Heaps Of Songs

15 May 2012 | 6:47 am | Liz Galinovic

"If you want to do it because you want to get famous, don’t bother. You will be very unhappy and it’s unlikely you will get famous," says Imogen Heap about life in the music industry.

More Imogen Heap More Imogen Heap

Imogen Heap looks mildly disappointed about the performance she will be giving at Song Summit and Vivid LIVE. Not because she's turning away from live performance or music or because she just doesn't like Sydney. The disappointment comes from the fact that she won't be using her gloves. Since the young Brit began releasing albums in the late '90s she's been an innovator. Her 'pop' songs have rarely stuck to pop's guidelines; her range is broad and alternative, her production more and more artistic as she developed as an artist. And while the list of examples showcasing this tireless exploration of sound is extensive, one of the most recent is a pair of gloves.

If you're not technical, you won't get it. Even if you watch it on YouTube you still probably won't understand how it works. Rather than the strumming of a chord, the banging of a drum, or, as in the case of this electronic artist, the pressing of a button, Heap's gloved hands make the music with a gliding wave, or an opening and closing of the fingers. “I wanted to develop this new performance that I do, [like a] studio set up,” an animated Heap explains.

“So that instead of pressing the chord, as a basic example, instead of pressing the chord on my looper on stage,” with a bland expression she presses an imaginary button, “which isn't very exciting on stage, so instead of pressing my looper and looping my voice or the drums or whatever I'm looping, I can just go like this – ” Heap brings her closed fingers to her lips and lightly blows them open. “This gesture is the same as me doing that [pressing the imaginary button] but it's mapped to a glove. So I can sing something,” She lets out a few da-da-da's, “and it will be like,” she gracefully waves her hand around in the air, “and the audience will be like, 'Oh, she just caught that and now it's repeating.'

“It looks like I'm moving along a piece of audio. I'm not, it's in the computer, but it looks like it and in my brain it feels like it. I wanted to humanise the tech side of what's on stage and also to be able to interact when I'm creating music, to be able to play the drums with my hands in the air and move this sound over there and make it bigger.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Sonically and visually impressive, the gloves involve a lot of backstage set-up. There isn't anybody backstage doing anything, just a lot of computers and amplifiers and a wireless rack. Which is why she will be performing six of the completed tracks from her upcoming album, Heapsongs, on the piano, accompanied by the film clips she has made to go with them. And while the performance will be sans the sci-fi hand-work, it will be no less an impressive performance because the Heapsongs are just another example of this innovative musician's immense talent.

“Basically at the end of the last record I said to myself, 'I'm never making another record like that again' - all in one space, on my own, underground, in my house, not speaking to my family or friends basically for a year, making a record. It's not how I wanted to continue living my life or my relationship with music. Even though I liked the record at the end of it and I liked the songs I feel like my social life, my family life, my love life all gets put on hold and I don't progress in those areas of my life. So I wanted to find a way to integrate all the things in my life, getting more creative, doing other projects, not just music.”

Her first move for the first track – Lifeline – was to involve her fans. On a particular day throughout specified time-slots, fans were invited to send her sound clips. “Whatever they wanted,” she says, “could be people chatting, scratching your knee, opening a dishwasher door, sampling the London underground tube stations… I got 900 sounds from all over the planet. And then from these I would turn that into the core of the song's music, like a slinky going down a staircase would become the rhythm, or my brother, who on that day his wife gave birth to Robin, my first niece, and her heartbeat matched perfectly with a slinky going down the staircase. So that for me was the confirmation that it was the correct tempo.”

Heapsongs has taken Heap to various places around the world where she has become involved in a variety of projects like reviving an historical garden in her home-village, being a part of an Indian television program, and filming and sampling residents of Hangzhou performing their day to day activities. Every project results in a song, as well as film clips and making-of documentaries, and these are just a few examples; Heap has a lot to share with her fans and the aspiring artists who will be coming to hear her speak at this year's APRA Song Summit.

“I forgot for a long time that you should have fun. And often when you have fun, other people have fun. And there's no better way to get other people involved in projects. In the past it was never limited because I always wrote my own stuff and produced my own stuff so I was never waiting around for other people to do things for me; it's hard enough to finish a record than [when you're] having to wait around for ten other people. I think the tighter you can keep it in the beginning, as much as you can do yourself in the beginning, to kind of get it going and find your own voice, the better.

“And I would say don't even think about doing it unless you really loved it because it's bloody hard work. You never get any sleep, you never see your family. If you want to do it because you want to get famous, don't bother. You will be very unhappy and it's unlikely you will get famous. But if you're doing it for the right reasons and you can't do anything else and you're completely compelled to do it, then find what it is that other people can't do and focus on that.”