Hexadecagon’s first listeners encountered a spectacle. They filed into a circus tent in The Octopus Project’s Austin hometown and took in an extended live performance through a surround-sound system, accompanied by eight channels of experimental video. As with The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka, another opus that’s as much about the logistics of listening as it is about the sounds contained within, absorbing Hexadecagon through six fewer speakers and eight fewer videos (or seven if you count a muted Planet Earth) means you’re taking in something completely different: a sound file instead of a tripped-out multimedia event.
Downgraded to something so common as stereo, Hexadecagon resembles a soundtrack. The songs are meditative and mellow, favoring repetitive patterns and Tangerine Dream-style synthesizers, and downplaying the gleeful electronic assault that made previous Octopus Project albums such exuberant listening. In surround sound, with a much richer stereo field and some crazy visuals on top, Hexadecagon would probably be tremendous. But mixing such a uniquely multi-directional recording into two channels proves disorienting. The sound pans dramatically, and the dozens of tracks tend to crowd each other out. As a fully fleshed-out album, Hexadecagon feels lacking. As a document of a rare and awesome event, it more or less holds its own.