Carla Sayer

Through the Mill

A bench with headsets sits in front of a large mural of millworkers

Carla Sayer is a music creator originally from Glasgow, now based in Edinburgh. As a recent graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, Through the Mill is her sound installation debut.

Prior to working in sound full-time she spent several years working in the not-for-profit sector as a development worker. Having previously studied social anthropology, her work unravels arbitrary distinctions between sound-worlds, foregrounds marginalised voices, and has intrinsic reflexivity and self-awareness. She continues to work in community and health settings, now as a musician.

Through the Mill is a journey into Scotland's industrial past told by millworkers, and their daughters. Seldom heard first-hand accounts of home, work, play, and protest from women in Port Glasgow, Peebles, Aberdeen, and Dundee are woven into field recordings of historical machines and original music. Tracing the footsteps of the artist’s own millworker maternal great-grandmother, the composition becomes matriarchal: spinning and reinforcing the fragile threads between different generations of women. You are invited to join Mabel Skelton, Betty Stewart, Lizzie Higgins, Mary McPake, Minnie McPake, Betha Buchan and Margaret O’Donoghue to hear their first-hand accounts. Ahead of us is the indomitable Mary Brooksbank: socialist, atheist, poet, folksinger, anti-war campaigner, carer, and millworker, born blind in 1897 ‘in one of the worst slums in the city of Aberdeen’. She leads us on a strike for better pay and conditions.

And, as the roar of industry fades, the 'mill' becomes metaphor for how we are processed and categorised by our work, how this is publicly received, and how our voices and stories become stored, processed, forgotten, and reused over time. The journey through the mill can be loud, stifling, and sometimes terrifying as we become outnumbered by machines and our voices become processed out of existence. But remember, you are not alone. You are reminded of the rehumanising power of song, and you are encouraged to find your voice among the collective.

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