If you haven’t had the pleasure, R.O.T.O.R. is a 1989 b-grade Robocop rip-off, a movie bad enough that it earned its very own Rifftrax commentary. Exactly what possessed Digital Geist’s Alex Kourelis to approach rescoring a such a dubious piece of artwork isn’t clear, although the results are intriguing. Far from the synthwave sound you might expect from a project like R.O.T.O.R. Rewired, the new Digital Geist score plays out as techno-industrial stylistically, with touches of cinematic ambience and classic IDM thrown into the mix.
It should be noted that R.O.T.O.R. Rewired is a ludicrously complete score. Far from being a simple hook for the record and source of samples, literally every scene of the movie has been it’s own musical cue, more than 42 in total. For those questioning how literally these act as the film’s score, you can buy a limited-to-100-pieces USB with the rescored movie direct from Digital Geist’s website. It’s an achievement purely in terms of ambition, the kind of demented passion project that transcends being a gimmick by virtue of care and dedication.
Of course the majority of listeners will experience it as an album free from the visuals it’s built to accompany. Happily, a large number of the tracks function well as songs unto themselves, although the frequent use of dialogue keep the source material close at hand. Interestingly, the stilted, poorly delivered dialogue becomes a kind accompaniment to the rapidly firing sequences and propulsive drum patterns that propel some of the more substantial pieces. “Fired” and “Straight Nitro” work especially well in this regard, buffeted on both sides by short interstitial tracks, they come out of the gates fully primed for action. There’s also an element of squiggly, chirping acid that pops up on “God Save Us All” and “What This Means to Each One of Us”, a retro future element of the compositions that feels entirely appropriate.
As you might expect the best way to experience R.O.T.O.R. Rewired is as a whole, as each tightly woven piece relies on careful sequencing to tell the story. Many of the shorter pieces are simple bits of sound design, effectively using some very unnatural textures to off-set the imagery being summoned by the voices woven into each piece. It’s interesting stuff in the range it displays, never going down the rabbit hole of full on portentuous movie score, but occasionally touching on broader soundtracking ideas with effective emotional swells and sinister textures. It’s odd to consider how functional this music is made to be when (presumably for copyright reasons) very few people will actually ever consume it in the context it was built for. That idea is engaging enough on its own to carry the listener through a few playthroughs, assembling a mental picture of a movie as refracted through a specific artist’s lens.
There’s a weird dignity in how dedicated to R.O.T.O.R. the whole project is, an acknowledgement that despite being a genuinely terrible movie, there was something about it that one artist found inspiring enough to dedicate several years to it. R.O.T.O.R. Rewired gets top points for concept and execution, as slick and clever as its inspiration is clunky and dumb. Interesting stuff.