Jeremy Cowart

Singer-songwriter IMOGEN HEAP has incorporated everyday sounds from across the globe to craft her latest musical compilation.

Imogen Heap typically makes albums alone in her basement studio. But it was time to shake things up. The British songwriter embarked upon a global adventure to create her fourth electro-pop album Sparks (RCA Records, $12), due out later this spring. For instance, Heap transformed a crowd of Indian street children into an impromptu choir, recorded bicyclists ringing their bells in Bhutan and captured the cry of a woman praying at a Chinese temple. She even manufactured beats by sampling the clatter of a Chinese printing press.

“When I’m an old lady, I’ll be able to listen back to each song and really remember the moment so beautifully,” Heap says. American Way asked her to tell us the stories behind three of the album’s songs.

“Xizi She Knows” (created in Hangzhou, China)
“It’s a really beautiful city. It’s got 2,000 years of history, the most ancient canal in the world and very classic Eastern landscape gardening. My question when I went there was, ‘Who are these people that live here?’ I started to curate a day’s event. I wanted to bring people together with me in different locations across the city. All of the sounds that I recorded in that 24-hour period are 99 percent of the sounds that you hear on the song.”

“Climb to Sakteng” (created in Sakteng, Bhutan)
“The sounds of the snow crunching, the beautiful songs that the guides would sing around the fire and the bells on the donkeys were beautiful to experience — though not while we were trying to hike up a 5,000-meter mountain in the freezing cold. I do a duet with an incredible guy called Sonam Dorji. He travels around Bhutan trying to record ancient — and soon-to-be-disappeared — folk songs in tiny villages.”

“Minds Without Fear” (created in Samode, India)
“I flew out to Jaipur [India] and went to the small village of Samode. There’s a palace there that they’ve turned into hotels. I worked with a Bollywood rock star guy named Vishal Dadlani. The idea was to write and record and do the video for a completely new song that we would write there on the spot, using local musicians. At the time, there was news of a conflict on the radio. Vishal wanted to share this idea that, with strength of heart and poetry, we could get through this.”