Unknown Pleasures is the debut studio album by Joy Division. It was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport in April 1979, with Martin Hannett as producer, and was released on 15 June 1979 by Factory Records
The cover of the album is as stark and enigmatic as the music itself: a series of jagged white lines against a black background that’s become one of the most identifiable pieces of cover art of its age and beyond and that’s been recreated in tattoos, clothing, and animation ad nauseum
It was designed by Peter Saville, partner in Factory records, who created cover art for New Order, Roxy Music, Pulp, and several others from the era, but Unknown Pleasures remains his most well-known work
In an interview Saville explains how this legendary cover became the image to represent Joy Division. According to Saville, the cover represents the frequency of the signal from the first observed pulsar or pulsating star. “As pretty much with all groups with their first release, Joy Division] knew what they wanted on the cover,” Saville says. “They gave me this page… the page from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy.” After inverting the colours, the image went on the band’s first album, and into endless remixes during the ensuing decades
Going into greater detail, Saville describes it as a “comparative path demonstration of frequency from a signal of a pulsar.” Each horizontal line, reaching a series of peaks close to the middle of the graph, is observed data from a this pulsar, and there are several of them stacked together. Saville goes on, “What you’re seeing is a comparative chart of the frequency and the accuracy of this signal”
So this image, perceived as so simple, is not really simple at all but the result of astronomical readings that led in part to humanity’s understanding of this one component of the cosmos. Heavy!