On Triangles: Sound in Geometry Series Vol. 1 borrows its title from a 15th-century collection of treatises by Johannes Regiomontanus. The German renaissance astronomer and mathematician, often identified as simply Regiomontanus, claimed his book would explain "all things necessary for anyone wishing to reach perfection" in his or her knowledge of the astronomical sciences. Similarly, On Triangles is a generous 17-track sampler CD showcasing electronic music and soundscapes crafted by the artists playing at this year's Memphis Concrète Festival. It can make clearer what to expect from a three-day event devoted to experiments and improvisations in electronic sound better than any descriptive overview could ever hope to do. On Triangles is a varied collection of sonic exotica that ranges from pop-inspired and percussive to freaky and free-form.
"Memphis Concrète was a play on words," festival organizer Robert Traxler says, explaining a desire to mix this cerebral approach to music-making with a hint of regional grit.
"Musique concrète," the expression Traxler was riffing on when he christened the festival, describes various methods of collecting, organizing, and manipulating recorded sound in ways that aren't restricted by traditional conventions of melody, harmony, and rhythm. The approach was employed by a variety of 20th-century European artists inspired by the idea of "acousmatic sound" — sound that's been uncoupled visually from the original source of production. That concept was inspired, appropriately enough, by the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, who sometimes lectured his students from behind screens, so they might focus their attention not on him, but on triangles.
"Last year's festival was basically a proof of concept," Traxler says. That event was two nights, featured primarily local and regional artists, and all events took place sequentially in Crosstown Arts' tiny gallery space on Cleveland. This year's festival moves across the street to the main Concourse and picks up a second stage. The event has also expanded to three nights.
The Memphis Concrète lineup features several area performers, including IMAKEMADBEATS (see cover story, p. 10), singer/songwriter Linda Heck, and DJ/recording artist Mike Honeycutt.
"I think a lot of people around Memphis probably think of Heck playing rock music," Traxler says. But of "Right," Heck's sometimes dreamy, sometimes anxiety-inducing contribution to On Triangles, Traxler says Heck's "doing something different, and it's phenomenal. It's the most straight-up musique concrète on the CD."
This year's festival brings a number of national acts to town, including Wolf Eyes, STARFIGHTER YELLOW SUPEROVERDRIVE, and former Dirty Beaches artist Alex Zhang Hungtai. Zhang moved from rock to jazz to even freer forms, creating epic soundscapes and intimate little suites that mix electronics and traditional instruments such as guitar, piano, and drums. Fans of Showtime's Twin Peaks reboot may also recognize Zhang as a member of the show's fictional band, Trouble.
Traxler describes Circuit des Yeux as being, "probably the most like what you might think of as a rock band." Fronted by Haley Fohr, a singer with a multi-octave range, Circuit des Yeux's sound can be difficult to pin down, with tracks that range from ambient burbles to guitar-driven knife-fights. "It's an eclectic sound with pop roots," Traxler says. "And a lot of surprises."
There's quite a bit of surprise built into Memphis Concrète's lineup, including three films with electronic or electronic-friendly soundtracks that will be performed live by festival artists. "Woman in the Moon is a silent film," Traxler says. "Those are always some of the most fun to do live soundtracks for."
That's just a small sample of what's available at the Memphis Concrète Festival, which is bringing more than 30 artists to the Crosstown Concourse this weekend. On Triangles: Sound in Geometry Series Vol. 1 is available at Shangri-La Records now.
Memphis Concrète Festival at Crosstown Arts, Friday, June 22nd-Sunday, June 24th.