Imogen Heap – Propeller Seeds

Listen closely to the sound design in Imogen Heap‘s new track, Propeller Seeds.

Here’s a summary of what’s going on, via mastering engineer Ian Shepherd of the Production Advice blog, edited slightly for clarity:

The song tells the story of when Heap  met the new man in her life.

Collaborator Nick Ryan and Heap 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 and later place Heap’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.

That last sound design tactic – using impulse responses to process Heap’s voice to set it within each of these virtual environments – is especially cool.

Check it out and let us know what you think!

7 thoughts on “Imogen Heap – Propeller Seeds

  1. It's a wonderful piece. Immy is a true artists's artist. I've only recently discovered her and have been enjoying her music very much. This shows the level of care she and her collaborators put into their work.

  2. That is a beautiful song, and I love Immy. My question would be does all that subtle attention to detail matter to the vast majority of listeners? Would 99% notice the difference if traditional effects were used? I often ask myself this when the analog vs. digital debate pops up. Now for a creative standpoint I too would love to sprinkle a song with genius, but sadly I am afraid that few would know or appreciate the effort. So I ask myself is it worth it? I really don't know.

  3. I think when you are dealing with an artist with such passion, to them the attention to detail is just part of their love for the music. To them they are creating a masterpiece and can have so much more pride in their music than those who go the easier route, but there is nothing wrong with that way. Obviously I'm not inside their head but I think to the artist it's not about "is it worth it", it's creating the most beautiful piece of music you can.

  4. I believe the process influences the content. Giving oneself permission to truly act (not just think) outside-the-box means that you will have different ideas, play & sing differently, and that you will listen differently. If ultimately the sound is not radically different, that is one thing, but the ideas themselves come from a place of playful, ecstatic, involvement. There is a particular balance that is struck between responding to your work as you refine it, and participating actively in it. To the degree that an artist takes ownership and control of otherwise easily automated details, that part that is very much heard through speakers.

  5. Does it matter if the listener appreciates it? Its like that old cliche "Q: Would you cheat on your wife if you could get away with it? A: No, because *I* would know." That's what's matters the most, IMO. That the artist did their best work and pleased themselves. They would know the effort and work it took to get that piece. And like other forms of exercise, the hard work is the reward. I think I like art best when its made by the artist FOR the artist. We (as listeners/consumers/patrons) get the benefit of their work, but in the end our appreciation doesn't really matter because it was never for *us* to begin with. I think true artists will make art (to the best of their ability) even in absence of an audience, appreciation, and money. Also, this was between her and her new man. It sounded like a lot of FUN and love between them.

  6. Steve Jobs talks about how his father painted the back side of the fence no one saw just as well as the front. As a kid Jobs didn’t understand, but when older it was part of his design at Apple.

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