Phew! Topics can’t get any bigger than this. On BBC Four this past fortnight, in The Beginning and the End of the Universe, the ever-lucid Jim Al-Khalili tackled two cosmic questions: how did the universe begin, and how will it end? I’ve written here before about my admiration for Al-Khalili’s ability to explain clearly and with elegance very difficult, abstract concepts (at least for a non-scientist) without ever dumbing-down. In these two documentaries he told the very human – and gripping – story of the scientists, both men and women, who in the last hundred years have succeeded in boggling our minds with concepts like the Big Bang, dark matter, and dark energy, as well as scientific tools such as redshift, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, and gravitational lensing. Continue reading “Jim Al-Khalili ponders the beginning and the end of the universe”
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee;
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage.
– Ezra Pound
When Islamic State captured the Unesco world heritage site of ancient Palmyra in May last year and then proceeded to destroy antiquities such as the Temple of Bel, a wave of revulsion swept across the world. But in the last few years those of us who have been horrified each time ISIS has wiped another ancient artefact from the face of the earth have, in the next moment, asked ourselves why we should mourn the loss of a building or stone carving when so many human beings have lost their lives in the conflicts that have devastated Syria and Iraq.
The dilemma of whether it can be appropriate to mourn the loss of material objects when human beings are suffering and dying was confronted in a superb BBC Radio 4 series broadcast in the past two weeks. The Museum of Lost Objects traced the histories of ten antiquities or cultural sites that have been destroyed or looted in Iraq and Syria. Continue reading “The Museum of Lost Objects: radio series documenting an assault on humanity”
The Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen is renowned for the hypnotically hushed tones of the half-dozen albums he has recorded for ECM during the last 15 years. So we were not entirely surprised on Saturday evening, in the stripped-back surroundings of the CBSO Centre in Birmingham, to experience jazz at its quietest and most minimal. Continue reading “Hymns and visions: the quiet fire of Tord Gustavsen and Simin Tander”
I went to see pianist Joanna MacGregor and saxophonist Andy Sheppard play their new live score for Sunrise, F.W. Murnau’s 1927 silent film, more for the jazz. I thought I might be slightly irritated and distracted by the flickering images above the musicians’ heads. I could not have been more mistaken: I was totally enthralled by Sunrise, and now understand why it is regarded as a cinematic masterpiece. Images from it have haunted my mind ever since the screening. Continue reading “Andy Sheppard and Joanna MacGregor: A Song of Two Humans”
With Holocaust Memorial Day imminent (details at the end of this post), Goran Rosenberg’s deeply moving memoir, A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz, compels us to think about why it is important to maintain the memory of the Holocaust – and to contemplate its meaning today. Continue reading “‘My story isn’t about Auschwitz, it’s about life after Auschwitz’: Goran Rosenberg”
Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
Well, water has to go somewhere: a lesson brought home by the recent flooding in the north of England and the Scottish borders. But where does it go when a town grows and smothers fields and streams with concrete, brick and tarmac? It’s buried, pushed out of sight. Towns like Liverpool and London have grown around rivers which have later been covered in and forgotten. But beneath the city streets, waterways continue on their ancient courses in underground culverts. Continue reading “‘Before the road was the river’: the streams beneath our streets”