“Propeller Seeds”, by Imogen Heap, formerly known only as “heapsong2“, has been released – on the same day as the last ever shuttle launch, and like it, a little late – but such a success that no-one minds !
The song is superb, the video is beautiful, as you can see (despite having me in it) and I’ve already written in a previous post about the unique way that Imogen is involving her fans in the writing of the new album. Now that the song and video are released though, I thought I’d quickly explain a few of the reasons I love it so much.
The song is a collaboration with Nick Ryan, who Imogen met at a PRS event. I first became aware of Nick’s work when I saw a demonstration at TEDxAldeburgh last year of “Papa Sangre“, the immersive 3D audio iPhone game that he worked on – but his idea for this song was possibly even more ambitious.
Immi says the song is probably her first proper love song – it tells the story of when she met the new man in her life. Nick’s idea though was that not only would the song tell the story, but that the audio would too – the listener would experience the events and be transported into the locations where they happened as they listened – and the music would evolve out of those sounds and atmospheres.
In technical terms, this means that he and Imogen spent a huge amount of care and attention sampling, sequencing and morphing all kinds of sounds, from floorboards and piano stools masquerading as tree roots through to cutlery percussion, crowd noise and Felix’s Machines – as well as making impulse response recordings (bursting balloons !) in different locations, allowing them to build convolution reverb patches of those spaces, including the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford amongst others, and later place Immi’s voice back inside them during the song.
In musical terms this means that as the song plays, these sounds and environments float and swirl around you – sometimes sound effects, sometimes rhythm tracks, sometimes atmospheres and flavours – and Immi’s voice moves with them, from one location’s acoustic to another, as the story unfolds.
All of this swirls past you in a blur as the song plays – it reminds me a little of “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite” – and you only really start to appreciate the intricate detail of it when you listen to the 9-minute “Places and Spaces” making-of commentary included in the release package. But as always the most impressive thing for me is that the song comes first.
When I heard a preview of the track (less than two weeks ago, still !) it was unfinished, and the sonic cleverness was distracting rather than immersive – because as Nick said, it was less important than getting the song right first. Once that foundation was in place though, then the 3D audio fun could start – but running throughout is a always a beautiful melody, with simple, evocative words, and a heartfelt emotional message.
So “Propeller Seeds” combines everything I love in sound and music – a great song; a great performance; playful, happy humour; 3D acoustic environments and startling, spectacular sonics, all with a captivating story – and above all, emotion and heart.
“@no_575” summed it up perfectly on Twitter for me this evening, when she said the song is “like euphoria moving within sound”.
And that’s why I love it.
If you’d like to buy “Propeller Seeds”, complete with video, making-of commentary and an acoustic version of “Lifeline”, Imogen’s first song from the album – click here.
Update – I made a little video of the live performance of “Lifeline” at the “Propeller Seeds” release party, edited from mobile phone and camera footage – here it is !