The editors' blog


    ~ 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

    ~ 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