Imogen Heap at the Wiltern Theater

December 1, 2006

Last year I had one of those moments where you are listening to the radio, and you have to pull off the road to listen to a piece of music because otherwise you might end up crashing your car: it was “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap. I raced to the nearest CD store and bought it. Hers is a fresh new voice. I find her a lovable techno-nerd, surrounded by her loop machines, sequencers and synthesizers. Between songs she seems to be constantly muttering. Being in balcony, I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but it wasn’t clear she really wanted us to. Every so often throughout the evening, she would let out a teeny little “brrrrr” in a veeerrry high voice, almost to the extent that you wondered whether there was an odd insect buzzing about. No, it was Immi. poodlepetticoat2.jpgShe pranced around all night in her very cute 1950s red skirt with a poodle petticoat, black sleeveless top, pink stockings (no shoes), and big hair. Without meaning any disrespect, she had a Big Bird look (Sesame Street) to her outfit from my point of view in the balcony.

The music she played was mostly from her most recent solo release, SPEAK FOR YOURSELF, a number or two from her FROU FROU days, and a song from her long-out-of-print first album.

The blend sounded tubby in the cavernous Wiltern balcony. She has not figured out how to project her otherwise meticulously put together music. But we didn’t care; we let it flow over us. There were a lot of songs I didn’t even have to wear earplugs for. Her first encore was the long awaited “Hide and Seek” which she sang solo accompanied only by a keyboard strapped around her neck, providing that thrilling vocoder accompaniment of her voice. No, this version was not like the album. The harmonies are obviously still in flux, and not specifically fixed in her mind.

If you’d like to know more about Immi, you might find her interview in Keyboard Magazine of interest. For those of you who understand audio software (this is ProTools), look at the incredible detail she imparts to her recordings. The detail reminds me of Mahler, or my old teacher, Donald Martino in terms of the level of constant shaping of notes.

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Imogen Heap has brought to popular music what Terry Riley set in motion with his tape loop improvisations in the 1960s. She is a loopist. (There. I coined the term.) It became clear how she puts her music together as we all WATCHED her step on a button on the loop machine on the floor. This arms the machine to record. She records a music fragment or phrase and steps on the button to have it begin looping (or repeating over and over). She then moves on, over the loop, and adds another layer. Then it loops with the first track and she moves on to the third, and so on. She can turn on or off any loop she wishes in the course of the song. The unique aspect of Immi’s style, is that we HEAR her create each loop. When they appear and disappear, they mean (perhaps) more because we heard them being born. It’s an exciting evolution in live electro-acoustic music.

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