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SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT: Lola Perrin, composer, pianist, activist, founder of ClimateKeys

Lola Perrin is a composer and pianist who has performed extensively in Europe. She has published ten piano suites and works for two, four and six pianos. She is also the founder of ClimateKeys, an initiative that combines live music with guest speaker talks and audience dialogue on action on climate change. To date over sixty concerts have been held in thirteen countries. Lola is also an active member of Extinction Rebellion. She will be speaking on the panel From climate change science to radical action on 16th October, 6-7.30pm. Other speakers include the author and ecologist Hugh Warwick, Matthew Gandy, Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography at the University of Cambridge, and Laura Diaz Anadon, Professor of Climate Change Policy, also from Cambridge. The event will be chaired by Steve Evans from the University’s Centre for Industrial Sustainability.


Question: Can you describe the kind of music you compose and what your musical influences have been?

Lola Perrin: I call it Rave Music for Butterflies. My influences are from how various styles have affected me emotionally; many albums on the ECM label, and works by Ravel, Steve Reich and Keith Jarrett. Tinges of jazz harmony may come through, but it’s classical in that all the notes are scored. I’ve published 10 solo piano suites and also compositions for four hands, eight hands and two, four and six pianos.


Question: How and why did you set up ClimateKeys?

Lola Perrin: In 2016 there was much less public engagement with climate breakdown (as we call it now). I thought there should be conversation going on everywhere – in the bank, in the shopping centre, in the street, in the church, in the school – about what to do in the face of our global temperature rise. I could no longer be a musician as if all around me wasn't imploding and came to the conclusion that all I could do was put the conversation that I felt was missing in real life spaces into my own concert spaces. So I wrote the piano suite, ‘Significantus’, which contains a 40-minute space for conversation – and that way I was converting the music space into an arena for climate discussions. I found I was getting more bookings to play live than I usually did and that venues were genuinely supportive of how I was trying to encouraging climate change engagement. 

As chance would have it, I broke some toes on the suitcase of a famous climatologist and was advised not to move my foot for two weeks – I used the time to write to hundreds of pianists around the world telling them about this work and asking if they’d make similar concerts. Many wanted to take part and this led to the founding of ClimateKeys in 2017.


Question: What are its aims and how international is it?

Lola Perrin: The aim was to help break the silence on climate change. The concerts feature a 15-minute talk by a guest speaker; these range from economists to scientists to founders of clean energy charities to engaged authors. Over time the conversations have morphed away from information on our crisis to discussion on action -  because, thanks to manifold initiatives we’ve seen in the last 24 months, many more people are aware of the causes of temperature rise and want to talk about what to do about it.


Question: What extra dimension do you think music gives talks on climate change?

Lola Perrin: The arts affect the emotions. If you invite the public to a political meeting no-one’s going to come – but it you combine these urgent, overdue discussions with music, it’s more appealing. Despite the subject being so apocalyptic we get a positive response; music gives time for reflection and by placing the conversation at the heart of the concert, it’s symbolic of placing action on the existential threat right into the centre of all we do. Of course, we’ve now seen the explosion of Extinction Rebellion which has really changed the cultural landscape. So many initiatives including ClimateKeys, which are all part of the story that led to the creation of Extinction Rebellion, are feeding their activities into the wider Extinction Rebellion organism.


Question: Were you involved in environmental activism before this?

Lola Perrin: Not really, but I was deeply worried, increasingly so – wringing my hands, trying to read science papers I didn’t understand and then going to arts & science events organised by Tipping Point to try and get some answers about where I could fit in to what was going on.


Question: What role do you think the arts can play in addressing global heating, particularly in creating a readiness for the kind of radical action required?

Lola Perrin: I’m not sure, I don’t think it’s a case of an artist making a formal decision about playing a role to help us all act. For example, I composed ‘Significantus’ because it was a way to release myself from my handwringing around the (then) silence on climate change.

Judging by what I saw this summer at the Venice Biennale (I travelled overland I want to say), dystopic imaginings may be dominating many visual artists these days and you might think that a focus on dystopia is unhelpful, because what we need are positive visions to charge us to get us get out of this mess. In Argentinian Mariana Talleria’s “The name of a country”, spirals of car doors and industrial parts twist in a macabre dance high up in the ceiling of darkened spaces so that you could barely see the forms. Elsewhere Polish Roman Stanczac had turned an aircraft inside out. Such artists may not even see their works as dystopic and on reflection, I think, rather than dystopic, once you get over the initial shock, the works might be playing with the process of ‘relinquishment’ conceived by Jem Bendell and about which he wrote in his paper ‘Deep Adaptation’, where we decide what it is that we need to let go of as part of the process of adapting to social collapse. Or, another way of interpreting such works is if cars and agricultural machinery and planes are out of reach and out of service, we’ll then be on a better path. And that’s probably helpful.


Question: You have been on tour with Extinction Rebellion this year and have been involved in their activities. What plans do you have with regard to similar activities in the next few months?

Lola Perrin: I’ve been touring ‘End Climate Chaos’ in the north of England in collaboration with local Extinction Rebellion groups in which I perform piano and a local spoken word artist performs poetry or prose and we have a short talk about the Citizens’ Assembly. The audience then splits into small groups to discuss how to create the conditions for a Citizens’ Assembly. It sounds complicated, but it’s not – and there’s also an entertaining surprise for the audience which usually gets a laugh – comedy is vital in these dark times. I’m planning more of these concerts (travelling to other countries overland. I don’t fly). I’m also working with a group on helping the media communicate more information about our national security threat so people understand how serious the risks are, as well as planning a series of visits to industry front doors to propose how they can get off the hamster wheel and onto the right side of history.


Question: How can people who are worried about global heating best make their voices heard?

Lola Perrin: I would encourage people to read about Extinction Rebellion and join; there are as many ways to make our voices heard as we each can think of that draw attention to three aims which can be read about on the website. I recently coordinated a response to a global aviation expansion event - we featured comedy and music on the street outside. The Managing Director came out to meet us and took part in a spontaneous Q&A with us – on microphone and on film. We challenged him on the emissions growth in the aviation industry and got the delegates in the conference to talk about their environmental impact and the story ended up on Bloomberg. Now…the confidence it took to do this was not present in me before my involvement with XR. I’m clearer about the process of effecting the radical change being called for. With 130 UK groups and 339 further groups in 58 countries there must be something right about the movement.