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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

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Concert In The Key of C – effective climate activism during COP26, via ukulele and bagpipes

concert in the key of C COP26 ukulele bagpipe guerrilla gig

A couple of hours from Glasgow, as the COP26 suits haggled,See Through News live-streamed a guerrilla gig with an audience of zero – how might this measurably reduce carbon?

Let’s put on a show – but why?

Staging a concert isn’t an obvious choice of action for a new social media network, soft-launching itself at COP26, 8 months after it registered its domain name.

But this was exactly why we did it, to demonstrate our different approach to effective climate activism.

But this was no ordinary concert. On the face of it, Concert in the Key of C might appear gratuitously obscure, even self-indulgent. Consider:

  • the set list was 100% previously unreleased material
  • performed on instruments not usually allowed within sight of each other, let alone played together
  • by two musicians who’d only just met
  • on a deserted hillside
  • at night
  • with a 3-person production crew including a 14-year-old with no relevant experience

Might there, however, be more to the Concert in the Key of C than meets the eye?

This was an early test of our methodology. Like all See Through News projects, this live event was a form of effective climate activism dressed up in unexpected and engaging ways, designed to measurably reduce carbon.

In Glasgow, we’d beta-tested two other projects, a prototype of The Think Game, and our Superhero & Supervillain Drawing Competition.

These had worked exactly as we’d hoped, on passers-by. A concert usually requires an audience.


Our Press Release

Here’s the press release we sent out to the world’s media ahead of the Concert of the Key of C.

‘It all started a couple of weeks ago when See Through News commissioned George Hinchliffe, founder and musical director of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain to compose an original piece to mark the launch of See Through News at COP26’, explains See Through News’s ‘Gift Horse Distributor’ and former news journalist and documentary filmmaker Robert Stern. 

Our only stipulation was that it would be a duet for ukulele and bagpipes. I told George I’d secured the interest of Tam Tam the Piping Bam, Scotland’s Premier Chinese-Speaking Anarchist Bagpiper, for the commission. I’ve known George too long not to have been surprised when he said he could adapt an arrangement for ukulele and bagpipe he’d composed in 1998 but never released. But I didn’t expect him to offer a whole concert’s worth of previously-unheard material. 

I’ve filmed George and the band touring the world over the years, from Australia to Svalbard and Chongqing, and have lost count of the  hours I’ve seen him on tour coaches, in airport lounges, and in green rooms, hunched over his laptop with headphones on, and musical staves on his screen.  The UOGB is basically a covers band, so one has a clue what’s been going on between George’s headphones for the past 36 years since he founded the UOGB as a one-off art student joke in 1985. I guess we’ll find out at 8pm on Wednesday’. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Concert in the Key of C was live-streamed on the See Through News YouTube channel at 8pm BST Wednesday November 10th, as the smoke-filled room negotiations reached their peak, two days before the official announcement.

The timing was based on decades of experience at such global summits, bun-fights and gab-fests. After 10 days, we figured, all the regular side-shows, demos, marches and publicity stunts would have run their course.

The next day the world’s media would switch to ‘tick-tock’ mode, counting down to the final communique, speculating and reporting on the diplomatic arm-wrestling and legalistic fine-tuning.

There was a narrow window, we figured, between the marching bands and the word-smithery of ‘urging’ v. ‘committing’, ‘target’ v. ‘goal’, and finer Blame Game nuances. A fine time, we thought, to put on a concert of ukulele and bagpipe music at a recently-constructed Ark on a deserted hillside.

What, we thought, could possibly go wrong with this plan?

A Nowhere Concert for Nobody?

No one took the bait. Not a single micro-sausage of media interest.

Had we had a PR volunteer, we could probably have roused a bit more interest, but we were all already multitasking with all our other jobs, and no one had the time to really do the media legwork.

We gambled on getting lucky, and lost.

But we still went ahead with the Concert in the Key of C. Having spend the previous few days preparing both the music and the production, we thought we might as well. If no one was paying attention, neither was anybody paying us.

We were ourselves curious as to whether it could be done by six volunteers, and how it would turn out.

When we streamed it ‘as-live’ on the 10th, a hundred or so people tuned it. Hardly worth all the effort, you might conclude, but that’s not what we thought.

For one thing, we did it, and thought it looked and sounded pretty good.

For another, of the 100 people who started watching it, 100% watched it till the end, which suggested the problem was in the marketing, not the product or methodology.

Like The Think Game, and the Superhero & Supervillain Drawing Competition, Concert in the Key of C demonstrated See Through News’s unique approach to effective climate activism through compelling storytelling projects that appeal on its their own merits.

We’ve written about our reflections on our COP 26 immediately after the event, and referenced what we learned in our article about our invitation to speak at an Effective Altruism conference a few months later.

The Concert Lives on…

As for the concert, once we got back home, a highly accomplished editor and sound engineer voluteered to made a more polished edit.

Ahead of COP27 in Cairo, we’re releasing clips of the Concert in the Key of C, bit by bit.

Here’s the teaser…

To be first to be alerted to subsequent clips, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

You’ll never guess what happens next.  We certainly had no idea…