An epic journey across America forms the backbone of an immersive multimedia collaboration that hits the Fringe this month
From Jack Kerouac's On the Road to Terence Malick's Badlands and Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, America's roads have inspired all manner of classic art and music. Given the chance to take an epic trip across the States and create a piece of art in the same great spirit and tradition, who wouldn't get their motor running?
'Dust emerged from a series of free-wheeling Monday night jam sessions,' explains English singer-songwriter Mike Marlin of the music he made with his band, the Melomaniacs, featuring keys player Paul Silver and guitarist Kim Murray. The music evolved into a road trip, and eventually an immersive multimedia live show. 'Before we knew it, we had an album and realised that this was a truly collaborative project,' Marlin continues. 'We decided to record it on the road as a single piece of music. We booked a journey across America, including various stops at studios along the way.'
A couple of friends came along for the ride to help them document the journey – Scottish filmmaker Lee Archer and New York based photographer Jean Luc Fievet. 'As we travelled, we all talked about how the images and the music might become a single experience,' Marlin explains. 'We got back to the UK and spent six months sifting through everything we captured to distil Dust into a record, a book, a series of images and a film. It's this single vision that we are presenting at Edinburgh for the first time. It's exciting – and slightly daunting.'
The show is essentially a film with a live soundtrack – the band sets the scene, then play uninterrupted for 55 minutes, nine continuous songs inspired by jazz and 70s rock. 'Everything is played by the Melomaniacs trio without backing tracks or tricks,' says Marlin. 'The film is synchronised to the live performance rather than the other way around, so our sound and video engineers are as much part of the performance as the band. We used footage from our journey across America and intercut it with vintage film to follow the mood of the music from the sombre to the humorous; from the fine detail to the majestic. The screen is 10 metres wide and four metres high and our goal is to take the audience with us on the journey through the good and the bad lands of America.'
Marlin's personal journey towards becoming a musician is a long and curious one in its own right. Having hit gig-going age at just the right time in late 1970s London to see bands such as the Police, the Clash, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie & the Banshees and many more in small venues before they hit it big, he was inspired to learn guitar and bass and start writing his own songs. But he didn't take it any further at that point and instead, after dropping out of university and getting into coding, began a highly successful 25-year career running technology businesses.
"In my late forties, I was living in New York and decided to sell up and move home to become a novelist,' Marlin says. 'Through a happy series of accidents I ended up making a record instead, finding an agent and getting the opportunity to support the Stranglers on their UK tour. Eight years later and Dust is my fifth record, and I still don't quite believe that I am a musician.'
His business nous hasn't left him though, as proven when he's asked what he hopes audiences will take away from coming to Dust. 'A moment of stillness and beauty,' he muses, 'and a copy of the book and the record.'