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Imogen Heap: Interview

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Imogen Heap is best known for her ethereal voice and the ability to mix electronica, rock and pop. Here, she speaks with Megan M. Retka about her record company woes and having her bed set on fire...

MR: You've had quite a formal musical history. You were trained as a classical pianist?

IH: First things first, was the piano. We had a piano at my parent's house in Essex, and I think as a kid you'd obviously want to make noise on something, and thing that would make the most noise in my house was the piano. So, I used to play the piano very badly from as soon as I could reach [it], and I don't remember going to my first lesson. As far as I know, I've always played the piano. And obviously I didn't at some point because I was, like, a baby, but I've always felt like I've played it.

I guess, as a kid, I would just hear sounds and try and imitate them, and gradually as I became conscious that I was actually playing a piano and I wanted to learn more, that's when my parents tried to get me lessons. I wanted to get lessons even before my feet would reach the pedal, [but] I couldn't have my first lesson until my foot would reach the pedal. Luckily, I got there quicker than most because I'm quite tall.

So, I learned classically. I did all my lessons and I did my grades on the piano, and I learned about theory as well. Then, as I became a bit older, maybe about eight, I started learning cello. Well, actually I started learning the violin, but I hated the violin. You have to spend hours and hours rehearsing to get even a decent sound out of the violin, but luckily with the cello, it looks great instantly. Yeah, it's not quite [such a] jarring, screechy noise.

By this point, I kind of decided I wanted to be a composer. I wanted to compose and conduct orchestras and play pianos for orchestras and write for film - things like that. That was my plan as a kid. And then I thought, well if I learn a string instrument and a percussive instrument, then I need to learn a woodwind, so then I learned the clarinet. I tried to go one stage further and learn the trumpet, but that wasn't to be. I stopped at brass.

I really enjoyed writing and composing for instruments and the orchestra, and as a kid that was about the only subject that I really, you know, spend time on the homework and actually get excited about a string quartet. I think the other reason is, maybe partly, is that when I was a kid, I realised that the more instruments I played, the more academic lessons I could get out of. So, that was quite cool.

Later, when I was about twelve, I went to a boarding school. The music school there, was really really amazing. They had loads of pianos - they had 24 pianos. I guess they really thought that people in the school would want to play the piano if they've got all those hours to wile away after lessons. Of course, I was in there every night playing the piano, and soon realised that Mr. Dodge, was his name, had a toy room where he had a computer - an old Mac Classic. You could write notes and things like that on this program he had called Notator.

I kind of realised that quite early on and was like, "Hmm. I really want to get into that." But he said, "Well, you can't really use that until a bit later." So, when it came to doing GCSEs, I then learned about this computer. I was thirteen when I did my GSCEs, because I was always a year ahead.

I start using this gear when I was about thirteen. I didn't get on with my music master at all. It was just me and him in GCSE class. Just me and him. In a quiet, eerie room, pencils scribbling - it's all very eerie. So, I'd get there and talk to him, and after about five seconds we'd be at each other's throats arguing with each other - I was a bit of a rebel - so he was like, "Ok. I've had about enough of you. Go into that room and make some music."

So, I'd basically have an hour, three times a week, to read this massive manual of this computer, to figure out how to use it. As soon as I realised that I could do this with this computer - create like a whole orchestra without having to actually have an orchestra - I was hooked. From the beginning.

That's when my love of programming started. Throughout the years I just got better and better at it.

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