The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at barbican.org.uk
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at barbican.org.uk

Barbican Meets: Martin Green

With immigration ever prevalent on our screens and in our papers, Danny Wright talks to Martin Green about his project combining music and animation to reveal the human side to stories of migration.

‘It originally started when I went to visit my grandmother to collect stories for my kids. My grandparents came from Austria. They were Jewish refugees who moved in the 1930s before the war, so a lot of their stories were about moving. And even before that I think, as is the way with a lot of Jewish families, they had moved around quite a lot from bits of what is now the Czech Republic and around central Europe.

‘Finding out about that led to a fascination of what that might be like. So then I started talking to people wherever I could find them. Other members of my wife’s family, people in pubs, all sorts of stuff.’

Martin Green, from the folk band Lau, is talking about what inspired Flit, an innovative and powerful show in which he takes first-hand accounts of migration and sets them over dark, atmospheric music as stop-motion animated figures weave in and around them, evoking the stories that inspired the project. As he began to research the project, Martin collected more and more tales of social migration from the people around him. They spanned the whole gamete of emotions: some life-affirming others heart-breaking. A man of Portuguese descent whose father fled from Goa meaning he had to move to another continent. A woman who grew up in East Germany and watched the wall come down as a child. But what they had in common was the human beating heart that pulsed through all of them. And the drama that was evident in many of them meant it was clear to Martin straight away that this could be set to music.

‘Some of the stories were so operatic – people getting separated for years on different sides of the globe and then meeting back up and falling back in love. Some of that seemed like the stuff of shows.’

As these stories emerged Green, along with Becky Unthank (The Unthanks), Dominic Aitchison (Mogwai), Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Adam Holmes, started setting Becky’s ethereal vocals against a backdrop of enveloping electronics and guitars. In doing so they’ve managed to capture the real breadth of people’s experience of migration. Of course, the exploration of why and how people travel and move from their homes is very timely. The refugee crisis is inescapable. It feels like we’re told daily on the news of another tale, scenes of migration never leave our screens.

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However, Flit is not a direct reaction to these world events. ‘It relates to the situation but it’s not a response to what’s happened in Syria and what is taking place in Europe as a result – that wasn’t the impetus and there’s no reference to time or place in any of the songs or film. It’s more an attempt to look at the universal phenomenon of humans moving around.’
Yet, in the way Flit manages to capture the real breadth of people’s experience of migration, it’s hard not to think of the unthinkable choices refugees must take when they are forced to flee their country.

What Flit does do is reveal the very human side to all these stories; to bring to life the myriad reasons for migration and the challenges and choices people make. In vivid colours it shows us that each person has a unique story to tell, whether it’s to find safety or for new beginnings.

And that natural instinct to survive is the central thought that Martin has taken from the meticulous process of marrying these stories with music and animation. ‘The overarching thing is that any animal will gravitate to where it can survive and flourish and to view that as unusual or sinister is misguided. That is the way of all living things.’
Originally published in the October Guide.

Flit is performed in the Hall on Thursday 27 October.

Photo: Genevieve Stevenson

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