THE most ancient and immovable part of Edinburgh’s skyline was reborn in an explosion of lava and clashing asteroids as the Edinburgh International Festival kicked off with Deep Time, a visual spectacular projected onto the face of Edinburgh Castle.
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A giant clock mechanism counted down the seconds, building the tension before 27,000 spectators were pulled back in time to see Scotland formed with volcanic force from a lava-spewing crack in the sea bed 350 million years ago.
In what could be greatest IMAX natural history documentary ever seen, continents drifted and dinosaurs rose, fell and were fossilised in a monumental time-lapse sequence. As a demonstration of the scale of Edinburgh’s landscape and the relative insignificance of the specks of life that inhabit it, it was flawless.
The effect of the 42 projectors trained on Edinburgh Castle was at its best when the light hugged the landscape, tricking the mind. There were gasps as one sequence showed a newly-formed Castle Rock erode over millions of years in just a few seconds, sending life-like boulders tumbling into Kings Stables Road. The rubble revealed the face of James Hutton, in a tribute to the giant of the Scottish Enlightenment giant who coined the term ‘Deep Time’ to describe the unfathomable age of the Earth.
The soundtrack was provided by the band Mogwai, and a second segment was kicked off by their track Remurdered, an epic piece of musical Tartan Noir that perfectly fit the brooding atmosphere.
Having travelled through time, the crowd were now catapulted into space, through an asteroid field and past swollen red stars. The images became more abstract until they broke into brilliant blocks of colour shifting with the music, turning Edinburgh Castle into a dazzle ship floating in the night sky to rival anything moored in Leith.
Was there a bit of politics as a map of Europe coalesced at the end, with each country flashing into darkness until only Scotland remained? The spotlights all swung skywards, forming a beacon with the words ‘Welcome World’ were projected alongside.
Massive in scale and with a clear agenda, Deep Time didn’t quite reach the exhilarating and emotional heights of last year’s Harmonium Project at McEwan Hall. But as a spectacle and a declaration of the EIF’s growing ambition for itself and for Edinburgh – at a time when the world needs to be to be told it is still welcome here – Deep Time was a triumph.