The Story Of Ellipse (DVD-V)
- and very skillfully compiled, featuring each ingredient of the story
in the appropriate amount - by Justine Pearsall, Everything In-Between
- The Story Of Ellipse is a "complete access" kind of documentary
that tells the tale of the making of Imogen Heap's third album, Ellipse.
An album that - thanks to its remarkable technical side when it comes to
recording and mixing - in the year 2010 received a Grammy© in the prestigious
category Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (an event that in my personal
opinion deserved a lot more attention than it received, given the fact
that - provided I'm not mistaken - this was the first time this award was
given to a female engineer, in a field of expertise that has always been
dominated by men). 1h. 30' manage to condense the 371 hours that were filmed
over the course of those three years (strictly speaking: 810 days) that
cover the creative arc of the album, and most of what happened immediately
after it was released.
now I only have to tell readers who Imogen Heap is. (A funny line, right?
But it's something that I see happening more and more often, when an artist
can be regarded by some as being a kind of "celebrity", while
at the same time being completely unknown to everybody else. Which is something
quite different from the old "ripple effect" pattern, where
"fame" originated at a precise point - with the "early adopters",
to use a common expression - only to spread later to more and more people.
Nowadays we have a kind of "tunnel vision" perspective, which gives
us a kind of "all or nothing" scenery, as we'll see in a little
while, provided readers are still awake.)
first listened to Imogen Heap on an album by Jeff Beck (You Had It Coming,
2001), where she sang the old blues Rollin' And Tumblin'. I never forgot
her name, but not thanks to her interpretation of said piece - her performance,
in fact, was really quite forgettable - just thanks to her name, which
I had never heard before. (Friends and relatives call her Immi.) Totally
by chance, I found her being featured as half of Frou Frou, on an album
called Details, which to me sounded more or less like "variations
on Eurythmics", though the album was not without its merits. I later
discovered she had recorded an album at a very young age (I, Megaphone,
released in 1998), which saw the participation of a few known names, but
I have to admit I didn't care enough to look for it.
was in 2005 that somebody whose judgment I trust suggested to me that I
listen to Speak For Yourself, the new album by... Imogen Heap. Done. I
didn't expect much, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I heard
very good vocals, a nice timbre, and uncommon versatility when it came
to vocal performance. Fine melodies, quite catchy but not too "easy".
A very sophisticated composing style, which in a way reminded me of Academia.
Lyrics were phonetically smooth, but they were not banal, and they appeared
to offer multiple meanings. Sounds were quite varied, recording and mastering
were not fatiguing. The icing on the cake: the CD liner notes told me that
she had re-mortgaged her home to make the album a reality (as in: buy equipment
and rent a space to work).
I didn't like? Too many "techno" and "dance" elements
(and yes, I know it's a bit vague). Also, sometimes the backing tracks
seemed to work "against" the vocal melodies. Sometimes textures
were a bit too dense. But the album was good (I gave it a listen just the
other day, and it didn't sound "old", which is something that
happens quite often when the equipment is the most innovative part of the
I think the album can be successfully appreciated as a whole, I'll mention
three tracks. Headlock is the track that in my opinion best combines
"techno" elements and vocal melody. Hide And Seek (a song that
maybe readers have already listened to, not knowing who the artist was) features
multiple vocals through a vocoder-like effect (but this is the era of the
plug-in). The Moment I Said features the piano, highlighting a complex musical
structure where vocal lines have a deep emotional impact.
have to confess I thought quite a bit about where she got her money, since
I supposed her sales were not terribly substantial. Then I learned two
things. First, a few of her songs were featured in movie and TV soundtracks,
which gave them the exposure that the lack of radio passages failed to
provide. And she had an army of fans, who had actively participated to
the making of the album, thanks to a very lively blog that Imogen Heap
used to get feedback.
in 2009, Ellipse appeared at the worst possible time when it comes to my
listening area and habits. So it was for "external" reasons,
not because I regarded the album as being mediocre, or too difficult, that
I came to fully appreciate it when it was already quite old.
to its predecessor, Ellipse is a great improvement. The "sonic pictures" -
melodies, counterpoint, backing tracks, "special effects", featured
musicians, stereo placement - all present a coherent whole. The music is
quite dense, but thanks to a masterful mastering (by Simon Heyworth) the
listener can safely turn the volume knob to the right, to investigate the
various layers (just one for instance: the vocal melismas, so reminiscent
of Indian music, that run though Tidal). Also, this time the rhythmic patters
are perfectly integrated in the songs, which tells me of a greater maturity.
Train Home is the lively opening track. Earth greatly features the vocals.
Little Bird offers a melancholy feeling. Tidal presents the most complex
textures. Bad Body Double highlights the rhythmic element. The thoughtful
Canvas lead us to the closing track, the delicate-sounding Half Life. But
the album perfectly works as a whole, violin and cello gradually coming
to the fore.
In-Between - The Story Of Ellipse starts with a long vacation around the
world that's at the same time a writing session. We see this through the
lens of a simple video camera. Back in the United Kingdom, a new studio
is built in an old family house, the actual studio being located in the
playroom of Imogen Heap's childhood. While a bench that's placed in the
open shows us the changing of the seasons - years pass - we see the studio
being built, the start of the recording sessions, the composing stage,
the guest musicians performing, the increasing tension as the deadline
approaches. At last, the mastering sessions at Heyworth's studio. Though
it's featured, the "technical" side is not too deep, so it won't
discourage those who are not interested in this stuff (an interesting interview
from 2009 which appeared on the UK monthly Sound On Sound can be easily
accessed on the Web). After this very stressful experience, we see Imogen
Heap promise this is the last time she'll record an album this way.
reviews of Ellipse that I read were not very perceptive, some of them being
maybe the result of that particular prejudice that sees albums which highlight
the "rhythmic" element as being per se "inferior" to
those albums which feature a more "artistic" approach. I was
extremely puzzled to see not many value Imogen Heap, the singer - quite
mysterious, this, when bicycle pumps and vocalists suffering from a spasm
of the larynx are acclaimed as great voices.
DVD-V features a few excerpts from the 40 vBlogs that the artist made while
the album progressed. Which brings me to a very sorrowful point. After
the demise of the old record companies, musicians have to get all the weight
of promotion on their own shoulders, and it goes without saying that Internet
and all those
"social networks" are a very big part of this. Everything In-Between
- The Story Of Ellipse shows us the different ways Imogen Heap managed to
have her fans become participants in the making of her album. Of course,
other musicians will find some of her strategies and inclinations to be not
to their liking, or not appropriate to their own personalities. But they'll
have to find those that are more appropriate to them.
© Beppe Colli 2011
| Apr. 2, 2011