MY THOUGHTS ON IMOGEN HEAP'S LATEST PROJECT:
First let me say that I was a huge fan of Imogen Heap during her "Speak For Yourself" era. By that I mean I loved the music on that album and seeing her live many times as she toured that album starting in small clubs eventually moving up to decent sized soft seat venues was a pleasure to experience along with her. The album was innovative, fresh and original and I still enjoying listening to it to this day.
During the recording process for the follow up album 'Ellipse' Imogen did regular VBlogs (video blogs) as the recording progressed letting fans listen to snippets and even asking their advice on different versions of the rough mixes. I did enjoy the video blogs, mostly because I like Imogen as a person and find her quirky personality endearing and I truly wish her great success. That being said I was underwhelmed when I bought "Ellipse", gone was the energy, freshness and originality that made 'Speak For Yourself' so much of a joy to listen to, a blandness seemed to have crept into her music. Had I heard too much of the album as it was created by watching these video blogs and left with no surprises to enjoy upon removing the shrink wrap? I did enjoy a few tracks on the album, those being 'First Train Home', Wait It Out', 'Swoon' and 'Bad Body Double'.
When I was in London last November I decided to go see Imogen at The Royal Albert Hall as I hadn't seen her 'Ellipse' tours of North America and she was debuting the score she composed for a short nature film that fans had contributed visuals for. The orchestrations were generally enjoyable and it was nice to see Imogen so thrilled to be playing in such a grand venue and having lots of family and friends there to experience the night with her. After the film and short intermission came the pop part of the evening as Imogen and band played what would be considered a normal Imogen Heap concert. The focus was on material from 'Ellipse' I felt a lot of her live concert magic had disappeared, possibly due to me just not liking some of those songs. It was an enjoyable evening but the energy and fun I was used to when seeing Imogen live wasn't there.
Now I feel Imogen has let social networking go to far in her plans to record her next album by asking for fan input into the songs as they are created as well as fans contributing audio samples and visuals. Her website says "#heapsong1 is the working title of the first song from Imogen's new album. The album will be completed in roughly 3 years, with a new song released every 3 months as soon as it is completed. Imogen's fourth solo album begins here, with you on March 14th, 2011. You are the spark of inspiration." Is Imogen saying that she no longer has any creative song ideas left and needs the fans help to spark her along? I can't imagine that this is the situation, I don't want to believe that this is the case for an artist who has been such an innovator in the past.
I've watched a couple of her daily live video chats where she goes over the lyrics and music she's done the day before as the song 'Heapsong1' comes together. Fans can write their ideas, lyrics and thoughts live on screen as she talks and she appears to be taking their ideas into her creative process. Personally I think Imogen is treading on dangerous ground with this concept both creatively and professionally. On her site she says "Why am I doing this? Well, there’s so much going on in my life with touring, talks and tech that this was both a necessity coupled with my passion for collaborative, spontaneous and creative projects. I also love the idea of turning the tables in that the seeds of the song begins with you, making a full circle when you experience it as a finished piece." Are some of these fans who's ideas she uses legally now a co-writer and due a portion of the song writing royalties? On her site she says "For those of you who end up in the final 'package' in some shape or form, you'll be credited and paid appropriately (mainly for the middle section 'solo', the images and video content, probably not for samples of rustling leaves or a word... sorry!)" Could a fan argue that a word or a lyric makes them a co-writer and take Imogen to court over their 'contribution'? The legal issues aside I feel it is diluting Imogen's own creative process and am fearful the results may disappoint. I'm all for collaboration but I think this is taking it to an extreme.
Also Imogen plans to release each new song every three months as they are created. Call me old fashioned but what happened to releasing a full album of yet unheard material so fans could be surprised and delighted as they listen to 10 or 12 new songs from an artist they admire? Do fans now need something new from an artist every 3 months to keep them happy? Has today's technology and fast pace made us lose our patience waiting for that next complete album? I realize Imogen has been seen as an internet and social media pioneer, even recently broadcasting a concert from a promoter's living room in South Africa. But is she taking it too far now with the latest chapter in her song writing process involving contributions from outsiders?
I personally don't plan to follow along on Imogen's new song writing adventure as I really feel she has lost perspective on the creative process that I admire. I wish her all the best and I may take a listen to the finished songs as they are released but I would prefer that Imogen work on her new album in private (collaborating with other songwriters if she wants) for a year or two and release a full album, not wait three years for this collaborative effort with fans.