Popular Noise

Hand-plucked from Parsons the New School for Design by Cecilia Dean for a position at Visionaire, graphic designer Byron Kalet works for the paradigm-shifting fashion and art magazine by day and as editor-in-chief of his own innovatively-designed publication by night. The Journal of Popular Noise is Kalet’s limited-edition, semi-annual audio magazine, which he describes as being “inspired by the traditions of pop music, printed periodicals, and the delight of a finely crafted artifact.”

And what a precious artifact it is. Each accordion-like, letter-pressed package encases three 7-inch vinyl records, or “issues”, and opens into a poster that reveals content such as the artists’ bios and the detailed musical structure that he asks each contributor to follow. We caught up with Kalet after the release party for Issues 7-9 to pick his brain about good design, the importance of vinyl, and the intersection of art and music.

JCR: What spurred you to create The Journal of Popular Noise?

BK: There were a few different currents that all nudged me into making this thing. I always wanted to make a magazine with my friends, but didn’t really feel like the DIY punk zine was the right thing for me—it had already been done a zillion times. And, as a musician and a designer, I always felt like the same rules applied to the way you write a record as the way you put together a magazine. It was really an experiment to find out if that feeling was right.

JCR: Why is it called a “journal”?

BK: Other than the structure, magazines and fashion have always been very closely linked to music and art as a way of presenting new and interesting work to the world. If you look at an issue of Art Forum from the ’60s, you get a snapshot of all the art that was going on at the time, you look at Vogue from the ’50s and you can still see what clothes were popular. These things are important historical documents, and I wanted to do the same thing for music and sound art. You can’t really get that same snapshot from a single record, it’s really all about the juxtaposition of what different people are doing at the same time that gives you that snapshot of the cultural climate.

JCR: You also work at Visionaire—did the inspiration for the Journal and its striking design relate to (or come out of) your work there in any way?

BK: There were certainly a lot of things that I learned while working here that contributed, but I really had this idea before I came to Visionaire. I would say that the most important part that my experience at Visionaire played was less in the design and more just learning how to get something done. It was really the production aspect, dealing with the printer and all that. I’ve designed stuff but I had never produced and published an entire edition by myself before.

JCR: How do you curate the artists for each issue?

BK: For the first few issues, I’ve been working with friends and people that I know from playing music. Beyond that it’s friends of friends or people that we know of, it’s very community-based. But it’s important to me to make sure that every edition has a really wide range of content. The main theme of the Journal is that there is continuity among the records beyond aesthetics. The best way to illustrate this is to show how these records that are seemingly disparate in their sound are structurally related.

JCR: What artists are you really into right now?

BK: I’m not really into a lot of new music. Right now, I’m listening to early ’80s hardcore like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Bad Brains and some more thrash stuff like D.R.I. In a certain way, that stuff is really minimalist. Like the compositions for the Journal, they’re songs that are reduced down to the most basic elements and they’re really short. More often than not, these songs are under a minute long. I think that’s great. Other than that, I’m starting to get in to John Cale, Moondog, Hot Chip, Simian Mobile Disco. I saw this group the other night called Endless Boogie that’s a really amazing psych-rock band.

JCR: Do you think there’s a resurgence of vinyl happening now? Why do records still matter?

BK: Definitely. In the past 50 years we’ve seen reel-to-reel hi-fi stereos, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, mini-disc players and, most recently, compact discs come and go while vinyl records have remained basically unchanged for a hundred years. Now that most music is being consumed digitally (sans physical format), I think people are realizing that something is missing. It’s important to have a physical connection to your music; it’s also a great opportunity to make something beautiful with other people. Vinyl is still important because it’s the best format, both for the audiophile and the person who wants a beautiful thing to accompany their music.

Listen in at: www.myspace.com/popularnoise

This interview was conducted by Jessica Dang.

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