Sunday, June 12, 2016

An interview with Simon Kerr in Australia on using a climate-themed musical show ‘Music for a Warming World’ to raise awareness of global warming issues in a hopeful, positive manner


Melbourne based New Zealander singer, songwriter, guitarist and thinker, Simon Kerr.
is interveiewed for a global audience on this blog.


He created‘Music for a Warming World’.



FIRST QUESTION from DAN BLOOM in Taiwan: Simon, I love what you and your team there are doing with ‘Music for a Warming World’. When did the show begin? How will the shows be booked? What might it cost to book such a show for a nonprofit cliamte group or school that wants to hire your team? In Australian dollars.
SIMON KERR: ‘Music for a Warming World’was developed in the last half of 2015, and we did a couple of test runs with various academic and artistic people to help refine the ideas and show format. Then we kicked it off at the beginning of 2015 and to date (as of June 2016) have done about 15 shows. 

People and groups have been contacting us as they hear about the show and we then discuss them hosting ‘Music for a Warming World’. We don’t have a fixed fee but prefer to discuss how best to make it work. There is a range of ways to do this, and we do need to cover costs and honour the musicians who play with us. We hope that it will become financially sustainable over time, so we can keep performing.  

QUESTION: Will you possibly perform at literary festivals in Australia, where there are so many lit festivals in Sydney, Brisbane, Melborune, Tamania and Perth?
SK: We would be delighted to perform ‘Music for a Warming World’at literary festivals, and think the show would be a novel creative addition to such events. We are still in the early stages of publicising the show -- and literary festivals are definitely an option. Currently our main focus is on house concerts, music festivals, community groups and academic conferences, but we are very open to new opportunities that we haven’t thought of. We see ‘Music for a Warming World’ as a resource for all sorts of communities to help generate discussion and engagement on climate change, as well as a really nice way to spend an afternoon or evening!

 QUESTION: In the future could your team possibly do overseas shows of ‘Music for a Warming World’ in New Zealand, Japan, Canada, USA or UK, or Norway or UK literary drama fesitvals like the HAY FESTIVAL in future years?
SK: At this stage we are focusing on establishing the show in Australia first, for lots of reasons. Partly we are trying to limit our carbon footprint, but we also recognise the show has something to offer for a more international audience. We would be interested in taking it internationally provided we go for a decent amount of time with a large number of performances. That way we can lower our carbon footprint by doing fewer but longer tours rather than many short stints.

QUESTION - You were born in New Zealand. Did you grow up there, and when did you come to Australia and at what age did you pick up the guitar and start singing and writing songs? What was the motivation or inspiration to put your heart and sould into communicating through songs and words?

SK: I am a proud Kiwi, growing up in the deep south of the South Island, a land of magnificent landscapes, rivers, mountains, forests. I came to Australia in 2007 for work, a reluctant migrant. However, I do like Australia, it is a very dynamic place and deeply beautiful in its own unique way. I played guitar, like many young people, for a few years, in an enthusiastic but rudimentary way, and then took up drumming. That was my initial musical experience, but in my late 30s I decided to trying song-writing. Unexpectedly, I discovered that I could write songs rather easily. That is not to imply they were all great songs, but I discovered a sort of communication avenue that music provided. I could express my thoughts in succinct ways that seemed to communicate at a level that words alone could not always achieve.
That was the spark for developing ‘Music for a Warming World’. I realised that storytelling, the emotionality of music, if combined with visual images, could provide a space for communication that was different from other forms of communication. I think it opens up a ’space’ for people to engage with a story/ideas by ‘feeling’, and not just intellectualising. I am fundamentally an intellectual, in that I approach the world through trying to develop clarity of thinking and reasonableness in my ideas, but I also have experiences of my environment that deepen my understanding. That is the key reason I write and play music; I can communicate these things in a deeper way.  

QUESTION.​ I read a comment online where a climate activist in Australia ​who is interested in the arts as well, wrote that he has been working on the climate issue now for over 20 years and that the work you are doing is more important than anything else being done by anybody. ''You are filling a gaping hole,'' he said. He added: "It would be good for lyrics and music score to become widely available so this social art can go viral globally. "

SK: That comment, I read it too, I think it was focusing on the role of music in climate change advocacy. The visual and literary arts are well represented in recent years, but the musical community has been less responsive for a range of reasons. While we are not aware of anyone doing exactly what we are doing with ‘Music for a Warming World’, there are a number of musicians creating their own responses to the climate challenge. But we need a much more rigorous response given the urgency of the climate crisis. 

I hope to have some of the lyrics available soon, though I’d need to get the music transcribed before that could be made available. Most of the songs are available for downloading, but we have yet to record about 5 of them. That it all takes time and, unfortunately, money!

NOTE: Some other musical things happening are: There is this wonderful piece by a cellist Daniel Crawford and this interesting project based in San Fransisco They are great on the science (Simon plays the Crawford piece in his show, the only piece of borrowed music) but they don't go further into the emotional journey of engagement.
QUESTION There is an interesting piece from the BBC online asking "where are all the climate songs?" It is commercially risky for an artist to do something, but you, Simon, are convinced it there are ways to do it, right?SK: It may well be risky for a commercially -uccessful music artist to try to push an agenda. I respect that. It is very hard to make a living as a musician, and for the most part, people want music to entertain them, not create discomfort or get them to think about complex and troubling matters. To counter that, we have created an entire immersive experience that takes people on a journey. Where one song about the climate system might just annoy someone, telling a longer story allows people time to process the ideas. We always finish on hope and community so people leave with a clear ‘feeling’ that although the challenge is great, we really CAN turn this around, if we all play our part.  

NOTE: The Simon Kerr Perspective has taken on the artistic challenge to tell the story of the climate challengeIt uses stunning images, superb original music and captivating narrativeThis concert moves minds and hearts, is entertaining, sad, funny, informative and empoweringIt speaks honestly about the science, provides hope for the future, inspiring new and positive ways to think and feel about the climate challenge

SK: I had been thinking about this show for some years, since I wrote my first song about climate change in 2004. I had tried some years ago, but probably didn’t have the right people to work with me. Christine (my partner and show co-producer) and I started this mid-2015 and I was working full-time on it for probably about 4 months. It took a lot of conceptual thinking to get the narrative right, then try to work out what music and visuals were needed to support each section. I have spent far more time than is healthy (!) on sourcing interesting and relevant video and still images, and ensuring that it technically all flows properly (very time consuming). That is not counting the time in musical development, rehearsals, website development and promotion. But it has all been very exciting and engaging and we both feel privileged to have the opportunity to do this.  
DAN BLOOM: Thank you, Simon, for your time and energy on all this and this short interview, too. I am based in Taiwan, from Boston, and as a PR activist for climate issues, I will blog this interview and tweet the link worldwide and put in on our Cli-Fi Facebook group page, too.

Simon Kerr: Thank you, Dan. Glad you found us!

=======================POST INTERVIEW NOTES ==============


WHY THIS SHOW? WHY ‘Music for a Warming World’.

The planetary climate balance is changing, and it is now beyond doubt that human activity is the primary reason for this.
According to the latest IPCC report (2014): "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia..." This means the planet is getting hotter and we are the main cause!  

It is also widely agreed that the average annual global temperature increase (against pre-industrial levels) must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius. Beyond this it is highly likely that we will not be able to prevent further temperature increase. As of November 2015, the world is about to reach, for the first time, 1 degree C above the agreed base line. 

Many scientists already think we will hit 4 - 6 degrees increase. If that happens, our planet risks becoming unliveable for the types of societies we have created.


This means that the world, as we know it, will no longer exist. Massive heatwaves, highly charged storm systems, serious flooding, long term droughts and huge migrations of climate refugees will overwhelm our communities and our economic, political and food production systems.

These things will happen if the global temperature continues to increase, though exactly where and when these things will occur is uncertain and the subject of much scientific study.


But these risks are not just academic. They are currently changing our lives and will force upon us profound changes to the way we live our lives. As Naomi Klein argues, This changes everything’.


And in the words of Lord Nicholas Stern,We are the first generation that through its neglect could destroy the relationship between humans and the planet and perhaps the last generation that can prevent dangerous climate change”.

So this is why you and your team have created this concert. You say ''We must act, force our leaders to act, challenge those corporate leaders who are placing private profit over community wellbeing, disinvest from fossil fuels and reinvest urgently in green technology. But we must also have hope, find joy and reassurance in our solidarity. And that is one thing music can help with!''

Music is an important means of communicating about things that matter to us all.

Good music moves us, changes our brain chemistry, touches our hearts as well as our heads, and moves our feet!

Music for a Warming World is an annotated multimedia concert that uses music, stories and images to explore some of the challenges of a warming climate and the concerns that many people experience.
The concert is grounded in the science, sociology and politics of climate change, but is not primarily focused on education in the science. Rather, it is designed to inspire new and positive ways to think and feel about the climate challenge.
The reason for this approach is simple: inspiring us to respond positively to the challenges of a changing climate requires more than just an objective presentation of facts.

It also requires its translation into emotion, for this is often where transformation takes place.

This is a role of music and the focus of this concert.
It takes us all on a musical journey that traces the nature of global warming, the challenges it is creating, the social causes of the slow response by leaders and many in human community and most importantly, reflects some positive ways to look at these issues and to stay hopeful about the future.
To achieve this, we use a combination of music, words, narrative and visual images.
The concert is not intended to convert anyone to anything, but to rather use music to create an experience.
We use a wide range of musical genres and images, some light-hearted and humorous, and others moving and penetrating.
The show features mostly original music that is rooted in the folk tradition of story telling, but uses a wide range of musical forms from neo-folk, acoustic, reggae, and world music, and the odd bit of story telling!

‘Music for a Warming World’

 Inspire ways of thinking and feeling optimistically about our warming world;

Give emotional expression to the science and challenges of a changing climate;
    Document through music. stories and visual images, the past, present and possible futures for us from climate change; and

    Play great music that people will love, because, whatever the future, we all need moments of pleasure and joy!


    ‘Music for a Warming World’: a Multimedia Concert

    Welcome to our show. What you are about to see is a little different from a normal gig; it is a musical and visual journey.

    “We are the first generation that through its neglect could destroy the relationship between humans and the planet and perhaps the last generation that can prevent this” (Lord Nicholas Stern, 2014)

    1) Before the Storm

    A dark, rhythmic and roots based stomper exploring the emotions of the singer as he sees dark clouds on the horizon (metaphorically and literally)

    2) Chemistry

    By releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases, we are artificially changing the atmosphere. This mostly instrumental song brings us back to the basis of atmospheric chemistry through the use of videos clips and aural experience. Performed in a style Simon refers to as ‘world music’ with an unusually tuned 12 String guitar at its core.

    3) A Song for a Warming Planet

    An instrumental, originally composed by cellist Daniel Crawford, where each note corresponds to the average global temperature from 1880 to 2012. Hear the original version here

    4) Greenhouse Gases for the Masses

    A partly spoken-word tune in a hiphop/folk style, this tune lays out the basic facts of planetary warming in a simple way; the rapid increase of carbon in the atmosphere and the temperature increases that parallel the CO2 levels.

    SEGUE: Last time there was this much carbon in the atmosphere, modern humans did not exist. The world’s oceans were 30 metres higher than they are today and global average surface temperature was 6 degrees warmer than now. Our world is changing and there is much that will be lost.


    PART 2: LOSS

    5) There is a Bear

    In thinking what is being lost in our world, this song and came up with this strange tail about a bear and a time machine.

    6) For Those Who Will Come

    “The world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us” (Pope Francis, 159, Encyclical on Care for our Common home’)

    This issue becomes personal when we think of our children and grandchildren who will inherit the world from us. This song was released on Simon’s 2011 Album ‘Sweet Lover’ and was written as a love song for future generations.



    We know the challenges, but are we going to make it? It depends on what we do now… the next set of songs explores some things that are going to change.



    7) One cheer for Coal (a cappella)

    Coal and oil have done wonderful things for us. They powered the industrial revolution, built our wealth, supported our scientific development, made us much wealthier, given us better health, longer lives and so on, so lets acknowledge our debt to fossil fuel. I am no longer the impoverished Irish potato farmer that my forebears were, in many ways thanks to what fossil fuels have done.

    “Let’s have one last cheer for coal
    It’s done so much for humanity
    Now it’s clear it’s simply mad
    To burn more coal for energy
    For reason that are clear and now
    It’s time to say farewell 
    So cheerio, our old friend coal 
    Cheerio coal, cheerio”

    8) Leave the Dead Where They Fall

    Christine and I saw the giant redwoods in Yosemite National Park (California) for the first time recently. I found it a powerful, almost spiritual experience, being in the presence of the largest living entities on Earth. This got me thinking about how coal comes from the bodies of dead plants from millions of years ago.

    In some ways we’re digging up the spirits of the dead

    This song has been recorded and will be available in early 2016

    9) A little Story about Dis-investing

    One powerful and achievable thing to do it is take our money out of any institution that still invests in fossil fuels, and put it into a responsible institution. Here is a little story about that.

    10) This Changes Everything (this changes our world)

    “Climate change is not an issue, it is a civilizational wake up call, and this changes everything” (Naomi Klein)

    This song was inspired by Naomi Klein’s powerful book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Cheap fossil fuels have powered our economies and lifestyle, and made some groups very wealthy. Those currently benefiting most will not easily give up their hold on power. We need significant change to the global governance of our atmospheric commons. And this will change everything!

    This song has been recorded and will be available in early 2016

    11) Moving a Big Sky

    A song in praise of wind energy, and indirectly all clean energy, from Simon’s 2014 album, Never Gonna Die

    SEGUE: There are some great things happening, but the truth is I find the future really quite challenging. Even if we got serious today, significant climate impacts are now locked in and inescapable.


    So I have been meditating over the years on how we can thrive in a world of uncertainty.  We’re going to finish with a set of songs that I made up to help me focus on some of the good things we can do and be. 



    12) Imagine the World

    The future is not fixed. There are huge changes underway in technology, energy economy and civil society and there are grounds for hope. But only if we decide what sort of future we want. 

    “And I imagine our world and what we could be
    A chance to write our future history
    Let’s imagine our world, one where it’s clear
    That living can be better in our future, than it is here”

    13) Simple Things

    Living simply is not only good for the planet, but is remarkably good for the soul. This popular reggae sing-along tune is from Simon’s 2011 album, ‘Sweet Lover’.

    “I love these simple things
    Simple things
    All of these simple things
    These simple things now”

    14) Permanence (in a temporary sort of way)

    To flourish in the face of climate change is to live well in the midst of uncertainty. This tune is off Simon’s first album (2007) Voyager, and suggests that we can find emotional anchors even in the midst of uncertainty and change. The link is to a new arrangement of this tune by the Simon Kerr Perspective.

    (All songs in ‘Music for a Warming World’, except for ''Song for a Warming Planet,'' have been written by Simon Kerr)

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