Zang Tumb Tumb  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Zang Tumb Tumb" is a sound poem and concrete poem written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, an Italian futurist. It appeared in excerpts in journals between 1912 and 1914, when it was published as an artist's book. It is an account of the Battle of Adrianople, which he witnessed as a reporter for L’Intransigeant. The poem uses Parole in Liberta, (words in freedom) -creative typography- and other poetic impressions of the events of the battle, including the sounds of gunfire and explosions. The title "Zang Tumb Tumb" is an onomatopoeic reference to the sound of a Howitzer shell as it flies through the air and then explodes. The work is now seen as a seminal work of modernist art, and an enormous influence on the emerging culture of European avant-garde print.

"[The] masterpiece of Words-in-freedom and of Marinetti’s literary career was the novel ‘Zang Tumb Tuuum’... the story of the siege by the Bulgarians of Turkish Adrianople in the Balkan War, which Marinetti had witnessed as a war reporter. The dynamic rhythms and onomatopoetic possibilities that the new form offered were made even more effective through the revolutionary use of different typefaces, forms and graphic arrangements and sizes that became a distinctive part of Futurism. In ‘Zang Tumb Tuuum; they are used to express an extraordinary range of different moods and speeds, quite apart from the noise and chaos of battle.... Audiences in London, Berlin and Rome alike were bowled over by the tongue-twisting vitality with which Marinetti declaimed ‘Zang Tumb Tuuum.’ As an extended sound poem it stands as one of the monuments of experimental literature, its telegraphic barrage of nouns, colours, exclamations and directions pouring out in the screeching of trains, the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, and the clatter of telegraphic messages" [Tisdall/Bozzola - Futurism].

The poem glorifies war as "the world's only hygiene," mirroring a widespread view amongst European intellectuals at the time. (See for instance the Expressionist Franz Marc, letter to Kandinsky 1914; "This is the only way to clean out the augean stable of Europe, or is there a single person who does not wish that this war might happen?" quoted in Expressionism, Elger, Taschen 1994, p163)


The poem inspired Luigi Russolo to start experimenting with noise music, and is quoted in his Manifesto in 1913, later published in his book The Art of Noises in 1916. Sections were reproduced in Cabaret Voltaire, the first journal published by Dada.

The innovative use of typography has influenced a number of artists including Balla, Carra, Boccioni, Hugo Ball and Dada, the Russian futurists, the Vorticists including Wyndham Lewis, Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob, El Lissitsky and Jan Tschichold. The emphasis on what has since become known as concrete poetry has proved a durable and lasting influence on the development of 20th century art.

The ZTT Records label and the Swedish 80s new wave pop act Zzzang Tumb were named in homage to the poem.


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