AN evocative tapestry of sound and images depicting daily life in Wester Hailes is on display at the Whale Arts Centre in Edinburgh from Tuesday, before being shown at the city centre’s Fruitmarket Gallery.

Part of Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s three-year residency in Wester Hailes, Incredible Distance was made with adults living locally over six weeks of sessions with composer Suzanne Parry and workshop leader Emma Smith.

Participants collected a variety of voices and environmental sounds from the area which, alongside parts for clarinet and double bass, were woven into a composition by Parry and around images by artist-filmmaker Ewan John.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever written parts for clarinet and ring road before,” laughs Parry, who says Incredible Distance has been the most enjoyable project she’s been involved with for years.

The premise of depicting Wester Hailes in sound came from the resident-participants, explains the composer.

“At the start, we were trying to get to know people, asking them questions about their day, not realising how naive we were being,” says Parry. “One of the participants said: ‘You know, there’s a certain amount of trepidation for some of us being asked that question, as we get asked that as a matter of course, week-in, week-out’.”

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She continues: “We wondered if there was way we could turn this around, where we can express what it’s like to be in Wester Hailes for a day with dignity, with pride and with agency. As a group we realised that sharing your day in terms of sounds comes with no judgement or fear of judgement. We could all talk about the ice cream van that goes round everyday, or the noise from the Edinburgh bypass.”

With phones set to audio record, the participants went out and about in their neighbourhood capturing bird sounds from the nearby Union Canal, upstairs neighbours preparing to see grandchildren, rain against windows, the whir of passing buses, the street’s noisy dog and much else besides.

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One of the participants was Violet Emily Stevenson, a Wester Hailes resident for 35 years. The former photography lab technician started her own online business when chronic illness meant she was unable to work outside her home.

“This ceased when my mother became unwell and needed care,” says Stevenson, who used to perform her own songs at open mic nights. “I cared for my mother until she sadly passed away at the end of March 2018. After my caring role, I felt I needed to ‘get back into society’, if you like.” She adds: “I’d spent years working from home and unable to socialise due to my illness. I didn’t socialise while I cared for my mother either so I really felt secluded for many years. I felt that engaging with the community would help build up my confidence again.”

Other Incredible Distance participants are relative newcomers to the area; people who have found themselves being placed in the area through the council’s points system.

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“You don’t get a choice,” says Parry. “If you win the bid, you have to go. Two or three of them got their after being made temporarily homeless or displaced and they won their bid. You have a roof over your head, which is great. But there’s no agency, you’re just given it and you have to make it work. That’s a bit disorientating.”

While community projects are historically viewed in terms of their social utility than artistic merit, Incredible Distance is a formidable audio visual installation which deserved its inclusion at the Royal Scottish Academy’s recent exhibition.

“I think we’ve extended the imagination of what community arts and what community music can be,” says Parry. “It doesn’t have to be singing along to Beatles covers and shaking tambourines, though that is important too. We can take the public with us into sophisticated spaces.”

And those social benefits work both ways, she explains.

“I’m a jobbing musician who lives in a small village with two children and no childcare, and I can feel very isolated,” Parry says. “I have struggled with loneliness and depression and going to see the people in Wester Hailes was so helpful for me personally. The project has definitely given us a shared sense of pride.”

Towards the end of the highly atmospheric soundscape is the voice of a woman talking about watching geese. Wester Hailes is right on their migrating flight path. She explains that their group power is due to the birds taking turns in the tough role leading the formation.

“As a group they manage to go this incredible distance that any of them on their own couldn’t,” she explains.

The parallels with the Incredible Distance project go without saying.

Jan 22 to Feb 9, Whale Arts, Wester Hailes, Edinburgh.

Feb 12 to Feb 16, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh.