WHY I'M NO-FLY; Let the birds have the skies

I know I’m privileged in my global Northness and that so many in the global South are not in a position to stop flying until alternative transport infrastructures improve ...

Lola Perrin
(Photo: Mitchel Sams R.I.P.)

In 2018 I wrote my tenth piano suite,’ The Big Invisible Clock - a music art climate suite’ featuring works made by artists Nazarin Montag and Eléonore Pironneau. The suite was scored for piano, string quartet with a spoken and sung vocal part performed by Estelle Kokot. I wore one of those white emergency suits which was taped on the legs to indicate predicted sea-level rise.

The libretto integrated quotations from climate change experts: George Adamson, Laurie Barlow, Graham Bell, Chris Brierley, Tim Crosland, Kris de Meyer, Aubrey Meyer, Kate Raworth and Alex Steffen.

The performance included a live conversation between international lawyer Farhana Yamin and journalist Fergal Byrne.

As part of the performance the audience was invited to write responses to provocations within Pironneau’s two art cards:

What would you like to see through your window?

How do we stop doing business-as-usual so we prepare adequately for the emergency?

As we come out of the pandemic and as I come out of a consequential and long creative block, I’ve found myself returning to one of the works of the suite, ‘Let the birds have the skies’; revising, extending, discovering an entire universe of notes I didn’t know were there. What had been a 7-minute piece is now becoming an album, one continuous solo piano work influenced by how the skies cleared of planes during the pandemic.

The music is mathematical with gradual shifting beats. People like me who give up flying because it so dangerously contributes to planet heating know the maths; it’s frequent fliers who are causing most climate damage through flights. I was an infrequent flier but still, giving up flying and publicly stating my reasons is intended to make frequent flyers think.

I’m the founder of ClimateKeys, a global climate music movement with a no-fly policy that features audience conversations. On the website I write “Culture must be a major participant in environmental and social regeneration”. ‘Let the birds have the skies’ is one example of this philosophy.

I know I’m privileged in my global Northness and that so many in the global South are not in a position to stop flying until alternative transport infrastructures improve, and until national economies are no longer dependent on tourism (for which there currently needs to be flights). It’s a big mess, right? So I expect some of that mess will crop up in the piece too.

There's something else about deciding not to leave a wake of pollution in the skies for others to work out how to remove before it chokes us all. You start to think differently about so much more and find yourself making further adjustments that reduce your environmental impact. It feels freeing, it feels like an unburdening.

When I'm on a long train ride marvelling at the unique beauty of the unfolding landscape that can only be experienced from that particular train route, my mind wanders to Johann Sebastian Bach and how he only travelled the distance of 250 miles in his whole life.

Compared with the options we face to survive and repair, a minimalist geographical reach is as desirable to me as Bach's music.