Thomas Köner – The Futurist Manifesto

Posted: 20 October 2015 in Albums


Christopher Nosnibor

While art and politics usually exist in entirely different spheres, it’s nigh on impossible to consider Futurism independently of politics, in particular its connections with fascism. Spawned in Italy in the early 20th Century, with a fixation on youth, speed, cars and technology – in other words, the future – Futurism, while manifesting across virtually all media, was preoccupied with modernity and, equally, violence, war and misogyny. Published in 1909, it was Marinetti’s ‘Futurist Manifesto’ which effectively launched the movement, and boldly stated, ‘We will glorify war —the world’s only hygiene —militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.’

The difficulties Futurism presents are widely acknowledged. Described by The New Yorker as ‘what has long been the most neglected canonical movement in modern art—because it is also the most embarrassing. An avant-garde so clownish, in its grandiose posturing, and so sinister, in its political embrace of Italian Fascism’. Indeed, Marinetti was one of the founding members of the Italian Fascist Party, and sought to make Futurism the official art of the fascist regime of Mussolini, whom Marinetti supported.

It perhaps requires little qualification, therefore, that the weight of history and context renders this a challenging work from a critical perspective. How does one even begin to approach something like this in terms of inescapable context? Or should we attempt to somehow sidestep context and focus purely on the art? What some may consider a more ‘naïve’ reading of Futurism as a style, distinct from its political connotations is surely now possible, given that we live in a world in which the relationships between sign and signifies have been little short of annihilated. Youths who have never even heard of The Rolling Stones, let alone listened to any of their music don ’40 Licks’ T-shirts because they like the design which hangs in a local high street store, likewise mainstream chart fans sport Ramones and Motorhead shirts: to many, Top Shop’s ‘Slayer’ T-Shirt bearing the SS Waffen emblem was just another ‘logo’. Commonplace as it may be, separating context and connotations may prove dangerous. It’s impossible to learn from history if the facts are erased, subsumed as just another marketable product. As such, Futurism should necessarily be approached with due caution.

Recorded in 2009 to commemorate the centenary of the publication of the Manifesto, you may be forgiven for thinking this work is a celebration. However, Thomas Köner is no Futurist apologist. His project is concerned with interrogating Futurism, and extrapolates the connection between the future the Futurists idealised and craved, in the context of the present, the postindustrial world in which humanity is battling for survival against the technology it’s created, and a sleek superhighway transporting information and every other aspect of life at speed has given way to a fragmented virtual space in which neither mainstream or underground have any real sense of time, space or place.

Marinetti’s manifesto also proposed the pursuit of the most avant-garde of objectives, namely to ‘destroy the museums, the libraries, every type of academy’ – in itself, an exciting, revolutionary notion, albeit one which is seemingly closer to realisation under the auspices of capitalist government than anarchic overthrow or any other form of dismantlement of ‘the establishment’. And it is within this terrain that melting images, soundtracked by dark rumbling ambience and sinister fragments of oration that Köner revisits the historical visions of the future, now little but faded artefacts of the past. How wrong they were. How wrong things are now.

The future has most definitely arrived, and one could even contend that in many respects, it’s been and gone. And yet the current social and political climate suggests a continued obsession with accelerated progress at all cost – speed, youth, (misguided) patriotism. Social divisions and racism are rife as Islam has become synonymous with the face of evil. War is presented as justified in the name of preservation and safety.

In her essay ‘Futurist War Noises: Coping with the Sounds of the First World War’ Selena Daly writes ‘it is widely acknowledged that “noise was Futurism’s contribution to music”’, and Köner’s exploration of that futuristic noise incorporates the use of the prepared piano, once emblematic of avant-gardism, now just another commonplace but ultimately tired and well-established tool which has become synonymous with comfortable, ‘conventional’ experimental practices. And if the likely results are known, the ends result predictable or otherwise forecast, is it still experimental?

Nevertheless, Köner’s soundtrack does most definitely contain noise. Dark, sinister noise, built from fragments and samples from myriad sources, to disquieting effect. In Köner’s (re)presentation and critique, acceleration has reached an imperceptible and infinite pace, and in the audio, the dizzying, disorientating sensation that speed instils is conveyed an agonised, Matrix-like slow-motion, in which the entire score to this disturbing, dislocated film has been slowed to an excruciating 4BPM.

Credit is due to Köner for tackling the ugliness and the sheer horror of the future the Futurists celebrated. The Futurist Manifesto is a difficult and disturbing work, and truly a work of Art.

Koner - Futurist


Thomas Köner Online

Von Archive Releases Online

  1. Barry Mc says:

    Absolutely perfect review of a piece of dark and disturbing work that is as good visually as it is musically. No doubt about how affected you will feel after experiencing the 37 minute piece. I struggled to find any review of this work (having just received my copy and watched the DVD) but when I did, the reviewer did not miss any of the nuances. For Koner fans I suggest that this release is right up there with the best sonic material he has produced. Get it….

    • cnosnibor says:

      Thank you so much for your your kind words. That you struggled to find any reviews of this – frankly, remarkable – work, is precisely the purpose of this site, namely, to give coverage to artists and releases which are criminally overlooked or otherwise simply exist beyond the domain of the media cycle. This tells us we’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons, and the fact you appreciate the review for its depth is also delighting to hear.

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