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joy-division_3

I’ve always been a huge fan of the legendary 1979 Joy Division record, Unknown Pleasures, and its equally iconic album cover. I’d always assumed that the image on the cover was of stacked waveforms from an audio recording, likely a segment from a track on the record. Just last week, in watching a video about Peter Saville, the designer, I discovered that it’s actually radio waves from first pulsar ever recorded, PSR B1919+21, (CP 1919, for short), first discovered in 1967. And I was amazed to learn that the cover image was given to Saville by one of the band members, and the original is exactly the same (only black on white instead of white on black). Kind of shocking since Saville’s reputation as a brilliant designer is still so intimately tied to this cover (though he did go on to do covers for other iconic records such as Roxy Music’s Flesh and Blood, Eno/Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Peter Gabriel’s So, and all of the New Order records).

The original image of the PSR B1919+21 pulsar in a 1977 astronomy encyclopedia.

The original image of the PSR B1919+21 pulsar in a 1977 astronomy encyclopedia.

The Unknown Pleasures cover art.

The Unknown Pleasures cover art.

Anna Kaziunas France, Dean of Students for the Global Fab Academy program, has been bumping into things related to this image, too. She writes:

Yesterday I came across this printable model by emnullfuenf of Joy Division’s iconic Unknown Pleasures cover representing pulsar PSR B1919+21 waveforms. So I sliced it up and printed it out.

Then, realizing I did not actually know anything about pulsar PSR B1919+21 waveforms, I did some research and came across this very interesting article containing background on the scientific origins of the cover image, previous publications, and their copyright status.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor for Boing Boing and WINK Books. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.


  • foobar64

    Reblogged this on THE Blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terre.tulsiak Terre Tulsiak

    so the point is what? that scientific journals shouldn’t concern themselves with having their artists’ work plagiarized? Or that they should? Obviously there are artists that have detailed all manner of organic and inorganic materials since the beginning of the printed page, often(?) without attribution. It will be interesting to see just what starts coming to light with all this transparency available….

  • http://i.document.m05.de Emnullfuenf

    Hey Gareth. I created the model and submitted my blog post about it to Make: last week. Would have been kind if you quoted the original post and creator.
    http://i.document.m05.de/
    http://boingboing.net/2013/05/24/3d-printable-model-of-the-cove.html

    • http://blog.makezine.com/ Gareth Branwyn

      Hi Emnullfuenf,

      I am no longer on staff at MAKE, so I didn’t see your submission. I’m socmedia friends with Anna and so I saw her post there and decided to blog it. I saw that she had credited and linked to your original project, so I thought that was good. Sorry if you felt slighted. Thanks for including these links. I hadn’t seen the BB piece. And thanks for doing the project and posting it. It’s really cool!