How Imogen Heap Conjured Her Magical Tracks for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Wand dance! Photo: Matthew Murphy

At first, Imogen Heap wasn’t even aware that her music was being used for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In early rehearsals for the play, the show’s movement director Steven Hoggett had selected a few tracks from Heap’s back catalogue to accompany a few scenes. “The first I heard about it was pushing my baby at the time in a very muddy field with a pram,” Heap recalled. She got a call from Hoggett who said he was working on a project for which they had been temping her music in workshops; he wanted to know if he could keep using it. He couldn’t tell her about what the project was, but said it was about a boy with a scar. “I went home and checked online if I could look up Steven Hoggett and Harry Potter and there it was!” Heap said. “So he knew I was going to say yes to that.”

Though Cursed Child isn’t a musical, Heap’s tracks underscore the majority of the two-part play and act as a crucial part of the storytelling. Working with his longtime collaborator director John Tiffany, Hoggett also inserted moments that aren’t quite dances into the show. They’re “movements” that approach a kind of choreography. There’s a “Wand Dance” as the Hogwarts students master some spells, and a “Staircase Ballet” with stairways that move across the stage as the characters come to feel alienated from one another. After Hoggett reached out to her, Heap took his selections, revised her own music, and contributed new work to fit the mood of the play. “Essentially we had to make two and a half hours of music in about three months,” Heap recalled, and though it’s built off of work you might recognize, “every single sound you hear has been worked on, sometimes [to the point of being] beyond recognition.”

On Friday, Heap released The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in Four Contemporary Suites, a version of the play’s soundtrack that she further tinkered with and boiled down into a 79-minute album, with each suite matching one act of the two-part play. Heap engineered the album so that the music would stand on its own, but a listener could also follow along with the drama. “For the die-hard play fans, they want to really go, ‘Oh, what was that thing when he did that?’ and they can read the script and it can really take you back,” Heap said. “I wanted to make sure all the juicy bits were in there.” With the album’s release today, Heap helped us understand how a few of those most striking cues came into being.

“Wand Dance”

Early in the play, young Hogwarts students attempt to master magic in a pseudo-dance sequence. When Heap came on board, Hoggett was working with her piece “Cycle Song,” which she further modified into the energetic track heard here. One key change: The song follows the movement of the characters’ wands, so the the mix would track back and forth in the stereo as the wands point in different directions. Heap didn’t worry too much about trying to pin down a specific Potter-like sound for the music, since her taste already seemed to line up with Hoggett’s approach. “Because I’m a fan of lots of layered sounds and twinkling sounds and kind of eerie-ish tones and clashing notes and strings that use a lot of harmonics anyway,” Heap explained, “combined with what’s going on on the stage, it becomes somehow magical.”

“In Trouble (Again)”

Heap originally developed this melody, which includes a crisp do-do-dum vocal line, when she was commissioned to write a score for a silent movie. She’d written the music for a choir, but ended up using her own demo vocal tracks for the play. The motif pops up in various scenes throughout Cursed Child — notable whenever trouble pops up — but its originally intended context was a little different. When it plays in the silent film, Heap said, “it’s actually when a clergyman is running away from someone along an old canal.”

“Edge of the Forest”

Midway through the first half of Cursed Child, you might be surprised to hear a very, very familiar Imogen Heap song: “Hide and Seek,” a.k.a. that song from The O.C. Hoggett and Tiffany had decided they wanted to use a version of “Hide and Seek” early on in the play’s development, but Heap was worried that the song — and its lyrics, since it’s the only time you hear lyrics during the show — would pull audiences out of the moment. To add some distance, a choir sings the melody and “we have a load of stuff going on in the background music.” There’s a bit of a nostalgia factor, too. “Hide and Seek” came out in 2005, amidst the release of both the Harry Potter books and the films. The song, Heap pointed out, captures an “era in time.” “When people experienced some of the stories is quite nicely timed to when that song came out,” she said, “and it’s quite clever what they’ve done there.”

“World of Darkness”

At the top of the second part of the play, and the third suite on Heap’s album, things become very grim. In order to choreograph the action onstage in this part — a lot of intense, sinister marching — Hoggett originally sampled “some pretty hardcore techno.” From there, Heap “pulled in all the heavy drums from a load of different songs and I mashed them all together and I stretched them and I pulled all the beats together and chopped them up.” One key element came from her track “Headlock,” which she slowed down and inserted as the booming “Om” sound of male vocals. “It felt great to have this [sound of], like, working men singing this,” she said, “so everything was based on that getting louder and louder.”

“Staircase Ballet”

This track, which builds off of Heap’s “Half Life,” accompanies a moment when the two lead characters, Albus and Scorpius, are estranged from each other, while the performers move staircases across the stage in an ethereal dance. In this case, the version on the album includes more detail than you hear in the play. “When you hear that music in the play, there’s much less in there, but that’s because there’s this context of the characters,” Heap said. “In the album you need to be entertained more, so there’s a lot more trumpet in there.” While remixing for the album, Heap enjoyed bringing out those details that might have slipped away onstage. “It’s really nice to give them life because they were never heard before,” she added, “but they were always there.”

How Imogen Heap Created Her Tracks for the Harry Potter Play