Peter Saville on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures stellar cover art
Regarded as one of the most iconic album covers ever, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is one of the most identifiable pieces of graphic design art and a fine example of the trailblazing designs from the vast Factory Record’s album cover catalogue, designed by British artist Peter Saville.
A widely appropriated design by fashion designers, musicians, creative coders (enter Garrett Finucane’s online generator that allows users to make their own variations on the design, and download the customized cover as a gif) Unknown Pleasures’ signature wave pattern is a textured virtual landscape, a data visualization as the creator himself explained in a short video created for Visualized’s annual design conference in 2012.
“As pretty much with all groups with their first release, [Joy Division] knew what they wanted on the cover,” said Saville. “They brought me this folder of material and gave me this page from The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy.”
The image showed radio waves from pulsar CP 1919, the first radio pulsar ever discovered and was originally created by astronomer Harold Craft at the Arecibo Observatory for his PhD thesis in 1970, Scientific American notes.
“There was a very tight, accurate frequency to the signal; it was every 1.337 seconds. And the diagram itself is a cutting of the continuous readout, and then a stacking,” Saville explained.
Released on 15 June 1979 by Factory Records, Unknown Pleasures is the debut studio album by Joy Division and the only album released during lead singer Ian Curtis’ lifetime.
Factory Records did not release any singles from the album that nowadays is regarded as one of the most influential post-punk albums ever released.
For many, the album art has surpassed the music in terms of ubiquity. “There is, without a doubt, a global cult around Unknown Pleasures, and very much around this image”, said Saville recalling the numerous interpretations and copycats across the visual spectrum.
The legacy of the design still holds strong.
Back in 2019, on the 40th anniversary of the album’s release, astronomers revisited the pulsar from the iconic album cover as a scientific tribute to the album that features 80 wiggly lines of our cosmos.
40 years ago today, @joydivision's Unknown Pleasures was released. Its cover featured signals from the first pulsar CP1919. To mark the anniversary, we made this observation of the pulsar earlier today pic.twitter.com/xQfyEm6lLf— Jodrell Bank (@jodrellbank) June 15, 2019
A year ago, Saville himself reworked Joy Division’s iconic album art for a t-shirt to raise funds for Music Declares Emergency’s No Music On A Dead Planet.
The original image, showing radio emissions given out by a pulsar, or a “rotating neutron star”, has been reworked into flat lines, symbolising the eternal silence of a dead planet.
The campaign, which has been backed by the likes of Billie Eilish and Foals as well having shirts designed by Anthony Burrill, Jamie Reid, Thom Yorke and others, was part of the Turn Up The Volume Campaign – calling upon the music industry to “reinforce its commitment to action on the climate emergency”.