Editor's note: RPM Orchestra's anniversary celebration has been rescheduled for 10:15 p.m. on Friday, February 7, at Langmade Project Space, located at 1345 West McKinley Street. Admission is "pay what you wish." To commemorate the celebration, we are rerunning a piece we did on their decade together from December 2019.
Performing soundscapes in a laundromat, creating immersive art happenings with a noise-rock backdrop, and playing live soundtracks to silent films at FilmBar — RPM Orchestra have had quite a wild history over the last decade. The quintet, which are as anachronistic as they are iconoclastic, are as much a cornerstone of the arts community as they are the music scene.
While the early days of the band saw a rotating cast of musicians, the current lineup solidified in 2014 when drummer and percussionist Erik Hunter joined turning the crew of Pete Petrisko, Jocelyn Ruiz, Jim Dustan, and Vic Void.
RPM Orchestra have their roots in the days of MySpace, "when you could post things anonymously on social media," says Petrisko. Ruiz was the first to figure out that Petrisko was RPM Orchestra and suggested one night at Bikini Lounge that if he ever wanted to perform live, she was on board. They planned an underground show at a laundromat, and the band was off and running.
"That was a guerilla gig," says Ruiz. "The laundromat didn't even know shows were going on."
For the first few years, the group built a reputation on what would now be called "noise shows." Radio shortwave sounds collided with analog instruments to produce an impressionable evening to the delight of onlookers, artists, and fellow musicians.
In 2011, they started to do film scores.
"I went to FilmBar and pitched the idea to Kelly Aubrey," says Petrisko. "Both he and Andrea [Canales, FilmBar's programmer] have been really supportive."
"It seems the space at FilmBar gets smaller and smaller and smaller," Dustan says.
"That's because it's packed!" Void replies jubilantly.
"Our silent film-score screenings at FilmBar were well-attended from the start," says Petrisko. "But they began to sell out regularly after we first posted about Go West (in 2015) on Geekly Phoenix, a local Facebook group 'dedicated to spotlighting geeky and offbeat events,' and it's been connecting us with a younger and more diverse audience over these last several years."
RPM Orchestra have released two new projects on Bandcamp to commemorate a decade of folk-lined, proto-industrial, dieselpunk weirdness. The first is a collection of more easily understandable compositions called Singles, featuring previously released tracks and their new single, "Che Fiero Costume," which features the stunning vocals of Andrea Garber on the opera classic. Garber will be joining the band for their 10th anniversary show to perform it live.
"We're finally going to do our collaboration with an opera singer," says Hunter. "We've been talking about that idea for over two years!"
The song clocks in at just under two minutes, but that 108 seconds is enough to arrest your senses and change your consciousness. It's another fascinating triumph in a catalog of contagious eccentricity for a band that has thrived on the edges of artistic madness and experimental genius.
The second release is the new EP, cleverly titled Tenfold, which offers four silent movie scores performed and recorded at live screenings. It includes the scores for The Great Train Robbery (1903), Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906), Fever Broke at Five Past the Hour (2019), and an excerpt from Unspoken (2018).
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The culmination of the RPM Orchestra's 10th anniversary is their full immersive art experience on Friday, December 6, at Langmade Project Space. The performance will feature stilt-walking percussionist Ernesto Moncada, an in-show performance by the troupe Arcana Collective, and the screening of the silent film shorts Ghosts Before Breakfast (1927) and the neo-surrealist Forge Ahead, with the score performed by the group.
"We're going back to our roots, art as ritual and magick," says Petrisko, "combined with everything we've learned together about sound over the last decade."
"It's going to be fun," says Dustan. "It's going to be totally different, bringing in new films, and guest artists."
"It's the start of the next 10 years," adds Void. "On to the next decade of extraordinary creation!"