Fail Again. Fail Better.

Posted on August 29, 2014 by Claire Mason

It has been an interesting week for women and technology. First up, the triumphant return of Kate Bush to the stage after 35 years. Her press team are keen to remind us of just how innovative she was in her day, pioneering the microphone headset to enable her to deliver a theatrical performance rather than be stuck to the mic like a stand-up.

Meanwhile Imogen Heap curated the impressive Reverb festival of experimental music at the Roundhouse in London, the focus of which was a giant light probe tree which interacted with the sound of the audience and performers.

imogen heap and women with technology

While Kate’s return was guaranteed big box office takings, it’s easy to forget how challenging she was in the 1970s and the courage she required to push boundaries of music and performance during a notoriously sexist decade. And all this while still in her teens!

Imogen Heap faced quite a different reception. Typecast as a contemporary classical performer, I was intrigued to discover the fundamental role of technology not just in her composition but also in her performance. Her aspiration to create an autonomous “one woman band” had led her to collaborate in the development of Mi.Mu gloves which could capture and loop her vocals and instruments, enabling her to effectively sculpt a musical landscape before our eyes and ears. “I wanted to close the gap between having a musical idea and making it reality,” she explained to the curious audience.

The technology fell somewhat short of Gandalfian proportions however, cutting out mid song and repeatedly refusing to bend to her will. Imogen fretted that internet streaming meant that this failure wouldn’t be kept “between us”, and the critics duly roasted her patchy performance in the next day’s papers. Despite this, it was hard for the audience not to be on the side of a performer willing to take such risks and endure very public humiliation with such charm.

I always loved Becket and the phrase from Worstward Ho, “Fail again. Fail better,” still impresses me with its courage. If we are to innovate we have to have the space to fail, fail again and fail better. We might not be buying shares in the magic gloves just yet, but they might well be the microphone headset of tomorrow.

And while Imogen clearly needs a little more practice, I thoroughly recommend going to see her forthcoming tour when she fails better in 8 months time.



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