Wednesday, June 4, 2008

NW/NY 1: The Art of Noise

I first met Byron Kalet when he was our star design intern at Visionaire. He landed a full-time job there even before graduating from Parsons, but it was clear he had some weirder stuff up his sleeve as well, and it wasn't long before The Journal of Popular Noise was born. Billed as an "audio magazine inspired by the traditions of pop music, printed periodicals, and the delight of a finely crafted artifact," the semi-annual JPN comes in the form of a beautifully letter-pressed poster, folded into a square accordion formation that holds three 7" slabs of vinyl. The artists involved are given specific editorial guidelines before recording, and the finished sounds represent widely varied responses to that structure. The third edition (issues 7–9 – each record represents one issue) is out this week with contributions from Past Lives, Bora Yoon + Ben Frost, and Na + Junko (listen while you read: Past Lives All Is Well MP3). With release parties coming up in both Seattle (June 8) and Brooklyn (June 13) I figured I'd check in with Byron and see what's up.

Explain the origins of The Journal of Popular Noise.
It began as a culmination of several different ideas. First off it was a way for me to reconcile the ten+ years I spent playing music in Seattle with my new life here in NY as a graphic designer. In school I was leaning more and more into books and magazines, it occurred to me that all the same rules applied to designing a magazine as to composing a record. Some of my teachers would use “a great song” as a metaphor for a cool poster or something. But to me it wasn’t a metaphor, I could feel my brain doing the same thing with both outlets. So I wanted to see what would happen if I very overtly applied the magazine structure to making a record. Much to my surprise, it worked! Beyond that it became my outlet for all the stuff I was into; from quasi-scientific Muzak diagrams to John Cage scores; Ultra-thin-sans-type kerned absurdly close to rigid swiss-modern grid systems. The whole folding-paper thing was a fluke.

How do you go about picking contributors?
I started out by asking my friends and the people I grew up playing music with. I grew up with so many amazing talented people that even if I didn’t grow up with them, they would still be on my list. But for the first one it was less “who do I want” and more ”who can I convince to participate in this hair-brained scheme.” I’m still putting out my friends' records, but now its getting to be friends of friends, serendipitous connections. The network is branching out but I want to keep it
community based. I think its better that way, it will be a long time before I cold call someone to be a part of this.

Who would your dream contributors be?
As far as musicians, I would love Brian Eno or Kraftwerk, Stockhausen, Cage, et al. Really all the people that inspired me to explore new ways of looking at and making music. I’ve been harassing Miranda July to do one. I really want to expand into other realms of sound art beyond music, I really want to do a melodramatic Radio Play with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken...

What else are you listening to?
This winter I got really into some of the big UK electro stuff, Simian Mobile Disco (contributing to Spring/Summer '09!) and Hot Chip (working on it). Other than that I’ve been getting back into a lot of early '80s hardcore. Minor Threat will never get old to me, D.R.I., Bad Brains, Black Flag...I just saw Negative Approach a few weeks back. There’s a cool new hardcore band out of Oly called Sex Vid. But mostly I stick to the classics.

The JPN reminds me of Fluxus. Is that a connection you're consciously aware of?
Sort of, it was one of those things that I was reading about in school along with all the other stuff I mentioned earlier (Cage, Reich, Eno, Schaffer, The Barons, Stockhausen ) but I much more consciously drew from Muzak, I’m obsessed with Muzak. I wrote a paper about it in school, I could go off for hours, but I’ll restrain myself here.

Who or what are your design influences (both for the Journal and personally) and what other publications do you like?
Ugh, unfortunately I spend way more of my time making magazines than reading them these days. I tried reading Wooooo but it was gross. I’m really obsessed with Tron right now, the
Truckasauras record art I just finished draws heavily from it. I rabidly consumed all the classic graphic design stuff in college, so now I’m trying to look elsewhere for inspiration. I went to a lecture on particle physics last Friday that was really great. I’m not sure how that will apply to design but one day something may occur to me. And old stuff is always cool, I spend a lot of time in thrift stores whenever I go home, I’ve always found a lot of inspiration there.
You grew up in the Northwest and obviously retain a connection to it—in a way it's like New York is big on design and Seattle is big on music. How does that influence your outlook?
Well one thing that I think is really great about the JPN it is that it helps me stay connected to my friends out there. The release party in Seattle is actually a co-release with another record I’m putting out by
Truckasauras (their debut release Tea Parties, Guns & Valor, in collaboration with Fourthcity Records). I went to junior high with half the guys in Past Lives and ALL the guys in Truckasauras, as well as our Associate Editor Daniel Mitha. This is the first show those guys have all played together since the talent show in the Kirkland Junior High cafeteria. It feels really good to me to be releasing both of these new bands' first records. It’s a really rare gift to still be able to continue working with these rad people after all this time. I usually describe Seattle as being consistent and sedimentary (sometimes as an insult, sometimes as a compliment) but the idea of staying rooted both in an idea and a community seems to be a developing theme with the Journal.

What's next for ol' Byron Kalet?
Once the release parties are behind me I’m just gonna sit back and watch the money roll in. I really want to take some time off (and by take time off that just means I don’t do any work outside of the normal 50+ hours a week at Visionaire). I need to spend some time taking things in, listening to records, reading magazines, looking at art. But I’ll most likely end up continuing to spend all my time making them instead. Could be worse.
The new issue of The Journal of Popular Noise is available at Opening Ceremony, Printed Matter, Sonic Boom, Wall of Sound and a bunch of other stores (complete list here) or online at

Click here for info on the release parties (Sunday June 8th at Nectar in Seattle, and Thursday June 12th at Listen:Space in Brooklyn).

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