RPM Orchestra: Afterglow

By its own admission, the RPM Orchestra is “field recordings, lost & found sound, [and] old phonographs.” What its Afterglow sounds like is sixty-one minutes of aural glossolalia: hazy sound collages with generational-spanning content assembled into three titled sections (“Balance,” “Movement,” “Flight”) and eighteen sub-titled tracks. Based in Phoenix, Arizona and with orchestra conductor Pete Petrisko at the helm, the outfit appears to have some association (whether tangential or otherwise is hard to determine) with so-called ‘Dieselpunk and Steampunk Culture,' a connection that translates into thick swamps of diverse and multi-layered sonic materials. Along the way you'll hear the clatter of a train rolling down its tracks, old voice recordings, the bleat of a ragtime band, fireworks, band anthems, tolling bells, cawing crows, and a fire's crackling embers, with much of it smothered in hazy ambient rumble and fuzz—and that's the first piece only. Needless to say, the subsequent pieces offer variations on the shared theme, with country twang, radio interference, ringing telephones, typewriter clatter, crowd noise, and old folk songs bubbling to the surface. Much of the material sounds like stuff excavated from long-forgotten recordings and put through the digital shredder, and though a few moments of cacophanous screech and howl surface (most noticeably during “Circus Dusk” and “The Joy Procession”), Afterglow generally unspools at a grimey but non-abrasive pitch, making for a mildly engaging hour-long listen. It's not, however, material that necessarily invites or warrants repeated listens though a certain kind of listener may rather perversely feel like it's just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

February 2010