Heap has created four “contemporary suites” from her background music for the play, which portrays a grown-up Harry working at the Ministry of Magic while his son starts school at Hogwarts. The suites reflect the play’s four acts, progressing from an upbeat opening, as the characters are introduced, to a darker second suite, an electronic third suite and an orchestral finale.
Hit stage musicals often lead to original cast recordings that become bestsellers – the album of Hamilton’s Broadway production has surpassed 5 million in sales. But it is rare for the music from a play, rather than a musical, to be released in this fashion.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered in the summer of 2016 in London, where it continues to sell out. Its script, by Jack Thorne and based on an original story by JK Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany, became the fastest-selling playscript ever. The show’s critical and commercial success in the West End, where it won a record-breaking nine Olivier awards, was repeated in New York, where the production used the same music but required one extra second of Heap’s soundscape for one scene as the Broadway stage is slightly wider than the West End one.
Heap was pushing her daughter in a pram through a muddy field when she got a call from the play’s movement director, Steven Hoggett, who had been using her old songs while working through ideas with the director, John Tiffany. Heap and Hoggett had worked together in 2006 on Pool (No Water), a physicaltheatre piece inspired by Nan Goldin’s photography and staged by Frantic Assembly, the company that Hoggett co-founded. It was Heap’s only theatrical project before Cursed Child.
Hoggett did not initially explain that his new project was the eighth instalment in Rowling’s phenomenally successful Potter series, saying only that it was “about a boy with a scar”. Some of the songs Hoggett had been using for the early Cursed Child workshops found their way into the final production in new arrangements: Heap’s single Hide and Seek was reworked as Edge of the Forest, the only track in the show to feature lyrics.
Heap had neither read the Potter books nor paid much attention to the films, which feature music by John Williams. “I wasn’t encouraged to deep-dive into Harry Potter,” she says. “They didn’t want any reference to the music in the films. They were trying to create a completely different experience.”
The suites combine Heap’s original compositions for the play and reworked tracks from her back catalogue. “I feel lucky to share a lot of past work that people never really got to hear,” she said. “Some of them are from quite niche projects that I did just for the love of doing something.” Heap said the new album, which comprises 42 pieces, allowed her to range more widely over musical styles than she had on her previous albums. The Cursed Child suites feature “piano music, choral, orchestral, electronic … It was amazing to be able to share all of that in one album. I’d never be able to do that on a normal record where you’ve got 11 or 12 stabs of doing something. Here I’ve got 42.”
There are 100 cues of music in the Harry Potter play and Heap spent several months working on the stage production, creating tracks from her seat in the stalls at the Palace theatre, often late at night after rehearsals had finished. She used her Box of Tricks, a library of virtual instruments or “plugins” created for her by the company Soniccouture. The company visited Heap’s studio to record her signature instruments such as the mbira, waterphone and vibraphone, as well as recording a chromatic scale of her voice. The software allowed her to play this selection of sounds on a keyboard to create the Harry Potter music.
Heap said she was nervous about what listeners would make of the new album. “It’s quite an unusual format. I didn’t know if people would get a bit overwhelmed by all the changes of tempos and time signatures in such a short space of time. But they seem to be liking it!”
Long before the Potter project, Heap was recognised for her own wizardry in the studio. With the company Mi.Mu she has developed musical gloves that allow the wearer to make sounds through hand gestures. They have been used by Heap, other musicians including Ariana Grande, and theatre-makers. There are plans to release them commercially next year at the cost of around £2,000 a pair.