Vivid Sydney Day 5: Imogen Heap, Light Installations
News posted Wednesday, May 30 2012 at 04:00 PM.
Related: Vivid, Imogen Heap.
JIM POE reports on day five of Vivid Sydney, which saw a performance by “digital diva” Imogen Heap, one of a select few shows chosen to be streamed live via Vivid’s YouTube channel. Meanwhile, we took a video tour of Vivid’s Circular Quay light installations (watch below). Photos by DANIEL BOUD.
UK singer/songwriter and “digital diva” Imogen Heap was invited to perform an informal sunset recital for Vivid in the North Foyer of the Opera House. Heap is known for incorporating a spectrum of organic and digital sounds into her performances via a high-tech setup, including a pair of custom-made gloves wired to let her control the music with Wii-like gestures. But here she’s limited to a baby grand piano and it’s all about the songs – specifically six from her latest project, Heapsongs, which she created with input from fans around the world, who sent her “song seeds” in the form of words, images and recorded sounds.
At first, the session is hit or miss. It’s too cold in the foyer; the bar right behind us is disappointingly closed, but for some reason the bartender stands there for the entire show anyway; and, strangely, given Heap’s trademark technophilia, there are glitches in the matrix. She’s meant to perform the songs accompanied by their video clips on three monitors behind her – and it’s as cumbersome as it sounds. Heap has to synch with a click track in her headset, and simply starts over when she messes up a couple of times. The video feed is straight from her laptop. Between songs we see her fiddling with her software onscreen.
Heap talks a lot, explaining each song, and explaining it some more. It’s more like a TED talk than a show (no stretch as Heap is a TED veteran). Her piano interpretations of these intricate digital constructions have a bizarre once-removed feeling. She describes how she sampled a classroom full of kids – we see the kids in the video, but hear only her. As she admits, we’re experiencing the songs “as they were never meant to be heard”.
But I’m soon taken in. Heap’s spacey rambling, which reminds me of Eddie Izzard’s, is funny, charming and at times highly emotional. Her stories about her creative processes are pretty cool; she based one song on a fan’s recording of an unborn child’s heartbeat; another was a sonic collaboration with the citizens of Hangzhou, China.
In the end, the unplugged vibe actually works. Heap treats the piano like another machine, and there’s something interesting about imagining about all of these sounds and contributors (Bollywood singers, birds, Slinkys) while Heap paints aural pictures to interpret them. The songs themselves are heartfelt, sometimes twee, filled with fantastic lyrical imagery that could be from Tolkien or Miyazaki. People transform into trees. Machines feel emotion. A crumbling wall speaks.
Heap’s boundless desire to share her music and herself with fans and ordinary people, coupled with her ingenious ways of going about it, are ultimately infectious. She concludes by inviting us to participate in her latest collaborative experiment, “The Listening Chair”. Unveiled at the Opera House this week, it’s an egg-shaped retro-futuristic lounge chair outfitted with recording devices to gather information from whomever sits in it about what songs they think are missing from the world. It’s an idea as weird and wonderful as its creator.
Vivid Sydney Light Installations