There are quite a few musical acts in town that would make just about any casual music fan stop and ask themselves, "What in the world is going on here?" But none of them dive as deep into the waters of "high weirdness" as proto-industrial Americana five-piece RPM Orchestra.
"'High weirdness' is a phrase first popularized in the title of a book by the Church of the SubGenius' Rev. Ivan Stang, , a directory of 'mad prophets, crackpots, kooks, and true visionaries,'" says RPM Orchestra founder Pete Petrisko. "Its meaning is also open to interpretation, depending on one's perspective, I suppose. That said, Phoenix does have a rich musical history of acts considered odder than most in their day, including the Tubes, Alice Cooper, Meat Puppets, and the Sun City Girls."
But compared to RPM Orchestra, these aforementioned weird musical forefathers might as well be making gospel music. RPM approaches everything about music -- the group's sound, its live performances, and even the kind of gigs it plays -- differently from any band in town.
Don't count on RPM Orchestra to headline the Marquee Theatre anytime soon -- and not because it doesn't have the pedigree or fanbase. It's just that RPM's bread and butter -- scoring silent films, accompanying dancers and other multi-disciplinary performers -- isn't comparable to more conventional acts.
To celebrate the release of its newly minted record, , RPM Orchestra is getting real weird with it as the group intends to parade its odd assortment of sounds up and down the downtown Phoenix arts district, marching-band-style, during Roosevelt Row's Third Friday event. Petrisko and cohorts Erik Hunter, Jocelyn Ruiz, Jim Dustan, and Vic VOID are going to be rabble-rousing around Fifth Street and Roosevelt Street at 8 p.m., 15th Avenue and Grand Avenue at 8:30 p.m., and then a final performance at 9 p.m. at the Clarendon Hotel for the ArtelPHX event.
"At some point, we realized we've been performing in a mostly stationary position lately, so we thought it might be best to get out and stretch our legs a bit," Petrisko says. "We'll be playing five songs at each location -- just about 10 to 15 minutes of music -- marching onward as we go."
There's far more weirdness at work within the RPM Orchestra than just the wiley Petrisko. Not to downplay the talents of anyone else in the band, but found sound wizard Vic VOID brings a whole new perspective to the idea of making unusual sounds on stage. While many noise projects use instruments and distortion to create a cacophony, VOID simply uses whatever he finds laying around his garage.
"It's worth noting that Vic plays some oddly named things, but what he's actually playing is salvaged-material instruments. These are instruments he's made himself -- out of old junk. He then slaps a contact mic on 'em and typically plays with his hands or a bow," Petrisko says.
Between VOID and Petrisko, some of the odder things utilized as instruments have included a short-wave radio, a typewriter, steel garden planters, and a screen door. Ruiz joins in with other unique instruments, including toy piano, washboard, and assorted rattles and noisemakers.
Following the "Pop-Up Marching in Circle Marching Band" event, Petrisko says, the group will work on two music videos to accompany tracks from its new album, collaborate with Liliana Gomez on a new multi-disciplinary performance, and score another silent film in the fall.
"I've also been doing more research on the ways music can hijack our perception of time," Petrisko says, "so the orchestra will undoubtedly test applications of these theories before too long as well."
RPM Orchestra will perform Friday, May 15, at various Third Friday locations.
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