Sitting in ITC Grand Maratha, sipping a hot cup of coffee and munching on her breakfast, Grammy Award winning musician Imogen Heap seems to be just one of us. And that’s what sets her apart. Attitude or ego notwithstanding, she speaks to Divya Naik about her famous gloves, technology, her roots and plans with musicians in India.
Imogen Heap has become famous ever since her famous collaboration with Vishal Dadlani on the song Minds without Fear for the television show The Dewarists. The song, touted to be the most acclaimed and popular of the series, Imogen has no clue about what a rage it has become. She is surprised, “Are you serious? Well, I had no clue that people actually are listening to it so much and like it!” Humble to the core, we might say. But the song really has caught up – with the promo preview in Zenzi in August, prior to the official release recently, Imogen has become a common, international face in the Indie scene; right from her first appearance during the preview.
Her performance at Nokia Music Connects has been the first time that she has performed with an accompanist on stage. Surprisingly, this has been only the second time that she has given a live performance with her ultra-famous music gloves.
So, what’s the whole deal about the gloves, we would ask? How exactly do these gloves function and what does she intend to do with them? Imogen is more than happy to answer that, in all readiness, “The gloves are meant to manipulate sounds during a live performance. They are developed in a manner so as to enable the musician to amplify/record/loop acoustic instruments and one’s voice. So you can roam around on the stage, freely and do your production tasks while improvising spontaneously without the need ‘to go back to basecamp’.” The gloves have been developed by Dr. Thomas Mitchell of Bristol, England who has been working in line with Imogen on developing cutting edge technology in the field of music. “Till now, the drums and the synth can be controlled perfectly with the use of gloves. I can catch the sounds with these gloves, filter them by clasping together my palms and then release them!” she says excitedly. However, she is quick to add, “Today, the system crashed in the midst of the performance and lead to interference in the signals. I hope this doesn’t happen in my performance in Pune or blueFROG either!”
Imogen has been a musical aficionado ever since her birth. “Well, I would fiddle around with things around me and try to make harmonic sounds out of them… I would skip classes in order to practice music” she laughs. “I started off by learning the piano and then moved on to learn the cello, the clarinet and I trained myself in the drums and the guitar. I even tried learning the violin but got put off with the creaky sound it made whilst learning it! It may be a fantastic instrument but then the process of mastering the right sounds is quite painful. Anyway, I then received formal education in music and I wrote my first song when I was thirteen. I released my first album when I was eighteen! ” Imogen thus became a multi-instrumentalist having mastered thirteen instruments till now. Her journey and attitude of self-sufficiency caused her to learn production, engineering, sequencing and sampling- that further lead her to have her own studio set up at home from where she often operates.
Imogen’s manner of working is fascinating, too. One would might as well call her ‘fan-centric’ because of her digital friendliness and her responsiveness to her fans. What really is interesting though is that she tells her fans to suggest topics for her songs, send across interesting sounds and uses the material by giving them due credit for the same. In fact, she has released one of these sorts of songs, Lifeline recently. She explains, “On twitter or on my blog, I post an idea – it may be just a thought I have at 3 in the morning – and immediately people add to it and it can become an idea for a song or a video. Fans send me interesting sounds- right from professionally played pieces by musicians to sounds of dishwashers, squeaky doors and so on. In Lifeline, I used the sound of the first cry of the baby that my sister delivered to great effect! And yes, post the release of the song, we had a party where I called all the fans who contributed to the song. It was fun to meet them and interact with them!”