Giorgia Cowan interviews Imogen Heap about her innovative music and her newest projects.
Q. How important do you think innovation is to music, and how do you fight with it?
‘Well, it’s hard to create something that breaks down barriers without creating too many more. It’s a long conversation that’s been stretching back from the beginning of time really: our battle with technology and how to help it free us.
You come to a new way of working and realise there’s a stopping point, then somebody tries to figure it out, there’s this constant evolving excitement and frustration with technology.’
Q. Do you have a goal with what you’re doing?
‘The goalpost’s always moving. The minute you’ve almost finished something you’re like, oh now I can see I can do this with it, so I suppose you just do what you can see in the headlights. For me the gloves are something that, from when I was a child really, came from this idea of wanting to sculpt sound.
‘There’s also this frustration – there’s really fantastic technology out there now, you can make a whole record in your bedroom to a really great standard and it’s relatively cheap compared to what it was, but there’s a danger that the simpler the software gets the more ubiquitous it becomes.
People just go for the easy sound, it’s like “oh I’ve just made a beat,” but so has everyone else. The real musician in you, the real creative in you, can rise above that.’
Q. Do you have a market in mind when you’re working?
‘I’m not so good at that side of things. It was never like, ‘I want to make some money, so I will make some gloves so that I can buy a big house,’ it’s always been that I’m frustrated, I want to make this thing, whether it’s a song or something else, that I feel is something that needs to exist in the world. Or maybe if I need something – I work with music and technology all the time – maybe other people would be interested too.
‘To loop my voice in the past I’d have to push a foot peddle, which wouldn’t be properly synced and it would be really delayed and it would often fail, whereas now you can pick up a pair of gloves, go like this *hand gesture* record your voice, and release it and be spot on time. The distance that technology has come on just in my professional life is huge, imagine what it could be in just another fifteen years, you might be able to think your music, direct a certain track to go in a certain way just by using EEG signals.’
Q. Did you try to create these yourself?
‘In the beginning I would go, right what’s on the shelf, and I would hook up sensors and try mini keyboards and hack them a little bit so I could walk around and have mini devices. Then I started putting microphones on my wrists so that I could mike up wine glasses, or walk around with bells, or go up to the string players and record them, but I’d always have to race back to base station to press record, now with the help of the others involved. I can go up to a violinist with my microphone and then literally snatch the sound, and it’s in the mix.’
In a world where music is a business and pop-stars are worshiped, a disparaging number of people pursue wealth and adoration through the guise of being a musician. What stands out the most about Imogen is how genuine she is. Using gloves to control sound is not a new idea and in discussion Imogen is quick to reject credit for their existence, but a significant proportion of performances that have incorporated variations of the gloves, while impressive, seem to rely on their novelty. Nevertheless, Imogen and her team are exploring their practical application and the potential for the technology to change the way musicians engage with their music and audience.