Preview: Deep Time – 'We're trying to make it as epic an experience as we can'
After the phenomenal success of its opening event in 2015, the Edinburgh International Festival is kicking off with another big bang
Ten thousand people were expected to show up on Lothian Road last year for the International Festival's landmark opening extravaganza, The Harmonium Project. Instead, twice the number came out, proof if any were needed that public spectacles of this kind have a massive, and deeply proud, local audience.
That event, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, displayed a series of kaleidoscopic projections onto the façade of the Usher Hall, inspired by the neural patterns of the Chorus themselves. This year, 59 Productions, the company behind The Harmonium Project, are back for another EIF opening event of mind-boggling scale. 2016's music and animation spectacular, Deep Time, will be projected onto the west-facing side of Edinburgh Castle: not just the Castle buildings but the rocks and foliage below too. 59 have had plenty of success already, having worked on War Horse, the London Olympic Opening Ceremony, and winning a Tony for their work on Broadway musical An American in Paris, but Deep Time will be one of the largest architectural mapping projects they've ever done.
'It's very easy to transform a building because the surfaces are comparatively flat and even,' says 59 creative director Leo Warner, who's working on the event. 'But this is so complex and so organic that it sort of owns us. The biggest challenge for this one is a creative one – finding a way to celebrate Edinburgh, the festival, the people. We're trying to make it as epic an experience as we can, but that in itself is challenging.'
Deep Time will last 18 minutes and is inspired by Edinburgh's geological heritage – a theme that hit Warner, his team and EIF director Fergus Linehan when driving around the city looking for a site for this year's event. 'We want to celebrate the fact that Edinburgh has inspired radical thinking and changed humanity's perception of the Earth,' explains Warner. 'In a sense we are abstracting those themes into something which is visual and musical and celebratory, but actually is an inspiring story for us.'
Where Harmonium was soundtracked to a classical piece, this year the team made a conscious contemporary choice: Scottish rock giants Mogwai. Deep Time will feature a range of existing material, spanning tracks from 2011's Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will to 2014's Rave Tapes.
'I love that extraordinary, layered, epic sound,' says Warner. 'I've been looking for an opportunity to work with them for years. It was important to us that it would be something with real rhythm, pace and scale. It's easier to do that to an extent with rock instruments and heavy percussion, heavy guitar than it is to go back to more classical sounds. Having said that, the tone does change quite significantly, one of the pieces is very minimal and quite gentle and very beautiful. Others are very high octane and much more energy and rhythm driven.'
Part of the show will involve projecting a series of photographs submitted by people who have called Edinburgh home, and it's this human element that makes Deep Time such a fitting start to festival season.
'We are celebrating the landscape and architecture of Edinburgh,' says Warner, 'but the people are what make Edinburgh the city that it is. It's what makes it a cultural capital, a vibrant place to be and inspiring from an intellectual and academic point of view as well. We wanted to incorporate a sense of the people who make the city what it is: both visitors and residents, contemporary and historical, this idea that where we are and what we are looking at has been formed over many centuries. Ultimately, it's about us.'
Deep Time, Castle Terrace Viewing Area, 7 Aug, 10.30pm, free but ticketed. Final ticket release on Sat 6 Aug from 10am in person. See eif.co.uk/deeptime for more information.