Imogen Heap: Mycelia World Tour

By: Ava Mirzadegan

Last month, I (only somewhat) jokingly submitted my music so that I could open for Smash Mouth at a local town fair. In the submission, they asked each artist/band to include their reason for wanting to be considered. This is what I said:

“Honestly been dreaming of opening for Smash Mouth my entire life. I consider Shrek and its soundtrack to be one of the biggest inspirations in my music - specifically the Frou Frou ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ cover in Shrek 2 (2004).”

Although a tad facetious, I was being completely honest about how Frou Frou’s cover on the Shrek soundtrack changed my relationship with music. The airy and uninhibited way in which Heap’s voice danced around the key was catchy, impossibly unique, and prior to that point, unheard of for me, as a fourth grader.

Years later in middle school, when I finally watched Zach Braff’s film ‘Garden State’, I was once again taken aback by Heap’s performance on Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” So much so that when I went off to college, I made cheesy artwork for my wall with the song’s title on it. To this day, it is still one of the songs that is stuck in my head more often than anything else.

Between middle school and now, “Hide and Seek” was the most played song in my iTunes library, has remained in my top songs playlist every single year on Spotify, and is one of the songs on my “end of the world playlist” that I listen to when I’m scared on airplanes.

Then in high school, when Jason Derulo’s song “Whatcha Say” was released, I will admit I was a little smug about knowing her music as well as I did prior to that point. Needless to say, the work of Imogen Heap has been a constant source of inspiration and comfort throughout my life. But I had never seen her perform in real life (as Frou Frou or on her own).

When the Mycelia World Tour was announced, my older sister and I joked about following her around like the fangirls we are, but alas, I was only able to afford attending two shows. The first was at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC on May 3 and then a few nights later at Town Hall Theatre in New York.

Throughout her career, Imogen Heap has not only been an ingenious performer, producer, and songwriter, but also a conduit for transcendence. When attending the shows, something inside of me stirred. Being able to witness her work come to life was absolutely unreal. Heap (and Sigsworth) have created some of the most breathtaking music I’ve ever heard, and seeing these compositions reproduced by human performers still seemed as though by some form of magic.

Beginning each show perched on the edge of the stage, singing the latest Frou Frou release, “Guitar Song,” Imogen and Guy Sigsworth opened a portal to their sonic universe. Despite being her first tour in nine years, each performance was impeccable and inexplicably brilliant. Her warmth of spirit were not only conveyed through song, but through her inviting nature when interacting with the crowd.

Bridging the gaps between her plane of existence and ours, Heap’s production assistant would walk around the theatre with a microphone and flashlight, allowing for audience members to pose questions. Some of them were laughable, like which Hogwarts House she is (Gryffindor) or how she came up with the name “Imogen Heap” (which is of course, her real name).

But others will remain within me for some time. Specifically, when someone asked Heap where the most inspirational place she’s ever been was, since she does center a lot of works around places. To this question, Heap brought up a trip she’d taken to Tanzania. She had gone to write music for a film about Flamingos, and it was the first time she’d ever used a binaural microphone - which allowed for her to listen to the world as an auricular palette. She was able to hear the sounds of the earth, such as the wind, and use them in her music.

Some other questions included if she’d thought about minute 6 of “The Listening Chair”- a song she has been writing a minute of to represent every 7 years of her life- to which she said she’s been putting off, but that entering her fourties and having a child, has led her to feel like the first ten seconds could be a “very discordant scream for help.” She was also asked a few questions that brought up her being a mother and musician. Her answers broached the topic in a way that was indicative of Heap’s honest nature. She admitted to how hard it is to want to pay attention to both of her children, music and Scout. Later in the performance, the same emotion was reflected in the lyrics of “Tiny Human” - a song about the cognitive dissonance present within the first few months of Scout’s life and Imogen’s life as a mother.

I would be remiss not to mention the other, more technical, aspects of the Mycelia tour. The first of which would obviously be the Mimu gloves, which Heap has been working on for years now. Getting to see the innovative tech play such a prominent role in the performance was exhilarating. With each subtle gesture, Heap’s gloves fire off the action potential for different samples and effects, allowing for her to move through her music in ways that seem more human than clicking buttons and turning nobs.

The other aspects of the tour included workshops and talks regarding Imogen’s response to the current state of the music industry. Mycelia, named after an interconnected network of fungal filaments, is a “research and development hub for music makers driven by a growing community of creatives, technologists and industry champions for the love of music.” Imogen talked about the goals and initiatives like Creative Passport, which will aim to empower creators through an online database that will encourage the sharing of work, as well as ensure proper payment and credit are received for that work.

Hearing Imogen speak about the ways in which the music industry is deeply flawed was not as dismal as one might expect. She remains extremely hopeful and is a loud advocate for giving art the credit it deserves (monetarily, nominally and otherwise.) On every stop of the tour, she even wore and highlighted garments by a local designer.

Hopefully it won’t be another nine years before Imogen embarks on another tour, but seeing her interact and discuss her creative pursuits, within music, technology, and community, were extremely reassuring. This woman’s work and ethos are vital to the health of the entire musical ecosystem, and I surely hope that she doesn’t go away anytime soon. (She told the audience in DC that she plans to freeze herself, so there’s a chance she won’t!)

The DC show also marked the first show that Teresa and I attended together with the intention to cover it. Maybe in another nine years, my long personal essay about how much I love Imogen Heap will have a few more paragraphs- to include the experience of sharing popcorn with my best friend, taking notes on our phones, sitting arm-in-arm, dancing and mouthing the words to every song.