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By Alex Kealy
“It’s been lovely here – I’ve seen photos of the young Boris Johnson and I’ve been told some stories.”
It is Imogen Heap’s first time visiting the Oxford Union, and it has been memorable for her and the audience alike. Turning up in her pyjamas, she said that her outfit best described how she felt and this is no surprise. Over the last few weeks she has had a packed schedule, from touring across the UK to performing at the Royal Albert Hall with Love the Earth; a project that intertwines music with nature photography and film. “I wanted the project to be accessible; I wanted schools to be able to perform it, and maybe it would inspire young kids to get into orchestral music, because the person who wrote it was someone they could relate to.”
Imogen’s love of music began early in life and has carried on in a career spanning nearly fifteen years. “I always played piano and was drawn to anything that made a noise. I learned the cello, the clarinet, the piano. I learned how to program music on computers when I was twelve; I just wanted to do as much as I could with music. There was just no doubt, I never really thought about it.”
Her latest album Ellipse was a hit with both fans and critics alike, reaching number five on the Billboard charts. Much of this success must have come from her association with The OC where ‘Hide & Seek’ reached number one on the iTunes UK chart after it appeared in the season two finale. Yet Heap has not been tempted to create an album of songs to soundtrack emotional moments in American television shows; Ellipse arguably represents her most exciting and unique album yet.
But recreating its eclectic sounds live is a different matter. “I treat them very much as different animals. There’s the recording aspect where you can refine the music and get it exactly how you want it. Performing live has so many variables that you can’t make it perfect, so many that it becomes a different experience. In the studio, it’s just me – on tour, I don’t want to just hit ‘play’ on a sampler.”
The recording process was documented on the DVD bundled with her last album; the idea was first put to her by a fan on Twitter. Imogen uses this and Facebook to communicate with her fans, and she also runs her own blog online to let people know what she is up to. In fact, she is putting up online polls to let her fans decide her setlist for her current tour.
Does she think that these outlets are the future for the music industry, setting the relationship between artist and audience? “I think in the past that was what it always was; a musician on the village green, playing a piece of music and the audience was just there. That was your connection; they know the artist and the artists knows them, there was no barrier. We’re able to be autonomous and speak for ourselves, and we get to know our fans better than before. You can tailor make things to fit the audience that way.”
Music seems to be such a significant concept to Imogen; can she describe what it means to her in a handful of words? “It’s not what music means to me,” she explains. “I feel very much that I am the music, and the music is me. I feel inseparable from it. I feel frustrated if I can’t make music, which is why I started improvising on stage. Music has always come first for me, it has always been my life.” Perhaps then, Imogen is an embodiment of what music can be on a wider scale; it can be an organic process which involves people from the very start rather than merely a finished product at the end.