The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, July 14th 2015 

    Welcome to the Intelligent Life podcast, a series of short conversations hosted by Matthew Sweet, who is both a regular contributor to the magazine and a presenter on BBC Radio 3. They will appear here, on iTunes, on Facebook and on Twitter every two weeks. 

    For the second episode in this series, we look at how the Harry Potter stories shaped a generation. Matthew is joined by Katherine Rundell, who grew up reading the books before becoming a novelist herself, and who looks at this subject in our July/August issue. They talk about how Harry Potter created a shared language and experience, the joy of J.K. Rowling's overabundant prose and how her writing fits into the canon of children's literature.

    read more » culturefictionLucy FarmerPodcast

    ~ Posted by David Bennun, July 10th 2015

    It is 35 years since the brief career of the Manchester quartet Joy Division was ended by the suicide of their singer, Ian Curtis, ahead of a planned tour of the United States. To mark the anniversary, a new website,, has been set up. It is currently promoting reissues of their two studio albums, “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer”, and two collections of songs, “Substance” and “Still”, both out later this month.

    Over a blank white background, the homepage offers this plain statement: “The British group Joy Division wrote and recorded 43 songs and played over 120 shows in just 29 months between 1978 and 1980.” The verbal brevity and visual setting—stark backdrops, woodland landscapes—are telling. Joy Division were not only Britain’s most celebrated post-punk band, influencing Radiohead, Interpol, Depeche Mode and the Walkmen, among many others, with their spacious, dark, eerie sound, their condensed energy and Curtis’s haunted lyricism. They were also the first to become an unmistakable brand, and thereafter a mini-industry. Their merchandise has never stopped selling, and in the 20 years following their disbandment no fewer than eight Joy Division compilations and box sets were released. The sombre minimalism of Peter Saville's graphic design, which appeared on their album covers, is now so much part of the band's mythos that any other aesthetic would be unthinkable. Joy Division have come to resemble the stone tomb that Saville put on the cover of “Closer”, depicting a sepulchral mourning scene. They serve as a piece of monumental sculpture memorialising those 29 months.

    read more » cultureDavid BennunMusicRock

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, July 8th 2015

    There is more than meets the eye at a new exhibition at the National Gallery in London. Walk into any one of its six rooms and you’ll see a painting hanging on a wall. So far, so normal. But close your eyes and listen: there’s piano and viola, crickets and birds, the susurrus of a far-off wind. For “Soundscapes”, which opens today, seven people who work with sound—the composers Nico Muhly and Gabriel Yared, the artists Susan Philipsz, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, the wildlife-sound recordist Chris Watson and the DJ Jamie xx—each composed a response to a painting they had picked from the gallery’s permanent collection. These are played in the room with the corresponding picture. “Hear the painting,” the programme instructs. “See the sound.”

    read more » ArtCharlie McCannExhibitionsMusic

    ~ Posted by Simon Barnes, July 8th 2015

    Being common is not the same as being safe. Londoners once used the expression “common as sparrows”. These days, you can walk the length and breadth of the capital without seeing a single house sparrow. In North America, passenger pigeons used to darken the sky and a flock would take hours to fly over. The last one died in Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Her name was Martha. Over the course of the last two centuries we have seen that a species that exists in vast numbers has no guarantee of survival, and we’re seeing it again now with the yellow-breasted bunting.

    read more » ConservationenvironmentNatural HistorySimon BarnesWildlife

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, July 3rd 2015

    Beck is a slippery musician. In single songs and across albums, he can slide from folk to lounge jazz to unctuous R&B. Considering his reputation as a maverick, he’s in fine company at “Station to Station”, a month-long extravaganza of artistic “happenings” happening at the Barbican in London, where he performed last Monday. The artist Doug Aitken, the prime mover behind “Station to Station”, has brought together 100 collaborators—including the legendary synth-punk duo Suicide, the minimalist composer Terry Riley and the choreographer Trajal Harrell—who are singing and dancing, playing and painting, talking about their art and others’, in a dizzying number of events. The project’s tagline is “No two days will be the same”.

    read more » Charlie McCanncultureMusicPoetryRock

    ~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, July 3rd 2015

    “Amy”, the new biopic about the troubled British singer Amy Winehouse, starts on the evening of her friend's 14th birthday. Winehouse is sitting at the foot of some stairs with two friends sucking lollipops, while the birthday girl films them on a home-video recorder.

    The trio start to sing “Happy Birthday”, but the friends’ childlike voices trail off as Winehouse’s voice—like “a 65-year-old jazz singer”, as her producer Salaam Remi will later put it—fills the air. Already she possesses a talent that can silence a room. At a screening at the East End Film Festival in London, followed by a Q&A with the film's director, Asif Kapadia, viewers erupted into laughter at the scene. It was a rare moment of light in what turned into a harrowing film.

    read more » DocumentaryFilmHazel SheffieldjazzMusic

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, July 1st 2015

    Collecting movie posters has always been among the more socially acceptable of cinema-related perversions. Above my desk hangs a 5ft Polish poster of Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film “Something Wild”, featuring a geometric rendering of two parted female legs by the acclaimed designer Andrzej Nowaczyk. I bought it not because I speak a word of Polish but because I have always wished for my writing career to proceed from a point equidistant between the knees of Melanie Griffith.

    “It was part of this urge or impulse to possess the cinema experience,” Martin Scorsese has said of his own collection, begun in the 1970s and now numbering some 3,000 posters, 34 of which are currently on show in “Scorsese Collects” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The posters range from Raoul Walsh’s silent classic “Regeneration” (1915) to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). But the great majority hail from the 1940s and 1950s, when Scorsese was a teenage movie fanatic, marinading in flicks like Joseph Lewis’s “Gun Crazy” (1950) or King Vidor’s “Duel in the Sun” (1946), which he remembers for its “bright blasts of deliriously vibrant colour, the gunshots, the savage intensity, the burning sun, the overt sexuality.” He was, at the time, just four years old, an age when most of us are taking in “Bambi”. And you wondered why “Raging Bull” is a little intense.

    read more » cultureDesignExhibitionsFilmTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Tom Standage, July 1st 2015

    When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, it was a pioneer: it provided the first download service that actually worked, and it went on to dominate the digital music industry. But when it comes to music streaming, Apple is a laggard. Does its new Apple Music service, launched yesterday, have what it takes to dethrone Spotify, the market leader?

    read more » MusictechnologyTom Standage

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, June 30th 2015 

    Welcome to the Intelligent Life podcast, a series of short conversations hosted by Matthew Sweet, who is both a regular contributor to the magazine and a presenter on BBC Radio 3. They will appear here, on iTunes, on Facebook and on Twitter every two weeks. 

    We start with data. From the music industry to the boardroom, they dictate more and more of our decisions. But what room do they leave for the hunch? In this first episode, Matthew is joined by Ian Leslie, who looks at this subject in a main feature in our July/August issue, and by Kenneth Cukier, the data editor of The Economist. They talk about the power of intuition, the advance of the algorithm, and whether we’re heading for a post-human world.

    read more » culturedataPodcastSimon Willis

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, June 29th 2015

    Comparing a city to the body of a living creature is not uncommon. Peter Ackroyd advised those visiting London to “tread carefully over the pavements…for you are treading on skin.” But nowhere does this metaphor ring truer than in Los Angeles. On a good day the city’s trademark tangled freeways mimic the gushing arteries and veins of the body’s circulatory system. On a bad day they resemble nothing so much as the bunched and clogged gastrointestinal tract of a perennially constipated giant. But looking at Mark Bradford’s show of recent paintings at the Hammer Museum, one was granted a new view of the city, less as a living creature than as a dead one, splayed on the coroner’s table.

    read more » Artculturegeorge pendleLOS ANGELESpainting