The background for the cover art of Joy Division’s 1979 debut album Unknown Pleasures is even more “scholarly" than most already believe and also reveals a glimpse of the band’s surprising influences in their early Manchester days.
This week Scientific American has a really interesting blog post on the origin of the iconic cover, usually attributed to an image from The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy of radio waves from pulsar CP 1919 (below).
But after closer examination, it looks like this particular pulsar visualization was published during a period of transition in the scientific community from analog technology to digital, with a Scientific American article image captioned “computer-generated illustration”:
A group of doctoral students from Cornell University at the time was quickly adopting the shift to digital technology. One student, Harold Craft, wrote his Ph.D thesis “Radio Observations of the Pulse Profiles and Dispersion Measures of Twelve Pulsars” in 1970, where the seminal pop culture image is found between a pair of other stacked frames:
Perhaps this bookish and rather collegiate background of the Unknown Pleasures cover art shouldn’t surprise us, though. I’m reminded of a recent article on the violent environment of the Manchester punk music scene from which Joy Division (originally named Warsaw) originated:
Contrary to popular myth, punk wasn’t the music of the streets, the council estates or even the dole queue. Jazz-funk and disco were more popular musical genres among Manchester’s poor and working class. With our ripped clothes and disheveled hair, we may have looked like street urchins, but in reality Manchester punk drew its members largely from the upper end of the proletariat, arty working-class graduates of grammar school who knew how to pronounce Albert Camus or Jean Paul Sartre and who did well enough on exams to get boring office jobs or attend art college. (The members of Warsaw/Joy Division did clerical work for the local council; Mark E. Smith worked as a shipping clerk; even that delicate bloom Morrissey—who failed his grammar school entrance exam—worked for a time at the local tax office).
More details on the background of pulsar CP 1919, along with a 2015 interview with Craft, is here.