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[Exclusive] Imogen Heap's New, Interactive Album Is Covered In Her Fans' Footprints

Not every recording artist travels 5,000 feet up into the Himalayas to write an album; then again, not every recording artist is Imogen Heap. From her critically-lauded debut in 1998, iMegaphone, through a culture-jamming stint as one-half of Frou Frou, through two more albums under her own name, the only thing that might exceed the vocal and emotive ranges of this globetrotting, Grammy-award-winning multiinstrumentalist are the apparently nonexistent bounds of her imagination. Today, The Creators Project is  the album cover for her upcoming LP, Sparks, including an interactive website adorned with her fans' actual footprints.

For Heap's fourth solo album, and studio fifth, the artist goes beyond the mere limits of listening; a consummate summary of Heap's ascension from singer/songwriter to full-scale multimedia virtuoso, each song on Sparks (out this summer via RCA Records) represents the culmination of a parallel, often super-sonic project— for the ninth track on the album, for example, entitled, "Me and the Machine," Heap worked with a team of artists, engineers, and scientists to develop Mi.Mu, a pair of sound reactive, wearable-tech gloves that allow anyone to "play" music out of thin air— and in case that wasn't enough, she's so directly brought the project to the people, that her new album cover has an extra, captivating kick from the help of her fans' feet.

She's created wearable instruments; she teamed up with Intel to develop a generative, bio-reactive jogging app; since 2009's Ellipse LP earned her two Grammy Nominations— one of which, for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, she took home— the thirty-six-year-old East London-born Imogen Jennifer Heap has been on an adventure of invention and imagination that has taken her to the edges of the world and back. From her first live-stream from home, at 6 a.m. on the morning of March 14, 2011, through three years, four continents, and 12 related projects, the 14 finished tracks that make up Sparks are a testament to the artist's unbridled dedication to bringing people together with the power of music.

When it comes to the final product, Heap's means of display and distribution are just as unconventional as her entire approach to music-making. The "super deluxe" Sparks box set features (ahem), "12 individual data discs, 14 HD music videos, plus videos documenting the making of each song and the entire album, a double 10” vinyl album, a special deck of playing cards which unlock exclusive web content and a 120 page coffee-table-style book telling the story of Sparks along with the special ticket of blended items that allows access to sound-checks on the next tour." So yeah, if you can get your hands on one of these special edition packages— whose numbers are limited to 2,500— you even get a ticket to hang out with Imogen Heap before her own show. It's kind of a big deal.

With the help of Creative Director Andy Carne (of thelongdrop creative studio), to symbolize the journeys and experiences Heap had along the way, she even included her fans in the album itself: each of the 2,500 Deluxe Boxset pre-order-ers were invited to submit photographs of their own footprints, which were then integrated into the actual album cover. 

Imogen explained, "The album began with someone sending in the sound of striking a match for what became 'Lifeline' in March 2011. I then dived into the most immense, intense creative 2 and a half years of my life that took me all over the planet, collaborating on so many projects with so many people and often totally spontaneously. The album is then in some ways for me grounded with fans’ footprints bringing the finishing touch for the album art, as so many of them came along for the ride.”

Of the process itself, Andy Carne explains it best:

We knew that if we had asked fans to submit scans via email, it would have been an unfathomable task to work with over 1,000 multi format artwork files, let alone keep track of whose footprint was who's! So I overcame this by building Immi an online microsite for fans to upload their footprints to us. Within the upload engine I built an image processor which balanced, scaled and isolated each of the submitted prints into a uniform format and logged them with all their related information in the cloud. As the graphics were then available online I could take advantage of the mathematical capabilities of Javascript to generate the circular pattern of footprints which defines the look of the sleeve. So I effectively generated the entire pattern in a browser, without having to download a single footprint graphic or open any of the usual graphics software!

Beneath all of these unique footprints, Imogen's own portrait exists as a sort of optical illusion. Continues Carne, "I love any image which can surprise you on a second visit, but it's really not that easy to create a full cover portrait image which hides in plain sight! However this one appears to work [...] I've really enjoyed seeing people's reactions when they step back from looking at the smaller detail in the cover and they suddenly see Immi's portrait emerge from the page. They generally can't believe they hadn't seen it before."

But wait, there's more: fans who sent their footprints in also receive handmade paper tickets, which feature their own footprints alongside words from Imogen Heap, "All presented in the front page of the 120 page Book of Sparks." Not to mention the interactive sleeve is only a precursor to the interactive "web space" Imogen and Andy are currently creating for ImogenHeap.com

This summer, Sparks will be available in four formats— from standard edition, through double-disc edition with instrumentals, a 12" vinyl and, yes, the super deluxe— Imogen Heap's new work represents a future in which artists, and, indeed, anyone with the power of imagination, can take part in building a new world, untethered, wholly unconventional, and free.

Visit www.imogenheap.com to learn more. 

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