The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, July 28th 2015

    In the third episode of the new Intelligent Life podcast, we take a look inside our cells. Oliver Morton, whose column The Music of Science appears in every issue of the magazine, joins Matthew Sweet to talk about energy: how it flows across cellular membranes with a force as strong as lightning, how it explains why things age, and how it gives us a new understanding of life itself.   

    read more » PodcastSCIENCESimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Simon Barnes, July 23rd 2015

    Londoners have been grumbling about the hold-ups and diversions caused by the Crossrail project since 2009, and will continue to do so until late 2018. When the new railway line is at last completed it will run over 100km between Reading and Heathrow in the west and Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the northeast. Currently employing 10,000 people, Crossrail will increase London’s rail capacity by 10%. There will be ten new stations and 42km of freshly dug tunnels. But one question remains: what the hell are they doing with all that dirt?

    read more » ConservationenvironmentLondonSimon BarnestransportWildlife

    ~ Posted by Michael Watts, July 22nd 2015

    Were he alive today, Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist and analyst of fairy tales, would have plenty to say about the art of Dina Goldstein and Ray Caesar. Goldstein and Caesar, who are both Canadian, are fabulists who have re-invigorated the cliché of “fairy tales for adults”. Later this year, they are being brought together for an exhibition in Manchester at the Richard Goodall Gallery, a long-time champion of their odd and disquieting work.

    read more » ArtExhibitionsMICHAEL WATTS

    ~ Posted by Marion Coutts, July 20th 2015

    We don’t think too much about paintings happening over time. For most of the history of painting, the making of it is not what’s being brought to our attention. A painting exists as a sealed entity, always ready, always fresh for us to view it, again and again and again. Unless something bad happens, it remains essentially the same. Finished. Even if we don’t like the work, we assume it’s supposed to look like that.

    read more » ArtBookscultureExhibitionsMarion CouttsMemoir

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, July 16th 2015

    There has been a lot of talk this year about “superhero fatigue”—the idea being that we’re tired of all the films and television shows about caped crusaders. Having devoted much of my childhood to reading superhero comics, I assumed that I was inoculated against this condition, but it hit me halfway through the latest shiny Marvel Studios production, “Ant-Man”. Everything about it is exhaustingly familiar. The film’s director, Peyton Reed, has called it a “palate cleanser”, something light and easily digestible to give us a refreshing break from Marvel’s usual saving-the-universe blockbusters. But it’s more like third or fourth helpings of the same soggy trifle.

    read more » cultureFilmNicholas Barber

    ~ Posted by Simon Barnes, July 15th 2015

    Stand on a small rock in the English Channel called Alderney—actually one of the five Channel Islands—and from the right spot you can look out on some even smaller rocks called Les Etacs. From the shore or from the sea, the formation looks like a wedding cake rising miraculously from the water: iced white and covered with beautifully crafted, white decorations. Look more closely and you see that these rocks are alive with gannets: more than 5,000 pairs breed here during the warmer months.

    read more » ConservationenvironmentSCIENCESimon BarnesWildlife

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, July 15th 2015

    “Back to the Future” celebrated its 30th birthday earlier this month—or so they claim. Time is always a little elastic when it comes to this movie. Thirty years is the amount of time Marty McFly travels in the first film, from 1985 to 1955, inadvertently messing things up for his parents and putting his own existence in jeopardy. And it’s the amount of time that Biff Tannen travels in the second film, from 2015—yes, 2015!—to 1985, in order to take over Hill Valley. The idea that “Back to the Future” was not released in 1985 at all, but put there by time-travelling movie executives eager to plant the idea of a four-quadrant summer hit—a movie, that is, which appeals to Marty McFly, his sister and both parents—in our collective movie-going subconscious cannot easily be discounted. 

    read more » cultureFilmTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, July 14th 2015

    Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx, will remember 2015 as the year he released his first solo album, “In Colour”. It was also the year he wrote music for an exhibition at the National Gallery in London, started writing a third album with his band, the xx, and premiered his first ballet, “Tree of Codes”.

    “Tree of Codes” wasn’t his idea. The concept came from the choreographer Wayne McGregor, who wanted to create a ballet based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Tree of Codes”—a story cut from the pages of a 1934 book by Bruno Schulz, “The Street of Crocodiles”. Foer took the original book and sliced words out leaving rectangular gaps in the pages to create both a new narrative and what the publisher described as a “sculptural object”. McGregor worked with Olafur Eliasson, a Danish installation artist, to create a set made from screens, mirrors and light that similarly cut up the stage.

    read more » BalletcultureDanceHazel SheffieldMusic

    ~ 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