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Q&A with Vik SharmaToby Litt

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How did the collaboration between you and Ruth Padel on 24 Splashes of Denial come about?

The Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was the beginning. Its release was shocking and psychically disturbing for many of us.

Inaction felt like a betrayal of everything I loved, believed in, hoped for.

After producing Listen Without Listening, an album of music that drew upon field recordings of nature, I wanted to do something that referenced the climate emergency more explicitly. I also wanted to try and incorporate spoken word, so I began to research lectures by climate scientists, speeches by activists and politicians. While these were informative, they also tended to be rather leaden and uninspired in their delivery.

I’d been aware of the work of Writers Rebel, particularly the event that took place outside 55 Tufton Street in London in September 2020. Some of the speeches on that day were brilliant, insightful, perfect in every way, but the recordings were full of background noise and it was immediately clear I couldn’t work with them.

While browsing the Writers Rebel website, I came across the poem ‘24 Splashes of Denial‘ by Ruth Padel. Despite having been recorded on a phone, the vocal delivery was beautiful – fragile and meditative but imbued with humanity and wit.

I’d been playing with a string arrangement, two violins, doubling then running counter melodically, a short thing, maybe 16 bars. I laid the vocals over the music and immediately knew there was a chance they could work together.

I wrote the rest of the sequence pretty quickly; the numbered structure of the poem was hugely helpful and the ebb and flow of Ruth’s voice made it easier to follow musically. Essentially, I scored the poem, as I would a scene for a film or TV show.

Once I had a serviceable demo, I sent it to Ruth. She was incredibly supportive and gave me permission to use the piece. She has remained a benign and encouraging presence during the entire process. I am indebted to her for making this happen.


We’re used to interviewing poets and prose writers for Writers Rebel. What kind of dialogue do you think poetry and music can enter into?

Poetry and music have always been complimentary artforms . The history of popular music is littered with examples of lyrics that have been inspired by, even directly borrowed from poets. There are also popular musicians like Jay-Z, Bob Dylan, Kendrick Lamar and Joni Mitchell who blur the boundaries of both disciplines.

Poets like Langston Hughes used the rhythmic, improvisational essence of Jazz to redefine poetry and move it beyond formalism to a place of raw creativity. This revolutionary style would lead directly to the Beats – Kerouac, Kaufman and Amiri Baraka – and, ultimately, Hip-Hop.

Hip-hop would not exist without poetry. It is a constantly evolving musical art form whose single unchanging foundation is its dependence on the spoken word.

What I’d like to explore is the notion of scoring the poem. Writing the music around the words, reflecting the emotional undertow, placing the poet at the very front of the mix, not requiring the poet to keep time, or follow a defined tempo or time signature. I think this approach has cinematic resonances, where the purpose of music is to accompany the mis-en-scene, heighten emotion and articulate characterisation.


It’s clear you wanted to write a piece that addressed the climate and ecological emergency very directly. What are you hoping listeners will get out of the listening experience?

In order to take meaningful action, first we must stop.  We must go to the place that Donald Winnicott called the “‘still, silent spot’ at the heart of the psyche”.

When I think of the emergency we’re facing and the appalling apathy and denial that has defined humanity’s response, I’m reminded of an article I read in the aftermath of the Kings Cross fire in 1987, which described commuters – so intent on returning home – blindly stepping over bodies and into the consuming flames.

’24 Splashes of Denial’ is a plea for reflection. To pause, consider and meditate on the climate emergency, its consequences, our complicit role in it and what changes we need to make as a civilisation to save the planet from extinction.


What do you think might be the role of composers in the Anthropocene?

Victor Hugo wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”.

I think composers will  – like society at large – become increasingly preoccupied with the climate crisis and we’ll undoubtedly begin to hear this preoccupation manifest in a multiplicity of musical forms and styles; symphony, opera, pop song, ambient meditation. Perhaps these works will help articulate our feelings towards the climate emergency, help us cope with a life increasingly lived in fear and most importantly, inspire us to take action.

Historically, we can see that music is instrumental in driving change, whether it be propagandistic anthems to assert cultural dominance or protest songs, challenging autocracy and inequality.  Civil rights, the ongoing campaign for gender equality and identity politics have all been shaped to some degree by music. It’s high time to add the climate emergency to that list.


Is there a specific thought or idea that motivates you into taking action over the climate and ecological emergency? (or, if you like, what frightens you most about the crisis?)

I like to think that humanity still has the capacity to evolve. Failure to do so feels like a terrible, stupid squandering of potential. We have the capability to move beyond what the poet Nick Laird called ‘a failed state of bad faith’ into something resembling a hopeful future. Apparently a good start would be to stop eating meat. I have to believe it’s not beyond us.


What is the most powerful piece of music that you’ve heard that relates to climate?

‘4 Degrees’ by Anohni immediately springs to mind.

A song that imagines the apocalypse through the callous extinction of the world’s creatures. When Anohni rages to herself that “it’s only four degrees,” its like a she’s embodying a violent capitalist death wish.


I wanna hear the dogs crying for water

I wanna see fish go belly-up in the sea

All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures

I wanna see them burn, it’s only four degrees

And all those rhinos and all those big mammals

I wanna see them lying, crying in the fields


I wanna see them burn, it’s only four degrees

I wanna see them burn, it’s only four degrees

I wanna see them burn, it’s only four degrees



Vik Sharma is an English film and television composer best known for his soundtracks to the TV series An Idiot AbroadThe Moaning of Life, and Hello Ladies. He composed the original score for the film Fighting with My Family, written and directed by Stephen Merchant. Sharma worked with Blur’s guitarist and founder member Graham Coxon along with Jason Cooper of The Cure to create a ‘quintessentially British’ soundtrack for the film. In July 2021 he released Listen Without Listening, a binaural ambient album, incorporating sounds of nature. 24 Splashes of Denial is on Spotify and Apple Music.