Imogen Heap is a pioneer in the music industry, known for her electronic music and looping techniques, her music-making gloves, her use of ambient sounds on her records, and her quest to upend the economics of music streaming. The first female artist to win a Grammy for audio engineering, The Guardian asks if she’s the savior of music. Paper magazine contemplates her as the most influential artist of the century—and her latest Broadway project may have solidified that label.
To anyone who knows her music—from ‘Hide and Seek’ to ‘Let Go’ as part of Frou Frou—Heap’s sound percolates with mysticism. When considering composers for the score—truly more of a soundscape—of the eighth story in Harry Potter’s magical realm, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, there could be no other choice than Heap.
“It was really Steven Hoggett, who is the movement director who's amazing, who started throwing in bits [of my music] early on when they were just developing the play,” Heap tells Playbill. The music Hoggett played in pre-production to inspire his movement for Cursed Child, which earned a Tony nomination for Best Choreography, was all Heap. “That's what got me in. He was sneaking in things here and there and they knew they wanted one composer, a British composer.” Now, her music for the play hits shelves in album form November 2. (Available for pre-order here.)
“When Steven Hoggett and I begin developing ideas for a new project,” says Tony-winning Cursed Child director John Tiffany in the album’s liner notes, “we always start with music and Cursed Child was no exception. Steven introduced the idea of Imogen and it immediately felt perfect—her music is very soulful, magical and mystical. ‘Hide and Seek,’ one of her best known songs, has always struck me as having a religious quality. I knew that if we placed a version of it at the right moment in the story it could be very powerful—and that turned out to be an understatement.”
The score, which earned Heap her first Drama Desk nomination and win for Outstanding Music in a Play in June 2018, includes re-engineered bits of some of her previous songs as well as brand new music.
Her sound creates a visceral aura to the wizarding world. Much like a movie score, Heap’s work is an ever-present accompaniment to the play, mist in the air, rather than drops of individual songs.
“What we tended to do was work from one thing to the next to the next so it has a flow,” says Heap. “It’s like long sentences in conversations.” But Heap ensured those phrases progressed, conceptualizing each of the four acts of the two-part play as different characters. “In the first act, it's a bit more electronic, a bit more upbeat. It's kind of introductory stuff,” she explains. “Then the third act [Act 1 of Part 2], which is really dark, it's really electronic. It's kind of heavy.” The upcoming album is structured in kind, as four musical suites.
Thanks to Heap’s singular style and vision, Cursed Child makes for a new kind of theatrical album release. “Many ‘soundtrack’ albums feel like a collection of songs, orphaned from the story that brings them together,” says Tony-winning Cursed Child sound designer Gareth Fry in the album’s liner notes. “Not so here. Imogen ties the many musical threads together to create something greater than the sum of its parts, gaining a cohesion, both musically and dramatically.”
Heap says coherence originates from her attention to the full scope of sensory elements for the play. “Sometimes it’s easier when you have lots of things to bounce off of like lighting, and sound and acting and set design and costume,” she says. “You’ve got all of these different things to feed in and say, ‘Well, that doesn’t feel right because it doesn't look right.’”
Just as she has changed the music industry, time-turners will tell if Heap’s concept for Cursed Child may have just disrupted the theatrical space, as well.