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Control

December 7, 2007

The release of a new movie has made me think more about how much things have changed in the world of information in the last 25 years or so. Actually, even saying “world of information” makes me think … what exactly would be outside of the “world of information” … to me, everything is information. Anyway, the film called Control has made a big splash recently , although I suppose that it has strictly a niche audience. The film is about the band Joy Division, who were quite a cult phenomenon in 1979/1980 led by their very dramatic and charismatic singer Ian Curtis, who killed himself in 1980, assuring the “die young, stay pretty” quality worked well for him (that’s not why he killed himself, that’s just the result). Anyway, I listened to these folks rather obsessively in the early 80’s and had my interest re-kindled by this film.

What has struck me since then is how different it is to investigate this band 25 years later. I pulled out my old vinyl, which has become quite collectible by sitting on a shelf for years, but then started searching around for more. In the early 80’s there wouldn’t have been much more to find. I could look at the records and try to figure out what the design qualities of these people was supposed to be communicating to me (beautiful design was a constant for this band), find a few magazine articles maybe that would give me a few quotes, and maybe, just maybe, catch a fleeting glimpse of a video that I would never see again. That would be it … the rest would be up to my imagination.

Now, I have access to a large amount of music that would have been very difficult to get in 1980.  Overnight I had a large amount of studio out-takes and live performances to hear, something that was only available at that time on relatively poor quality bootleg cassettes, if one could find them. In  addition, I could go on YouTube and have access to 100 times more video footage than I saw in the entire decade of the 80’s.  I could actually see the band move (and Curtis’ dancing style does have to be seen) and this makes a huge difference in your perception of what they were up to.  A brief investigation on Bittorrent sites made available to me every documentary the BBC had ever aired on the band and its label, Factory Records.  Finally, there are huge numbers of websites available for me to find out every little detail of the band, and I could even go to the MySpace pages of some of the members and read their personal accounts of the story.

The effect of all of this is more that just being able to learn more about the band.  In 1980, it was possible for the band and its management to carefully control the image of the band through photographs, album design, and interviews.  This was extremely important for Joy Division as their design was controlled by Peter Seville, who created beautiful and haunting imagery that said something about the mood of the entire endeavour.  The photography of the band was generally done by Anton Corbijn (you might know him better for his photographs of U2 for the Joshua Tree album), who created a very strong mood around the band.  It is not longer possible to control the imagery of a band in the same way, and in a way this is a shame.  In 1980, the entire package was the product of a creative process and one could control the overall product to a much greater degree. Although Joy Division was always depicted in way that very clearly said “alienation and introspection”, we know know that they are actually pretty funny people who like a good joke, because we have acces to so much information about them.  It was very interesting to look at precisely the same group 25 years later, and as a result of the amount of information available and various means of acquiring it, form quite a different picture. The Internet has taken over very gradually in our lives (although the pace of change certainly doesn’t seem slow) and it is worth it occasionally to step back and think about how much things have changed, and how much that change has fundamentally effected us.

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