‘I’m a Gryffindor but I kinda wanted to be Slytherin!’ – interview with Imogen Heap

The Pottermore News Team

Cursed Child Imogen Heap
Imogen Heap speaking at the Palace Theatre. Image: Manuel Harlan

Next week, fans will be able to experience The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in its entirety, as the new album hits the shelves. We spoke to composer Imogen Heap about the magic behind the music - and immersing herself in the Wizarding World.

On 2 November, The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be released via Sony Music Masterworks – composed by award-winning singer-songwriter Imogen Heap.

Pottermore spoke to Imogen about her work on the soundtrack, how she got on board, and how she used innovative technology to create the four suites of music that accompany the play – and what truly makes music ‘magic’.

Interestingly, Imogen first got on board with providing music for Cursed Child before she even knew she had. Movement Director Steven Hoggett, along with director John Tiffany, had taken to using Imogen’s previous songs, such as 'Hide and Seek', while workshopping the play. Eventually, Imogen got on board with the project officially.

‘I came into this through a phone call,’ she explained. ‘So, the beginning of learning about this project was through my friend Steven Hoggett, and he called me on my mobile, while I was pushing my freshly made baby through muddy fields - he told me he was workshopping this new play, and said ‘I’m finding your music is just it’s really, really working – are you happy for me to have a play around?’ And I was like, ‘Of course! What is it about?’ and he was like ‘I can’t really talk about it right now but it’s about a boy with a scar...’

Jamie Ballard in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Image 2
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child London 2018-19. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Of course, when it comes to Harry Potter being portrayed musically, a lot of people will instantly leap to John Williams’ now-legendary film scores. For Imogen, however, she went in with a clean slate.

‘Obviously I’ve seen the Harry Potter films, but weirdly, even though I’m a musician, I can’t really hear the music – it’s like this magic gift – the only time I really don’t hear music is when I’m watching a film even though it’s very beautiful,’

‘So I was worried, on one side, that people would come to the play and feel like they were missing that auditory companion to the stories – but I feel the play is its own world – it’s a new thing. So, I wasn’t encouraged or asked to listen to the music in the film – they really, really wanted to create something that stood on its own and created its own little universe.’

The soundtrack of Cursed Child is structured into four contemporary suites – meaning each section has a different mood to it.

‘As you experience the play, you do go through these emotions,’ Imogen explained. ‘It’s up-tempo, it’s playful, it’s exploratory, it’s kind of fleeting… the second act is a little bit more serious, a little slowed down in time, a little more in-depth, something ominous creeping in, and then the third act really hits hard, and it’s like loud and angry – and a bit overwhelming.’

‘The fourth act ends up in this quite sudden bright spot. Which is the only bit, actually, of the whole play I wasn’t quite at peace with musically. You’ve had this big, long journey – and then it was like – major chord! But I tried on the album to give it a little something at the end. I felt like I reconciled that with myself.’

To achieve the different emotions of the play, Imogen used a variety of different innovations while writing the music – taking pieces from her existing catalogue, with the help of musical supervisor Martin Lowe, gathering together recordings with her assistant Alexis, and using some helpful technology - including her ‘box of tricks’.

Well, this is a play about a wizard after all!

‘I had this special trick called the box of tricks – which is a virtual instrument that I’d actually developed over a year, not knowing about Harry Potter, with a company called Sonic Couture who basically develop virtual instruments for musicians, so it’s a plug-in. So, it meant I had 11 or 12 key sounds that I already work with, all of my little things that I had in my studio but couldn’t get to, to play.

‘And then when everyone had left [the theatre], or during a lunch break, I would quickly sing vocals in over the top I felt were missing. I would be [at the theatre] often until nobody else was here – just me and the security guard!’

As Imogen Heap fans know, the singer-songwriter often uses interesting ‘musical magic’ across her other works, including a special pair of gloves that allow Imogen to compose music without physically touching instruments.

‘For about eight years I’ve been developing gestural music-wear with a group of developers, scientists, and musicians, called the MI.MU gloves, that you can literally reach inside your computer with and start to play with the sounds that you normally use, like a keyboard or a computer.'

And now, Imogen is working with a fellow lady of magic, Helen Steer, CEO of Do it Kits, on a version of the gloves for children.

'One of the things that I’m working on at the moment with Helen Steer, is the Mini.MU gloves, for kids, so they can build them and code the gloves themselves, and start making music with them. Bringing that into the younger-adult space, bringing coding and making music into the lives of kids who might not have otherwise thought about it – it’s pretty exciting.’

So that’s how Imogen performs musical wizardry – so how does it feel finally unleashing this album to many, many Harry Potter fans?

‘I’m very excited – finally – after two years of people coming out of the play going, "ooh I’d really like to hear that music again", to be able to share what we’ve done. It’s obviously very different in many ways, the album experience of course – because you haven’t got the magic on the stage, but it was a challenge for me I really enjoyed, to make it just as magical and somehow immersive for 78 minutes.’

‘I don’t know how the fans are going to react, or what they’re going to think of it –but I imagine for the people who’ve spent that time with Harry Potter throughout their childhood – they’re used to being immersed and they’re used to sitting down being with something, and I think this community will be the ones who really sit and listen to [the album]. So, I’m quite excited.’

And of course, being immersed in the Wizarding World means one important thing: being sorted into her house. For Imogen Heap… she is a Gryffindor.

‘I was in Gryffindor,’ she confirmed. ‘But I was a bit disappointed because I kinda wanted to be Slytherin. But that’s what the Sorting Hat chose!’

Before Imogen left us, we had to ask: how exactly do you make a piece of music magical?

‘Well, what is magic?’ she replied. ‘To me, if I hear a piece of music that feels magic, it’s because I’ve no idea how they’ve done it. It’s kind of the unexpected. It’s the unknown that’s suddenly become real in front of you. So, if you want to make a song and make it magical, don’t try and copy anything else that exists, because it won’t be magical, you already know the punchline, and I would say something that’s unique to you – because that’s the magic of each individual person. Your unique self.’

So now you know!

The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in four contemporary suites by Imogen Heap, is now available for pre-order here.