Friday, June 6, 2008

A Family Affair

Congratulations to my cousin Spenser!
He graduates from high school today. This makes me feel very old because I remember when he was about 1-inch tall, singing "Hip Hop Hooray" over and over again in our kitchen. Now every time I see him he's many inches taller and probably would not really be interested in singing "Hip Hop Hooray." Anyway, dude has pretty much always been the brightest light in the family both academically and athletically, and next fall he'll be heading across the country to Boston College to learn some more stuff and play baseball. Congratulations Spenser!

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).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Shadow Knows

One more thing about MOMA: I'm blown away by the photography section every time I go. They change it up regularly, so even if you go often, you always see something different from the permanent collection. They often display selections from a photographer's work that call out a certain theme or make for an interesting grouping—for example, last weekend they had a bunch of Lee Friedlander's self-portraits, and a selection of post-depression photographs by Dorothea Lange, which you usually don't see much. And then there was this:

New Acquisition: Ninety-two untitled photographs by unknown photographers in which the photographer's shadow appears. c.1900—70 (Gift of Jeffrey Fraenkel)

Here are some of the individual photos:

The sun had to be GIGANTIC behind the photographer for the shadows to fall the way they do in this photo.

Damn it feels good to be a gangster, c.1930?

And, of course, pictures of cars.

More of the MOMA photography collection at

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley, 1928–2008

I kind of hate it when blogs become all obituary all the time, but damn, Bo Diddley and Yves Saint Laurent in the same day?

Tomorrow Pacific Standard returns to its regular position as the life-affirming blog of this young millennium. Today any self-respecting chronicle of pretty pictures and gritty records must also include some memorials.

I will not even attempt to detail Bo Diddley's stack of achievements here (practically invented rock 'n roll, opened for The Clash on their first US tour...). The New York Times' obituary department, working overtime, does a great job once again.

Bo Diddley Hit or Miss mp3

Yves Saint Laurent, 1936–2008

Yves Saint Laurent was arguably the first designer to fully embrace Modernism in fashion, all the while retaining the details of classic couture that kept his work as feminine and glamorous as it was forward-thinking.

The New York Times has a good audio slideshow by fashion critic Cathy Horyn, in addition to its obituary. Click here to check it out.

Now That's Worth Crossing the Street For

When I was a kid my mom was a textile artist and a weaver. She made pieces that would hang on a wall or suspended in a space—or on your bed or your floor—by hand-dyeing fabrics, or with a gigantic loom using yarn and thread and other materials, or combinations of both. My brother and I would always give her shit when we were walking along and she would point out patterns in stuff—a tree or the sidewalk or a sand dollar or something—and she'd go on about how mind-blowing it was. Now we are pretty much the same way. Patterns, patterns everywhere. So anyway, she has a regular job these days, but she still thinks like an artist, and we were looking forward to visiting the galleries on her last day in New York.

We started the day with brunch at The Park. I love that place but the service has been kind of inconsistent the last few times we've gone—everyone seems spaced out all the time, things take way too long, you don't get exactly what you ordered, and they won't accommodate special requests such as, I don't know, extra anchovies on the side of your chicken caesar salad. Still, you can't beat the decor, which so perfectly expresses its aesthetic that the restaurant is a work of art in and of itself.After waiting out a pretty serious downpour with some bloodies and beers, we headed up to the galleries. As always, lots of interesting things to see on the way.

We saw a bunch of good shows. Here are some of my favorites.

Idaho-born artist Matthew Brannon at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. It's really tough to see the images online, because one of the biggest elements is the small letterpressed text below each image. One of them reads:

Of course you don't like carnations. That's half the reason we do. That's who we are. Those who like what you don't. And we know why. The paintings you buy, the films you attend, the books you read. All terrible. But what's actually great that's worth crossing the street for.

Another one (actually from a previous show) reads

They had to pump her stomach - Amazing what they found - Among the arugula, watercress, blue-fin tuna, age-dried steak - There it is - Your Heart - And look...a bunch of razor blades - Little light bulbs - Cocaine - Little travel bottles - Anti-depressants - Your old untouched job application

I think I could have spent about another hour at that show.

David Shrigley at Anton Kern Gallery.

Wes Lang at Zieher Smith, which I talked about before.

Kerry James Marshall at Jack Shainman Gallery.

After the galleries we went to the Museum of Modern Art, which my mom had not seen since the remodel. The big show right now is Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, which you can view online here. The first piece you see is this fan suspended from five stories above, swinging itself around the big main room on the second floor.

My favorite part of the exhibit was this circular room with walls that slowly change colors.

There's also an exhibit up right now on books in art (and books as art). This is hanging outside it, where we took a much needed load off in some cushy leather chairs before going on.

Emily takes art history classes at MOMA one night a week (it's just across Sixth Avenue from her office) and it's great seeing the museum with her because she knows it so well, and points out things I would otherwise probably miss. One of them was this great film by Rodney Graham, of a beautiful old typewriter getting covered in snow.

It's an interesting comment on industry and technology becoming obsolete and/or reclaimed by nature. In the part shown at top left it looks like a landscape—it could just as easily be a factory in Pennsylvania.

The film is shown on this massive old projector.

After art appreciation day we settled in at The Modern, one of the nicest places in all of New York City. The service is impeccable, the drinks are interesting (I had a cilantro-infused Tanqueray with lime juice), you never know what kind of bar snacks they'll hand you (popcorn with truffle oil), and the menu is off the meter (we ordered the chicken liver paté and a big ol' cheese tart). Good, and good for you.