Imogen Heap::The Riviera Theatre::05/23/10

June 8, 2010

So there’s creative – artists and musicians are creative and they write and compose and arrange notes together and form harmonies and dissonances and etc., etc.  Some are good at it.  Some are bad at it.  Many from a wide breadth of that spectrum are banal, though that is not to say “bad”.  Perhaps “homogeneous” is the better word.  You can skillfully make music with an instrument that has been around and popular for many years.  Sometimes a Jimi Hendrix or an Eddie Van Halen will come along and completely change the understanding of one of those instruments.  They’re rare, those musicians.

Imogen Heap does not, to my knowledge, effect any one particular instrument like Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen do.  She will, however, use such an array of oscillating devices in such unorthodox ways that it can leave your head spinning when you see it live and in person.  This is especially true if you happen to be knowledgeable about the craft of making music.  If you are not knowledgeable about the craft of making music, or you just want to switch that part of your brain off, your ears are almost assuredly going to be charmed by the result of all of these peculiar sonic oddities.  When they’re fully assembled in to songs, they become something familiar, but just different enough to sound new and unique.  And in today’s world, new and unique is a difficult thing to achieve indeed.

This is a rather long intro to my usual show write-up, but one that I think is necessary.  Because in the end there are going to be so many shows that have solid writing and execution and performance.  Most (good) bands try to leave a distinct imprint in your memory of their performance.  Imogen does exactly that.  Her show will have you running to a search engine trying to find a particular instrument or wondering how exactly she transduces certain sounds (which she will happily explain to you, but more on that later).

In a way, Imogen’s show begins far in advance of the actual event.  I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’d actually say that her show begins on Twitter – a site with which she has formed a near perfect commensal relationship.  Currently over 1.4 million followers keep up with @imogenheap.  The usual tweets abound: show announcements, general musings, playful and personal responses to fans and the like.  Through the contributions of over 1500 tweets she has her current biography, a requirement for any musician’s press kit.  You also may have seen Immi at the Grammys wearing what has come to be known as the “Twitter Dress”.  It was her way of bringing fans with her as she walked the carpet.  She has no illusions that the fans allow her to do what she loves.  Her interactions with them, as far as I’ve observed, carry that message be it on social media or in front of a live audience.

Twitter is used as a tool to recruit local musicians that are incorporated in the show.  This is an injection of fresh new talent at every stop.  It also gets the guest musician fired up.  They’ll tell their friends and that leads to new introductions to Imogen’s music.  If the local musician is popular enough, that could potentially be quite a loud mouthpiece indeed.  It’s also worth considering the types of musicians she recruits.  In the past two tours I’ve seen a cellist and a vocal ensemble group.  Those are the kinds of musicians that are more than likely trained musicians and more than likely to have friends who are also trained musicians.  And Imogen is the kind of artist that has a better than fair chance of attracting the ear of artists with a more formal background and training.  Very clever.

I’ve had the chance to talk with Imogen on a few occasions.  From those experiences I was left with the very clear impression that she very much knows her gear.  You may say, “Well of course, she’d have to,” but what I mean to get across is that she knows all of her gear.  I have been to plenty of shows and rehearsals where a musician will know everything they need to or want to know about making their, let’s say bass guitar, sound exactly the way they want it to sound.  But many times they stop at the amp.  That sound needs to get picked up and delivered to people outside the area where your amp is effective.  Imogen knows her channel beyond the instrument and the amp (when necessary) and she plays with the entire chain to get what she wants.  That means anything oscillating, anything transducing that oscillation, and, after FOH Tom Evans adds his contribution, you.

That’s right.  All of us in the audience are a choir in at least one or two of her songs.  It’s not as if she’s the first person to do this and I make no claim to this being an original idea.  The thing about when she does it is that the usage of the audience is critical to the performance of the song.  I’ve seen plenty of sing-alongs and artists pointing the mics to the crowd (which I personally find annoying and usually a little egotistical).  This is not the same.  Again, it’s not that she’s the pioneer in audience participation in this way, but it shows that she uses everything at her disposal to make this music happen.  No audience participation, no song.  That’s the way it’s arranged on the stage.

In between songs there is a very prominent stream-of-consciousness as she sets up her next song.  It’s hard to hear; a lot of this prattle is very low in volume and quickly uttered.  This prompted a concert-goer behind me to half-joke about how much vodka she might be ingesting on the stage and that she might only have half a clue as to what was going on.  It hit me that there might be another reason: she knows absolutely everything that is going on.  When you hear an explanation of the next song interrupted by a muttered sentence like, “Whoops!Gotaloopsomewherethatneedstostop,” it’s that she’s got something going on in her in-ears that we don’t hear.  I’d love to get a shot at hearing the monitor feed just to know what all is going on in there.

I would guess the answer to that would be “loads”.  There is a surprising amount of output from that stage.  During rehearsal I got to scope out her belt-load of body packs.  One transmitter for the headset mic.  Two transmitters for the lavalier mics she wears, one on each wrist.  One body pack for her in-ear monitor receiver.  That is an awful lot of wiring on her person.  It’s bionic, really.

To help out with this situation, we chatted about solving the issues of all those packs by utilizing the incredibly small UR1M body pack transmitters and the new PSM900 system.  She also stated that her current wrist mics are omni-directional.  We’ve got some super-cardioid mics (WL51s) out to see if that helps solve the issue of stage bleed while allowing her to pick up exactly what she’s looking for.

I’ll try to post something when I hear something from her and her production crew on how successful these efforts are.

Oh, and I almost forgot…since the audience got to vote on the set list this tour we got to hear “Let Go” off of the Frou Frou album Details.  Big fan of that album.


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