FARMINGTON — An ensemble from the University of Maine at Farmington recently played unique noise-generating instruments at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.

The UMF Experimental Arts Ensemble traveled to Cleveland and learned to play the instruments for the Intonarumori concert held Jan. 16 at the museum, Gustavo Aguilar, ensemble director and UMF assistant professor of experimental performance, said.

Famed Conductor Luciano Chessa was patient, UMF ensemble member Brandon Monroe said.

Some instruments made sounds similar to metal grinding on metal. Others replicated water gurgling through pipes, a combustion engine or the sound of tires driving across a bridge, he said.

Italian composer Luigi Russolo, influenced by the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution and the sound of its machines, created the original instruments, which were first played in Milan in 1913, Aguilar said. The instruments were lost in 1942 during World War II.

After 10 years of research based on a couple of photographs, Chessa recreated the instruments. They were crafted by luthier Keith Cary for a performance in San Francisco in 2009.


When the Intonarumori concert needed performers, Tom Welsh, director of performing arts for the Cleveland Museum of Art, called on Aguilar to help. Aguilar reached out to students who had stayed in Farmington over the winter break, he said.

The group, consisting mostly of friends attending UMF, left Farmington early Sunday, Jan. 11, and drove to Cleveland. They practiced from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all week with Chessa. They performed for more than 350 people Friday, Jan. 16, and returned to Farmington on Saturday, Monroe said.

“It was exhilarating, incredible,” Monroe said of performing. “But we were diligent, worked hard and it paid off.”

Monroe, a music minor at UMF, has played bass guitar since he was 16 and performed in a jazz band at the school. His prior musical experience gave him an advantage, and he quickly learned the new instruments.

There are a total of 16 instruments in the ensemble, consisting of eight different families of sounds. A family may contain two or three instruments, he said. 

At one point, the conductor played a solo using two or three instruments, allowing the ensemble to listen to his performance, he said.


Although Lindsay Mower plays jazz saxophone, the UMF creative writing major also learned how to read music during the week.

“It was a little intimidating playing in front of the Cleveland crowd,” she said. “Audience members I talked to afterward were really surprised I’m not even a musician.”

Aguilar said he was proud of the ensemble and the way they stepped in to play.

UMF had been considered to house the instruments, but there was not enough space so they went to the University of Maine at Orono, he said. Graduate students there have done some work on them, he added.

A few locations for future performances have been discussed, Monroe said. There is some interest in holding a concert at UMF.

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