Whats App Image 2022 08 28 at 12 55 04 PM
Cowslips on the canal towpath at Wester Hailes. Photo: Ellen Munro

Background Noise is a new radio station, part of an ongoing sound and print project by Edinburgh Art Festival associate artist Emmie McLuskey. Broadcasting weekly throughout August it has brought together Emmie’s collaborators, friends, people she knows who are doing work related to trade, technology, community, land, environment. The station’s first broadcast, live from Edinburgh’s artist-run Embassy gallery, is an hour and a half long radio show, a mixture of talk and music. I’m actually listening to it on the train about a week later. The train journey feels like a good stand-in for the Union Canal, around which the project is based—both are products of Britain’s industrialisation, both are lines of travel that join up the back of everything, back gardens, cut-throughs and warehouses, all the things that run beyond and behind a main road. As a thunderstorm darkens the landscape, I’m imagining the cool, dark concrete-floored basement of Embassy, down a service lane and underneath a yoga studio, one of the grassroots spaces Background Noise seeks to bring to the fore.

As well as artists who have been commissioned as part of the wider project, Edinburgh Art Festival’s programme assistant Lizzie Day interviews Iona Gibson, creator of De-Ziners, an Instagram page dedicated to documenting zine culture and an artist influential to her own practice. The DIY subject of their conversation foregrounds Lizzie’s background position as a member of the EAF team normally only active behind the scenes, her own practice put to one side as she performs the admin tasks so many artists must commit to in order to support themselves.

Background Noise makes audible and present, not only connections between people, but also connections between DIY, grassroots activity and the unseen labour that operates year round across networks of support, artist-run venues and organisations. These things are there if you tune in.

In a picture, or a view, the background might only be sketched or suggested. The Union Canal does not carry the illustrious fame of sites such as Edinburgh Castle, the New Town or Calton Hill. It isn’t a single scene, more a series of them, quietly stringing together neighbourhoods and pockets of activity in the less well known parts of city and country. Opened in 1822, built using mostly migrant labour, financed by colonial wealth and part of central Scotland’s industrial past, the canal is part the city’s historical narrative but has had little attention since it closed as a channel for industry. It has gradually been repurposed; populated now by swans and joggers.

Through the course of the first Background Noise broadcast, guests on the show aren’t just those living and working in Edinburgh for the festival month, but people who live and work long-term in Edinburgh, and from Glasgow, Skye, the Highlands, Marseille, Melbourne. The Canal provides a metaphor for the way in which DIY activity strings people together even as the structures themselves are repurposed and improvised; and in the background, rare cowslips grow in surprising numbers. A collaborative practice—in this case Emmie’s—can feel just like a radio show, on which guests are hosted, come and go, take part in conversation and where music and conversation sits in company with art and research.


Timothea Armour is an artist and writer living Leith. She is a co-coordinator of the Rhubaba Choir, bartender and gallery worker and is interested in writing about DIY intersections in art and music.

Emmie McLuskey is an artist based in Glasgow. She works with other artists to produce collaborative work; this has previously taken the form of publications, events, objects, conversations, writing and exhibitions.

Background Noise is live every Saturday in August, broadcast online and available to listen back at https://www.background-noise.com/. Episode One was originally broadcast on August 6thand featured the music and/or voices of Seumas Maclennan, Peter Morrison, Andrew Black, Mairi Gilles, Catherine MacPhee, James Oliver, Grace Wright, Cass Ezeji, Hannan Jones, Maviequefaire, Sasha Sergienko, Dip Friso, Lizzie Day, Iona Gibson, Sarah Fastre, Donna Candy and Quinie.