Imogen Heap is the singer/songwriter who’s actually interesting - a compelling live performer and studio whizz. Perhaps best-known for her contributions to the soundtrack for credibility-stretching US teen TV drama The O.C., she released her third solo album, Ellipse, earlier this year. Future Music met up with Ms Heap in her facility to talk Pro Tools, toys, and furry fitness balls…
A stunning Pro Tools HD setup forms the centrepiece of Imogen’s work area. “Pro Tools is definitely the main staple of my studio,” she says. “Although I can work in other ways [she also has Logic and Ableton Live], the amount of editing and noodling around with audio I do makes it work really well for me.” Discussing her Digidesign ICON desk, she admits: “I like this desk, but to be honest the only thing I really use on it is the scroll wheel to make weird and wonderful noises.”
The live rig
Imogen’s live setup is housed in a perspex grand piano case, of which she’s very proud. “I don’t like the idea of sitting behind keyboard stands and such on stage, but sitting behind an actual piano is completely different so I designed this and it looks beautiful when it’s on stage. Inside I have a [Power Mac] G5 running Ableton Live and triggering clips via a hard-wired Korg microKontrol or another microKontrol on wireless MIDI so I can wander around the audience etc if I want.”
Here’s one of those microKontrol’s, and behind it, Electrix’s Repeater. Imogen concedes that this is “quite lo-fi and not the best quality,” but feels that there are benefits to using it live. “What I like about [it] is the visual interaction that the audience gets from you using it instead of doing it all inside the computer. For the next tour I’m probably going to use Ableton [Live] for looping and my new Monome [controller] to trigger it so there will still be the visual element.”
Despite having a decidedly hi-tech vibe, Imogen’s studio is also home to some more eccentric sound-making equipment. “There are loads of cool noise-making bits on this shelf, including a Game Boy from PixelH8 with his software on it,” she explains.
It’s all very well having an abundance of cool gear to tinker with, but does this mean that it’s easy to lose focus? “Yes, especially for this album so that’s why I knew I had to get all the actual songs written before going into my studio, otherwise I would have just ended up twiddling for hours making noises,” says Imogen. “So I got the lyrics and the melodies done before I went in the studio.”
On the ball
Eschewing the plush swivel chair favoured by most producers, Imogen likes to position herself on an altogether more spherical studio seat: a furry fitness ball. “This is really fun and actually improves your posture if you’re like me and spend ages doing a lot of audio editing,” she says.