The Octopus Project
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
The Octopus Project’s fourth album, Hexadecagon, was originally conceived as an elaborate experimental performance piece, aiming to create a sensation of perfect immersion in sound and video. The technology to achieve their vision didn’t actually exist, however – so they built a custom eight-channel surround sound and eight-channel audio integrated system and spent three months writing songs specifically for this setup. The band also collaborated with Austin digital artist Wiley Wiggins to create abstract and experimental film footage to correlate with their music, and Hexadecagon (the event) was born.
The Octopus Project performed Hexadecagon twice at SXSW 2010, the eight enormous speakers arranged in a circle around the audience, and the band in the center of it all, every member of the crowd hearing the music from all angles. Overhead, the videos they had worked to create with Wiggins were projected onto eight huge video screens, showing a bizarre and wonderfully irreverent mix of subjects: animals, rocks in supermarket aisles, cartoon planets, firey rivers, a pair of girls in matching blonde wigs and blue eyeshadow blowing rose petals out of their hands, and pattern upon abstract pattern weaving together. The word hexadecagon, of course, refers to a sixteen-sided object, and this is how the band meant to present their work – as a singular experience with sixteen planes of contact. The idea of music in the round jives well with the SXSW atmosphere, suggesting as it does a sense of community appreciation and performance, and the project conveyed just that.
Since SXSW, the band recorded and re-arranged the original music to create Hexadecagon (the album proper), and happily the music, even severed from its original context, manages to evoke a similar immersive experience and retain the sense of over-stimulation that the performance piece aimed for. Though some tracks stand out for their lucidity – “Korakrit,” “Circling” and “Hallucinists” in particular – the album is much more of a cohesive landscape than a group of individual songs, each track building on and revolving around a similar core melody pattern. In this way, the album is an exploration of sonic texture, a montage of instruments and techniques, of the lovely and the brutal, of the sparse and the all-encompassing. It’s a hypnotic journey against and through a wall of sound, the kind of album that manages to evoke a million emotions without a word, and will send you there and back again in an hour’s time.