London, UK: Paul Stolper Gallery, 2015
32 x 32 x 14 cm.
Edition of 10
Harold Craft, a radio astronomer at the Arecibo Observatory, created the now iconic image of radio waves from pulsar CP 1919 in 1970, as part of his PhD thesis. Joy Division guitarist and keyboardist Bernard Sumner discovered the image in The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy and designer Peter Saville inverted the colours for the band's debut LP.
"It was a complete surprise," said Craft, "In fact, I didn’t know anything about it, and a colleague in the space sciences department, who is now a professor of astronomy at Cornell, Jim Cordes, saw me on the street – he’s been a long time friend – and he said, “oh, by the way, did you know that your image is on the cover of Joy Division?” And, I said no, I had no clue. So I went to the record store and, son of a gun, there it was. So I bought an album, and then there was a poster that I had of it, so I bought one of those too, just for no particular reason, except that it’s my image, and I ought to have a copy of it."
Sumner told Maxim magazine "I used to work at a place that did cartoon animation. On my lunch break, I'd go to the Manchester Central Library, and get a sandwich at the cafe. They had a good art section and a good science section. I'd read through the books in search of inspiration. One of the images I found was the Unknown Pleasures image that clicked with me straight away. It was in an astronomy encyclopedia."
"This was the first and only time that the band gave me something that they’d like for a cover," Saville told the Guardian, in 2011. "I went to see Rob Gretton, who managed them, and he gave me a folder of material, which contained the wave image from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy. They gave me the title too but I didn’t hear the album. The wave pattern was so appropriate. It was from CP 1919, the first pulsar, so it’s likely that the graph emanated from Jodrell Bank, which is local to Manchester and Joy Division. And it’s both technical and sensual. It’s tight, like Stephen Morris’ drumming, but it’s also fluid: lots of people think it’s a heart beat. Having the title on the front just didn’t seem necessary. I asked Rob about it and, between us, we felt it wasn’t a cool thing to do. It was the post-punk moment and we were against overblown stardom. The band didn’t want to be pop stars."
Saville re-visited the image as 3D sculptures two years ago. The above is Nickel plated on ABS, and resin versions (black, pink, white, etc.) were also released the same year.