RPM Orchestra Scores a Unique Soundtrack to Snow White

A scene from Snow White, which came out in 1916.EXPAND
A scene from Snow White, which came out in 1916.

Short-wave radio, coconuts, dried-out leaves — they're random objects to most, but for Phoenix-based found-sound noise project RPM Orchestra, they are musical instruments for the group's next performance. Though none of it is quite as weird as the time they hooked a contact microphone up to a Slinky.

Anyone who has witnessed an RPM Orchestra performance knows such oddities are par for the course, and the bizarre instruments are only a part of it. The band also goes for an old-timey 1930s look, and sometimes bandleader Pete Petrisko goes topless.

Even their show selection itself adds to the overall peculiarity of the far-out five-piece. It's rare to catch RPM Orchestra playing out at a bar or music venue. According to Petrisko, venues have told him that RPM is "just too weird" to play their stages.

The band has live-scored nine silent films in the past, including several classic horror films. Petrisko says the band had never done a romantic film before, and Snow White was a natural choice to expand the group's repertoire.

To create the music for the whimsical tale, Petrisko, along with his band mates Vic VOID, Jim Dustan, Jocelyn Ruiz, and Erik Hunter, will be using some traditional instruments like clarinet, flute, guitar, and drums along with their coconuts, radio, and leaves. But Void will also be adding an air synthesizer to the band's already curious instrumentation.

"The air synth makes a lot of synthesizing noises, but it's not a touch pad. It's almost like a theremin," Petrisko describes. "He [VOID] waves his hand for the different effects. It's something he bought 10 years ago, and he was like, 'I found this on my pile. Let's use it.'" 

FilmBar won't be the only place catching a glimpse of the group, either. RPM Orchestra will also be packing up their found-sound circus and bringing it to the Jerome Indie Film and Music Festival in northern Arizona on Saturday, June 11.

Though the band will be scoring the same film and using the same instrumentation, one of the most interesting parts of an RPM Orchestra show is that every one of them is one of a kind. According to Petrisko, the band goes into the shows with about 50 percent of the music set in stone — the melodies and harmonies — while the other half is very much improvisational.

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"We straddle the gap between music and performance art," Petrisko says. "Which one we focus on depends on the show ... When we work with live performers we are a bit more performance art. But then when we score films, where we capture our interpretation of the sound of the film, you don't even see us. It's very much about the music there."

An original score for Snow White by RPM Orchestra is scheduled to be performed at FilmBar on Saturday, June 4.

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