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A photo of Carla Sayer in front of a wall display showing an archive image of two people working machinery.

Haunting sound and video installations inspired by archive recordings spanning 70 years are offering exhibition audiences fresh perspectives on Scotland’s rich history and traditions.

The new exhibition, which includes work by Edinburgh College of Art MMus Composition alum and artist Carla Sayer, features recordings from a remarkable University of Edinburgh resource and take gallery-goers on a sensory journey around cities and towns, countryside and coasts. 

A Carrying Stream showcases work by three artists who have taken audio and film material from the School of Scottish Studies Archives and reimagined it for the digital age – to mesmerising effect. 

The exhibition is open now in the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library until 30 September. 

Creating music with archival clips 

Carla Sayer is an Edinburgh-based music creator and MMus Composition graduate of ECA, whose work is a journey into Scotland's industrial past. The reminiscences of millworkers are interspersed with field recordings of old machines and an original music score – a tribute to the artist’s great-grandmother and her working life in a textiles factory. 

Carla says: “I hope this can help us collectively to consider how far women have come, bring to light what they endured to improve their pay and conditions, and reflect on how far we still have to go.” 

Exhibition co-curator Bianca Packham describes the exhibition as a deep listening experience that transports people to another time and place: "As visitors enter the gallery, we hope they take a moment to sit, close their eyes and be carried along the stream.” 

The exhibition also features work by Blair Coron, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Fife and Fraser MacBeath, an audio-visual artist from the Isle of Lewis.

A photo of part of an exhibition showing an archival image of people working at a machine. Work: Carla Sayer

Ebb and flow 

The exhibition’s title comes from a line by poet, songwriter and political activist Hamish Henderson, who was a researcher in the School of Scottish Studies. Henderson wrote: “Maker, ye maun (must) sing them … tomorrow, songs will flow free again, and new voices be borne on the carrying stream.” 

Bianca Packham explains: “Traditions ebb and flow. They wind their way through time and space, shaped by the people and places they encounter, deeply rooted yet constantly evolving. 

“Hamish Henderson's ‘carrying stream’ encapsulates this fluidity and dynamism, reminding us that traditions are always in a state of flux.” 

A creative resource that cherishes tradition 

The School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh was established in 1951 to collect, preserve, research and publish material relating to the cultural traditions and folklore of Scotland. 

This archive of materials, which includes audio recordings, fieldwork equipment, photographs from the 1930s onwards, film and manuscripts is open for creative use, and can be used by Edinburgh College of Art students and staff for their projects. 

Exhibition co-curator Kirsty Stewart says: "The potency of archives lies in their use and re-use. We are fortunate that the School of Scottish Studies Archives regularly attracts creative users such as Carla, Blair, and Fraser. The creative re-use of archives is no less important or indeed impactful than when archives are used more conventionally, say for teaching classes or written research.” 

A Carrying Stream will run from 9 June to 30 September in the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library at 30 George Square. Admission is free. 

An artists’ talk with Carla Sayer – 13 September 

As part of the exhibition, Carla will be giving an artist’s talk on 13 September in the Main Library. 

Hear the history behind ‘Through the Mill’ and the millworkers who were a key part of Scotland’s industrial story, and the story of how Scottish radical politics developed in the early 20th century. 

Carla will also share how she created music with the clips and snippets of conversation captured by School of Scottish Studies Sound Archives fieldworkers to form the rhythm, harmony, music, and sound design for ‘Through the Mill’. 

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