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Lola Perrin: ClimateKeys

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Photo by Nazarin Montag

Lola Perrin is a classically-trained pianist and composer who aims to engage the public on climate breakdown. On Saturday, she brings her ClimateKeys project to the Festival of Debate, alongside speaker Asad Rehman from War on Want. Tickets are free. We asked her about the show, and how art can change the world.

Tell us about the End Climate Chaos tour.

The tour starts in Sheffield and goes to five other towns in the north of England the following week. I hope it will also go to other countries, but it won't be me because of the no-fly policy. There'll be lots of different musicians playing this tour, which is an up-to-date version of ClimateKeys. No longer does ClimateKeys need to engage people to break the silence. The silence has been broken in my opinion. It's becoming much more focused on concrete steps rather than general conversations.

In some of this work I try and make the audience feel they're billions of miles away but experiencing us drifting through space

So with Asad Rehman, he's going to talk about the Global Green Deal, and why we need a just transition. I first heard Asad speak in Sheffield in 2015, when I had set about some self-education about what the fuck was going on with the climate. His speech at Sheffield Trades Union Council conference on climate change was really electrifying and influenced me in the weeks and months after. I'm amazed I'm now going to be back in Sheffield performing this project with him as my guest speaker!

How does ClimateKeys sit with the demands of Extinction Rebellion?

Maybe ClimateKeys can bring forward more understanding of what the National Citizens' Assembly is. People I've talked to share that thought. Do we really know what it means, do we understand it? I'm trying to make a type of game with the audience, where we experience a little bit of what might be involved if you were in a Citizens' Assembly. It doesn't set out to be a Citizens' Assembly of course. It touches on how it might feel to be in one.

Citizens' Assemblies are informed deliberations, right?

Exactly, and the assembly proposed by Extinction Rebellion would go on for absolutely months because it's so difficult. It's randomly selected but maybe there's some kind of control so that there's representation from many walks of life.

What inspired you to compose these pieces?

ClimateKeys grew out of a piano suite I wrote called Significantus. I've decided to revise it for End Climate Chaos, because Significantus was written in 2016 from writings by prominent climate researchers and it's almost like a historical document. In just under three years, the change in activism is very encouraging. I thought it would create quite an interesting contrast to look at what I was thinking and what researchers were writing in 2016 to show how much activism and consciousness has developed.

Tell us about Significantus.

That word itself is my construct, I put two words 'significant' and 'cantus' together. 'Cantus' is used a lot in music, especially in the Baroque period. Significantus is to use our voices or propagate this idea that we are revoking 500 years of philosophical thought, in which we were told we were insignificant. In 2016 this was radical thinking. In all the meetings I was going to suddenly researchers were saying "we are significant! Every single thing we're doing is significant!" Okay, 2019, we all know that now. We all know that every time we use a straw it's significant. But three years ago there was not that level of awareness.

If you're going to have a political meeting, no-one's gonna come

When I wrote this work I was triggered by this idea that our significance on the planet is extremely powerful. I was triggered by this thought that our planet is essentially a spaceship for nine billion people. If this was actually a spaceship, we wouldn't tamper with the air. In some of this work I try and make the audience feel they're billions of miles away but experiencing us drifting through space. To try and take us away from ourselves a little bit. In this piano suite is a 40-minute silence: you get the guest speaker for 15 minutes, and then you get 20 minutes of audience dialogue lead by the speaker. But not a Q&A, it's a facilitated dialogue. If someone asks a question the speaker has to remember not to answer it, but to pass it back to the audience. A genuine dialogue is much more interesting.

What role do creatives have in averting climate breakdown?

If you're going to have a political meeting, no-one's gonna come. If you're going to have a dance or a gig, it's more appealing. You don't pull the wool over their eyes, so you make it clear there's music and conversation about action. I think it's an invaluable device for increasing engagement. We can bring so many more people in to cultural spaces to talk to each other about what's happening and ways forward.

See ClimateKeys ft. Asad Rehman & Lola Perrin on Saturday 11 May at Theatre Deli. Book free tickets here.

Sam Gregory

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