Gadgets

Music-tech gets a new super-fan: Imogen Heap

This is a guest post by writer Andy Meek. This story was updated with a comment from Imogen Heap. 

Imogen Heap, the statuesque singer-songwriter who scored a massive hit on her own with the a cappella “Hide and Seek,” is a gadget and technology super-fan.

The Grammy-winning artist constantly is advocating for, supporting and even helping develop new tech toys that serve all manner of purposes, from connecting her more closely to her fans, to elevating her own music to simply using tech to perform music-related tasks.

Those tasks include jogging. At the moment, she’s working with Intel to develop a jogging app. “I love jogging + music but I can’t listen to music when I run,” she tweeted about the so-called “generative” music app. She explained further on her Facebook page, saying that she has been working on and off over the last few months on an application that plays “music that changes according to the intensity of your run, building and growing over the distance, interacting with you and the outside world. The music you hear will never be the same twice yet all threading on musical themes and a feeling that is related to the app.”

As part of the app-in-progress, Heap also has asked fans to send her snippets of cheers and encouragement, because she wants to drop something along those lines into the app to cheer on the user after they’ve reached distances of a certain interval. An assortment of sounds from fans that Heap has collected – the requisite attaboys and you-can-do-its – can be heard at this Soundcloud page.

The effect she’s going for here reminds me of “Scape.” That’s a new app from Brian Eno, the composer and producer who’s worked with acts like U2, Coldplay and Paul Simon. It’s available in the app store now, and it’s a minimalist little gem for which the user touches the tablet screen to create random beeps, dings and pleasant sounds that randomly combine to form incredibly tranquil soundscapes.

Like what Heap is creating, Eno’s app – produced with Peter Chilvers – also is a “generative” music product. An example of it in action:

Heap’s jogging app, meanwhile, is only the latest in a line of tech-fueled endeavors for which the British musician has been getting some big exposure. Another example: outlets like Wired – as well as the TEDGlobal conference in Scotland in 2011 – detailed a pair of high-tech musical gloves Heap unveiled.

Fans and audiences at her shows know that Imogen’s concerts are often part performance, part mixing session. She’s generally alone, and she’ll lay down a percussive track, then run to a different machine and produce some ambient noise, pick up a keyboard and play a few notes, layer her own voice over itself a few times – all mixed live.

It’s a frantic exercise, and she was inspired by gloves at MIT’s music lab which do that work for her. Using hand gestures, arm movements and finger flutters, she can create a wide array of sounds, and the visual effect is akin to watching Imogen serve as her own musical conductor.

“My brain…exploded with possibilities after being inspired by Elly Jessop and her VAMP glove in 2009 during my visit there [to MIT],” Heap told VentureBeat. “I set to developing my own pair with Tom Mitchell from UWE as soon as I got home and we are now a core team of six based in London, Bristol and Berlin.”

Pick up around the 5:30-minute mark to watch her get going:

Learn more about the team that built the gloves here.

andymeek

Andy Meek is a journalist in Memphis who frequently contributes to outlets including Fast Company, Forbes, Politico, and several tech blogs.

Image credit: University of the West of England


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