WFMU’s “Beware of the Blog” has a nice set of obscure audio project photos posted. My favorite is the one featuring Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo, and a selection of his “Intonarumori” or intoners. These instruments were hand-operated by cranks and levers, and generated an astonishing array of noises, which Russolo divided into six categories. As nearly as I can tell, the categories were divided by amplitude of the noise, rather than by the type of noise. For instance, splashes are grouped with explosions, not gurgles.
The work that these musical pioneers had to perform for the simplest of sounds today is a real inspiration. If you’ve never had the chance, read through Russolo’s amazing 1913 Futurist manifesto “The Art of Noise. Finally, here is an audio sample (from the ThereminVox Library) of Russolo’s “Risveglio di una Citta,” featuring his intoners.