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 of Peter Saville, the designer, I discovered that it’s actually radio waves from first pulsar ever discovered, 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).
Anna Kaziunas France, Dean of Students for the Global Fab Academy program, has been bumping into things related to this image, too. She writes:
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.