Futurist cinema") and in January 1917, with the other signatories of the manifesto, made the short film "Vita futurista" ("Futurist life") in Florence. In 1917 Stravinsky's "Uccello di fuoco" ("Firebird") was performed at the Costanzi Theatre in Rome, with Diaghilev's dancers and Balla's décors. After the Second World War, and a period in which he was ignored even by the so-called authoritative critics, it was the painters who rediscovered him: the "Origine" group (Mario Ballocco, Alberto Burri, Ettore Colla, Giuseppe Capogrossi) organized an exhibition of his futurist and abstract works in the group's premises and the painter Piero Dorazio studied his work, particularly that of the period of "iridescent compenetrations" (1912-14). He died in Rome in 1958.