Imogen Heap: Beauty In The Breakdown
There’s beauty in the breakdown, she sings to us with heart wrenching sincerity, a line we know from the pure openness with which she bares her creative self to the world that she has felt, lived, and breathed in her own life, and then written down in song.
Perhaps one of the greatest allures of this enigmatic artist – in addition to her emotive sincerity – is her ability to physically manipulate and break down the very concepts and constructs of sound and song, into little pieces, fragments and parts – but still make them fit seamlessly and rather majestically into the greater whole, the grand scheme of things, emotions, life and the universe.
Having never seen Imogen live but having connected with her through my headphones, I was quite literally buzzing with electric anticipation strolling through Camden town’s colourful streets and towards iconic venue The Roundhouse London – accompanied by my very first friend in life (ever!) Mieke. Together we downed a beer in under 3 minutes at the pub across the street, and strolled merrily into The Roundhouse for an experience not at all like what we were expecting – for several reasons.
Strolling through the streets of Camden Town
The evening opened with a performance by Leafcutter John – a peculiar young artist with a quirky sense of humour who had created an incredible device that uses light to create music (watch a video here).
Leafcutter John and a series of other artists had come together that week for Imogen Heap’s Reverb – a series of workshops, performances, and interactive installations at The Roundhouse, what Imogen described as “an exploration in living contemporary composers with heavy leanings toward technology”. Her performance this evening was also particularly special since it was the first time she would be performing Sparks – her fourth studio album. She walked out onto stage exuding energy and a sparkle characteristic of her unique spirit, and confounding the audience’s expectations- she also appeared to be expecting.
Unveiling her trademark mi.mu gloves, she created sonic magic in the air weaving spirals of sound and harmony. The gloves work by triggering different sounds and effects through movement and motion, using analog bend sensors.
But for me, her most beautiful moments during the performance were also perhaps the simplest – just Imogen and her piano, her pristine vocals ringing clear as a Sunday morning church bell through the entire space of The Roundhouse.
In fact, her performance as a whole was a self-referential break down of the illusory construction of a perfectly ‘staged show’. As opposed to presenting a perfected piece of performance, free of imperfections and technical glitches with the myriad new technologies she was working with – Imogen (perhaps not intentionally) broke down this illusion, incorporating and referring to all of the technical glitches she found herself facing during the experimental performance.
This made the performance a more human experience, including the audience in the process itself instead of just presenting the perfectly polished end result – as if the audience had privileged access to the inner workings of Imogen’s musical master mind. She reinvented the classical definition of the stage space as a space where perfection is packaged and presented, transforming it instead into a creative labyrinth/laboratory where the audience becomes involved in the creative process, instead of an outsider to it.
Perhaps she didn’t see it as such. A visibly perturbed Imogen often seemed ready to whack her audio engineer over the head with a mic stand. But as an audience member, seeing the humanness of the performance and having a voyeuristic glance at the creative process of an iconic figure the likes of Imogen Heap – complete with all its glitches and flaws – is what made this performance unforgettable. It is in these imperfections that I saw the real beauty of being human, and not an automated auto-tuned manufactured robot.