Album artwork: Does it indeed affect our listening experience, and if so, how? Scratch the Surface is a new feature on Aquarium Drunkard that that takes a look at particularly interesting cover art choices.
Minimalism is a fine line to walk. There’s a point where you really are saying too little about something – where the emphasis is lost between creator and viewer. But more than almost any other album art I can think of, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures strikes such a profound chord, sets up such a perfect summation of what lies within, that it more than answers the question of why minimalist art actually means something.
The first time I picked up this album, and for much time afterward, the simplistic design on the front were mountains. Like some dread Caucasus, rigid and bleak, providing haven or heresy, disaster or divinity. And the music inside confirmed it – spartan, sounding like the echoes of music from between a pass, buried somewhere within that mountain range, distant and yet clearly discernible – not like real music, but a picture of it.
Later I found out the real story of the cover – that it was the mapped radio waves of the first discovered pulsar, PSR B1919+21. And here again was an appropriate vision – the steady, relentless broadcasts of a remote figure, sending out bursts of information, not knowing who was hearing. The songs on Unknown Pleasures were the pulses, Ian Curtis the pulsar – an eventual white dwarf, snuffed out rather than exploding in a nova. And just like those messages, they continue to arrive, whether the originator exists or not anymore. The messages keep reaching people.
What are the unknown pleasures the title talks about? Is it something incomprehensible, lost in the transmission, buried in the echo? The secrets are hidden in the passes of the mountain, buried in the static of the broadcast. However the art is interpreted, visual or audio, the two are linked in a way that is inextricable. words/j neas