Interview: Martin Green – 'It's quite hysterical at the moment. The word "migration" seems so inflammatory, any way you present it'
Composer brings together artists from different disciplines and traditions for Flit, a collaborative project exploring migration
All across the Fringe, comedians have been amending their gags in the wake of Brexit. But over at the International Festival, composer Martin Green, best known as accordionist and sound manipulator in folk trio Lau, had no idea how topical his show Flit would become when he first decided to develop a collaborative project about migration.
'I don't know that I would start this right now,' he says. 'It's quite hysterical at the moment. The word "migration" seems so inflammatory, any way you present it. But it's certainly not a subject to shy away from, and it becomes more poignant the more stories you hear about real individuals.'
The roots of Flit are in the stories of migration which Green has collected over the last couple of years, beginning very close to home with 'one of the most memorable afternoons of my life sitting on the sofa with my granny.'
Green's grandparents originally hail from Vienna but both left as children before the onset of WWII and settled in London, where they later met socially as part of the Jewish émigré community. Growing up, Green had only a partial understanding of their circumstances, and has retained some of that cultural warmth along with the socio-political harshness of their story.
'The material I collected wasn't all heavy Holocaust-related stuff. That was certainly something that I didn't feel I wanted or was able to tackle,' he says. 'But this increasing pressure that people find themselves under in the countries they have made their lives in, where they very quickly and very suddenly are made to feel so insecure that they need to leave, that is an unfortunate repetition throughout history.'
Green hopes that Flit is more timeless than timely in its exploration of the phenomenon of movement around the planet. He chose to remove specific references to time and place to create a more universal meditation on migration, and then handed these rich testimonies over to a crack bunch of lyricists, including Anais Mitchell, Sandy Wright, Aidan Moffat and Karine Polwart, who will also be mounting her own EIF show, Wind Resistance, on the subject of (avian) migration.
At the same time, Green was developing the music in collaboration with Portishead's studio whiz Adrian Utley. The pair have worked together before on Crows Bones, a theatrical compendium of musical ghost stories which, like Flit, was commissioned by Opera North. One of the voices of that project, Becky Unthank, will also lend her breathy, haunting tones to Flit. 'It's quite natural what comes out of Becky,' says Green. 'She's a beautiful music tap, and one of Adrian's great skills is putting in walls of darkness behind fragile voices.'
Unthank will be partnered with the equally instinctive Edinburgh-based singer / songwriter Adam Holmes for the performance, while Mogwai bassist Dominic Aitchison is set to build on Utley's dark vibrations.
Their evocative, impressionistic contributions will be complemented by visuals created by award-winning animation duo Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson, aka Whiterobot, who have produced a narrative film, which will be threaded throughout the performance.
Known for their handcrafted, humorous work, the Edinburgh-based pair warmed to the challenging theme by first using cardboard boxes, then brown parcel paper as the vehicle to tell their story.
'Brown paper has got such a quality about it,' says Anderson. 'You wrap things and send it round the world, it's got this symbolism of travel, which just seemed fitting. We've used boxes in the show and we like the idea that when people pass on they leave behind them a box of their belongings. We thought that was a very moving thing visually. There are moments of real sweetness as well as some tear-jerking moments.'
Anderson and Henderson share a love of the homemade with Green, who has been known to build his own instruments. 'It feels a little bit like a band, the three of us,' says Green, 'which is interesting because we don't actually do our work in the same room, but it does feel quite united. The humanity they put into inanimate objects is really remarkable and it happens so slowly. They have to think at a 25th of a second at a time which is really different to making music which happens instantly.'
With artists from different disciplines and traditions coming together to create an integrated artistic whole, it seems like the process of making Flit only demonstrates the principles explored in the show.
'Migration is not a problem, it is something that occurs naturally,' says Green. 'Animals have always moved to the place that they will flourish, so that was what we wanted to look at. If there is a message at all in this thing, that's what we were trying to get at.'
Flit, EICC, 10 & 11 Aug, £25, times vary.