You might say RPM Orchestra are taking a trip to the moon this week, inspired by their love for music and silent films.
It’s been 50 years since the first moon walk, so the Phoenix ensemble figured it would be a good time to share their original score for a moon-themed film, by posting the scored film online.
Titled A Trip to the Moon, the 13-minute film imagines a group of astronomers doing just that. It was directed by French illusionist and director Georges Míliès, an early adopter of both special effects and storyboards.
“It’s a whimsical adventure film at heart,” says RPM conductor Pete Petrisko. “We like to tackle different film genres, including the silent outer space films.”
Scoring the film involved tackling about 30 scenes that unfold in rapid succession, with significant shifts in settings and action, Petrisko says. “It was interesting to capture that overall feeling while scoring … in a way that also stays true to each scene independently."
RPM Orchestra performed the live score while the 1902 film played behind them at Phoenix Art Museum in January, as part of the museum’s Amplified art and music festival. Guest artist Steve Asetta of Moonlight Magic performed with them as well that day.
The group also scored a 1918 film called A Trip to Mars. Their larger body of work includes 13 full-length silent films and about half as many short ones.
Their first gig was playing in an underground art show organized by Rocky Yazzie at a local laundromat – without the owner’s permission. “Our set included playing the washing machines with soft mallets for percussion,” Petrisko recalls.
Members have shifted over time, although Jocelyn Ruiz was also there for that first set. Today, Jim Dustan, Vic Void, and Erik Hunter round out the quintet that describe their work as “proto-industrial Americana music with a dash of old-fashioned hiss and scratch.”
Now that all eyes are on the Apollo 11 anniversary, it’s a good time to mix music and moon memories.
“I actually found out about the moon landing quite by accident as a kid, around the same time … the film Capricorn One was released,” Petrisko says. The 1977 thriller imagines a government hoax involving a fake Mars landing.
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Petrisko recalls finding a Time Life book about Apollo 11 at his grandfather’s house before seeing a video of those famous first steps on the moon. “I didn’t see the film footage until it was played on network news for the 10th anniversary two years later, and that just took my breath away.”
Now, he’s eager to share the scored silent film that could help inspire a whole new generation of filmmakers, space geeks, or musicians. And he’s proud of working with a truly immersive art form.
Pairing silent films with live musical accompaniment is one of the original immersive art experiences of the modern era, Petrisko says. “It’s a great way to introduce these timeless, often groundbreaking, films to a new generation.”