An Immersive Outlook
Grammy-winning artist, Imogen Heap, is one of the UK's most talented and unique creatives, who has never been afraid to push musical boundaries, or stand up for what she believes in within the industry. Last year, Imogen was recipient of the MPG Inspiration Award, which seems apt, as we find it difficult to think of an artist as inspiring as she is. Be it her musical initiatives such as her blockchain-based project, Mycelia, and Creative Passport, the digital container designed to allow artists to regain ownership of their 'digital selves', she is always thinking of ways to improve the experience of being an artist.
Watch the Movie
Watch our short film where we chat to Imogen at her studio about making music, moving sounds on stage, making her famous Hide and Seek track a truly immersive experience, and why we as an industry need to start rewarding artists and musicians properly.
“Why should artists have to spend so much time marketing themselves..?”
Is Immersive Audio The Future?
"When I come in half way through the show, I come in through the back, and before the d&b Soundscape system, people would wonder 'where is she?' But this time I am singing from the back and they can hear me coming from the back – it's simple, but really great, and it seems silly to not do that now."
Imogen is speaking aboout d&b's immersive audio system, which is also being championed by international stars including Bjork and Kraftwerk.
"Petra, my sound engineer, can also place sounds on the screen wherever she likes - she is following me and tracking me on the grid," Imogen explains. "So I might be back left of the square, and she is moving me forward, whereas I am moving my voice around the space using my MiMu gloves. So she is taking my main voice, and I'm taking my effects.
"So with something like Hide and Seek, which for for me is really immersive, I have the sound in my headphones and I'm moving the sound all around; and for me it feels like this embodied, full experience because all the voice is coming live, and all the looping effects, harmoniser, delays and reverbs are all just there at my fingertips. I often have to remember to open my eyes, as I get so lost in it all..!"
We can understand why! Imogen is headlining London's Roundhouse tonight (November 15th), which is going to be a really pivotal moment for her.
"It's a culmination of me giving birth to the child that was in my tummy last time I was there, where I played this horrendous show where everything went wrong and I'd taken on too much, and the gloves being in mid development," she reflects. "Now I've got this incredible daughter who is now five, and I'll be wearing the gloves in the show and moving the lights and the sound around with them. It's amazing... And will feel so good, I hope..! [smiles]
"Have you ever seen that 'you think you've seen black, but you haven't seen black' by Dolby? It's like that: we don't do it, but if you imagine 'you think you've heard sound, but you haven't'. So people don't even realise they're hearing the show in an immersive way - they won't necessarily notice, and that's what you want - you want them to come away thinking 'that was an amazing sounding show', and not to notice the system - just come away with no ears ringing and having heard everything perfectly."
Imogen is a big fan of the work d&b's Ralf Zuleeg is doing with Soundscape:
"I think Ralf is quite amazing; he is pushing the system and working with artists like Bjork and Kratwerk to bring it to life. It's hard when you're tring to do something that's not the norm, and we discovered that with the gloves. We never intended it to be a commercial thing - it was a passion project - but then we thought 'well, so many people want to make music like that'."
Organisations such as BBC Introducing are working hard to put emerging artists on the map, and Imogen's Creative Passport (the digital container designed to allow artists to regain ownership of their 'digital selves') is gaining good traction. Both these are huge positives, but how much more difficult does Imogen think it is trying to make it as an artist in 2019?
"Well, if I was starting out now, I definitely wouldn't have the time to make the music I want to make - and actually, I don't now, because I am tring to get the Creative Passport off the ground! But that is a reaction to how hard it is. Why should you have to spend so much time marketing yourself so hard? People have to spend so much time on that to try to be heard above the noise, but they really need to be spending time writing those songs and honing their craft, but people don't have time for that anymore.
"And if you're a musician and not an artist, it's even harder for you, as you don't have that platform of the artist, so you're very unlikely to get acknowledged for the work you've done because where do you see that information? In the past, it was simpler in some ways – there was less opportunity for as many people to shine, but once you were there and had got on a record and played drums on something, for example, you were much more likely to get another job, as people would look at the liner notes.
"So we have a transformation to make, and it is slowly happening. As we raced into digital, because it was amazing and we could access songs whenever and wherever we wanted them, now we have to catch up with the data and allow all of that information to be connected to the song just like it was connected to an album in the liner notes. When that happens, all of these possibilities can get unlocked. I want to have a simpler life - get back to music making - but the more services and socials and platforms, the more exhausting it all is. So we need to find a way to live at a human scale in this digital world."