Sarah Nicolls

PRiSM Artist in Residence | Sarah Nicolls

Sarah Nicolls is a PRiSM Artist in Residence working on the collaboration Changing Music in a Changing Climate. Below, she shares the experiences and influences which led to her musical engagement with Climate Change.

Experimental pianist Sarah Nicolls in her studio in Brighton with the prototype of her standing grand piano

My ‘recital-story’ 12 Years is a collaboration with climate scientists, as I grapple – like everyone – with the terrifying news we receive now almost daily about our degrading planet and the climate breakdown that is occurring.

The first phase saw me mentored by Inika Taylor, a member of the Climate Impacts team at the MET Office, and an environmental campaigner, Atlanta Cook, a marine consultant and honorary lifetime member of Surfer’s Against Sewage. I wrote the 12-movement work as a journey for the audience, which starts with the headlines and ends with Greta Thunberg. On the way, we overhear phone calls between fictional characters as they also grapple with the news, urging each other to worry less or do more. Included are Extinction Rebellion events and activists and David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth, a COP24 panel by Climate Outreach and recordings of survivors escaping a wildfire in California.

In October, I’ll be performing ’12 Years’ at the RNCM, PRiSM’s home in Manchester, when we also see the fruits of the workshop programme we launched in February: 3 young climate researchers and 7 RNCM student composers collaborating on new works. The first Workshop saw the beginning of what I think will be a very meaningful journey for the participants, as they shared their own expertise with each other, learning from across the artificial divides of art and science and meeting in the very real and collaborative space of what I think PRiSM seeks to represent.  We could messily call that “art-meets-science-is-art”.


Sarah Nicolls is a pianist and composer. She invented the ‘Inside-out Piano’, which stands 2.5m tall, designed to enable ‘inside piano’ playing. She currently performs on a re-shaped 1900 Erard, using the strings as much as the keys to create layers of textured sound. In 2020, her company Future Piano will be building a new lightweight version using carbon fibre and aerospace engineering, collaborating with the extraordinary piano builder David Klavins. To read more about Sarah’s Musical Activist work, visit: