The Joy Division album Unknown Pleasures was FACT10. The album artwork was designed by Peter Saville. The words “Unknown Pleasures” don’t appear on the cover. Neither do the words “Joy Division”. Instead, the cover contains a series of 100 lines representing pulses from the first radio pulsar ever discovered—thanks to Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. It was a groundbreaking piece of graphic design. Its beauty lies in its simplicity: a two-dimensional representation of raw data.
That was almost thirty years ago. This week Radiohead released the video for the song House of Cards from the album In Rainbows …except it isn’t really a video at all. It wasn’t shot on film or video. It is a three-dimensional representation of raw data.
You can play with the data visualisation, altering it while the song plays. You can even download the raw data. You are not just allowed to play around with the data, you are encouraged to do so. There’s a YouTube group for aggregating the results.
Suddenly every other music video seems very flat and passive. I’m reminded of a prescient passage from Douglas Adams’s essay How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet:
I expect that history will show “normal” mainstream twentieth century media to be the aberration in all this.
Please, miss, you mean they could only just sit there and watch? They couldn’t do anything? Didn’t everybody feel terribly isolated or alienated or ignored?
Yes, child, that’s why they all went mad. Before the Restoration.
What was the Restoration again, please, miss?
The end of the twentieth century, child. When we started to get interactivity back.