Joy Division

This stereo sound collage about Joy Division was made to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of their first LP, Unknown Pleasures on the 15th of June 1979. It is best heard through a decent amp and speaker set-up or good headphones – not computer speakers.

It borrows from Grant Gee's 2007 Joy Division documentary for interview material, and uses edits and treatments of songs to form the backbone of the piece. It is further developed with archive recordings, film and music references, including Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now (interesting phonetic near-match of the names Kurtz and Curtis), Eraserhead, Stroszek, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Popol Vuh and The Doors.

It also uses field recordings of the Pennines by Jo Kennedy, with her kind permission. This is related to the key part that the band's producer, Martin Hannett, played in their music. He is portrayed in Michael Winterbottom's 2002 film, 24 Hour Party People, as recording 'the silence' on the moors, and brought a highly individual sensibility to his role that involved recording lift shafts, flight cases and breaking glass, as well as using all manner of studio wizardry to create unique acoustic spaces for the music to exist in, that lent it an otherworldly air.

I've used the VLF recordings of Stephen P. McGreevy, a form of natural radio - electromagnetic emissions in the very-low-frequency band caused by massive discharges and their after-effects in lightning storms and by the solar wind buffeting the earth's magnetic field, visible as Aurora Borealis and Australis.

I've also used my own electromagnetic recordings made from computer drives, ATMs, ticket dispensers and overhead tram lines. These two forms of electromagnetic recording relate to the radio signal CP 1919, the first pulsar discovered by Irish astrophysicist, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the successive visual readouts of which features on the cover of Unknown Pleasures. Pulsars are dense, fast-rotating neutron stars that emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation.

I've always been more attracted to the sense of the uncanny in Joy Division's music (“with the 'witchy emptiness' of the Pennines weighing heavily upon them” - Mark Fisher) , and the science fiction element, as I always saw it - I never liked the gothic take that was later established, not helped by the cover image on Closer, it felt too prescriptive.

The perfect cover of Unknown Pleasures is just so depersonalised, opaque and intriguing – especially as there's no obvious relationship with the music - and the inclusion of the Ralph Gibson photo on the inner sleeve further enhances the sense of intrigue. Joy Division's music felt propelled into a near future, yet still somehow rooted in the present, whilst indebted to its past - of its time yet outside of it, and still sounding incredibly contemporary four decades on.

Yet that cover image carries uncanny echoes of ECG readouts of unstable brain chemistry which echo Curtis' epilepsy and bipolar conditions. There is also the unwitting choice of a tomb on the cover of Closer shortly before his death. You could be tempted to consider that as a moment of sinister pre-cog, but that might be stretching it. Instead of 'side 1' and 'side 2' on the original disc stickers of Unknown Pleasures, there is 'outside' and 'inside', one white on black, the other its inverse. Black album cover, white inner sleeve – a series of binary pairings/digital switchings in the design weirdly reflecting Curtis' inner states.

'Day for night' is a set of cinematic techniques used to simulate a night scene while filming in daylight. This title works as a reflection of that switching, and the production alchemy and sense of the uncanny – real/unreal – in the music, as well as the story, of Joy Division. Recording sessions would generally stretch to the small hours and Bernard Sumner was suffering insomnia at the time, staying up till 5am.

“It was clear, the best interview the band ever gave – to Jon Savage, a decade and a half after Curtis' death – that they had no idea what they were doing, and no desire to learn. Of Curtis' disturbing-compelling hyper-charged stage trance spasms and of his disturbing-compelling catatonic downer words, they said nothing and asked nothing, for fear of destroying the magic. They were unwitting necromancers who had stumbled on a formula for channelling voices, apprentices without a sorcerer.

They saw themselves as mindless golems animated by Curtis' vision(s). (Thus, when he died they said that they felt they had lost their eyes... )” - Mark Fisher.


RIPONRE said...

Well done, that was a terrific trip. And yes, headphones or stereo speakers a re a must.

Fergus Kelly said...

Many thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

Yep..... headphones are the way to listen !!!!!