San Francisco, CA
November 10, 2009
Imogen Heap: Loopy
Music today is undergoing a technology-driven revolution not only in the production and distribution of music but also in its creation and in its performance. For most consumers, the revolution is most keenly experienced in the distribution and consumption of music through iTunes and iPods. But, artists are also in the midst of a technology revolution in the creation and performance of music.
And for better or worse, Imogen Heap is in the middle of it. For those of you not in-the-know, Imogen Heap is sort of a cross between Sarah MacLachlan and Kate Bush. IH writes and records pensive, personal ballads about love-life tribulations with an experimental element. She loves sounds and embraces electronic effects in her songs, but she does not fall into the electronica music category of thumping dance music. However, she does use looping effects frequently or, perhaps, better to say constantly. Looping, for those not-in-the-know, involves feedback systems using digital delay devices to create repetitions of short musical motifs. These repetitions can remain limited to simple repeated phrases or can add up to a more complex texture which can constitute the melody of the song or might just be used as color, atmosphere or a rhythmic background.
For me, the problem with electronic music performance is that it is difficult to relate to. There were frequently no instruments being played at all as Imogen danced across the stage, swinging her arms, and singing to repetitions of musical snippets that played out on her computer. There is no denying that Imogen Heap can construct songs and is musically very knowledgeable and is a decent pianist but it can all get lost in the technical tricks. Part of me was left wondering is pushing a button to create a loop really a musical performance?
Before IH, Zoe Keating performed her own take on looping. Zoe is a Bay Area celloist that is a true artist. Her cello-playing interacted with loops of her own music that she created and controlled with foot pedals in real-time. It was both fascinating and revelatory. Her playing (and looping) was a real performance that was spell-binding. She lent artistic credibility to the electronic looping that IH did later. Fortunately for the audience, Zoe also came back for a handful of songs with IH. Still, her brief set was the highlight of the night.
A couple low-points from the show: Imogen is quite a good singer but has an annoying habit of singing very breathily when she wants to be really expressive. Rather unnecessary when she can sing so well. Also, her banter in between songs was more prattle than patter and often lasted longer than the songs which made me regret the end of the songs because I would have to wait 5 minutes for the next while she babbled on inanely. This became a true test of patience for the audience.
Nevertheless, Imogen is clearly an inventive and talented musician and song-writer. The show was also sold-out demonstrating IH is on the ascendancy, but I got the distinct impression that she has not realized her potential or created the masterpiece that lurks within her. I hope that she does.