The Journal of Popular Noise is a semi-annual audio magazine founded in late 2007 and inspired by 'the traditions of pop music, printed periodicals, and the delight of a finely crafted artifact'.
The Journal contains bespoke recordings on 7" vinyl by musicians and collaborators such as: Climax Golden Twins, Past Lives (former Blood Brothers), Pontious Pilots, Copy, Dutch Dub, Na + Jenko, Bora Yoon + Ben Frost and will soon include Andrew W.K amongst its list of contributors.
I was fortunate enough to not only pick up one of these brilliantly crafted packages from New York recently but also to get a interview with The Journal's founder and NYC Parsons School of Design graduate, Byron Kalet.
-The JPN began as a project at University, what was the original stimulus for the project?
As it was my final project at Parsons, I was trying to make it a culmination of everything I liked making. The assignment was totally open so I just tried to fit everything into one project. I had been trying to focus on sound design and publication design so it seemed like the natural thing to do.
-Your background's in design but do you have any history in creating music zines etc?
I had never really thought about making a music zine in the tradition of DIY punk zines before. I was in bands all throughout my teens and early twenties, so I was very involved with music but I wasn't that interested design or magazines back then. I liked making everything else though, t-shirts, stickers, flyers, record art, and all that. I guess I saw it as more of an outlet for the literary people in the punk scene who weren't musicians. I already had so much going on that I didn't feel the need to mine that territory, plus it was pretty well worn territory before I even got into that stuff. I've definitely drawn on some of the ethos in terms of a means of production but aesthetically I've made a conscious decision to avoid that connection.
-How do you go about approaching bands for the project, is there a selection process?
When I first got started, I just asked my friends who I grew up playing with if they would be interested in being a part of this ridiculous idea I had. I expected everyone to blow me off but what happened was quite the opposite. I ended up with more music than I could publish, which I think pissed some people off. I eventually put it all out there though. I just happen to be lucky enough that my friends are amazing musicians and artists. Now I'm expanding into working with people I haven't met before. I think that there is an editorial voice within the people I choose to work with, but its sort of serendipitous. We also have a list of dream contributors, maybe we'll be able to get someday.
-For the recordings you set down certain guidelines for the artists to follow, how receptive are they to these suggestions? Did you find that some followed them and others strayed away from your intentions?
Well the biggest surprise is how excited people are about having constraints. I thought that no one would want to have someone tell them how to write a song. It's sort of like the cliched scene of the bigwigs at the record label trying to inhibit an artist expression so they can squeeze a hit song out of them. But in my case, everyone is really eager to comply! I don't understand it. I guess for most of them it's just something they've never done - it's a new challenge so it's fun. And obviously not motivated by finances. A few people have strayed from the format but I like that too. I imagine some kid in front of his stereo racking his brain trying to figure how how some crazy thing fits the format when it's actually off in some another world.
-Do the guidelines vary from issue to issue, do you play about with the rules at all?
I keep them the same in every edition. I think this one of the most interesting parts of the series. My favourite moment is when iI get a new recording in from someone and I get to see how they interpreted the rules. Every new record makes all the ones before it more interesting. Does that make sense?
-The layout of the magazine is something that people always seem respond positively to, how did it come about, who designed it?
I designed that also, although I feel like I can't take too much credit for it. Basically, the packaging came about because it was the only way I could figure out how to put 3 records together in a sleeve without having to cut or glue anything. Laziness is the mother of invention. Once I had that worked out, I just used the die-lines to dictate the typographic grid. It all kinda fell into place. I did draw a new typeface for the titles, which was based on the main text typeface - Avenir. I wanted a super thin sans-serif that would be really unique and graphically identify The JPN.
-Rather than tapes or Cds The JPN uses vinyl only, what do you prefer about it?
Well, I've written a lot about this topic. Basically, vinyl records are such an elegantly simple way of listening to sounds. Since vinyl records were invented we've seen a wide variety of other methods try to replace them, but nobody seems to be able to top it. One of the main tenets of the Journal is to create a really powerful physical relationship with music and vinyl is just the best way to do it. Same story with the letterpress printing, I don't want people to see this thing as a nostalgic throw back. The methods of production are just what I consider to be the best way to achieve my goals.
-What have been your favourite releases or songs so far?
I have to say I think they're all outstanding. Most of these artists are old friends of mine and I've heard every record they've done. The records they've done for the Journal have to be some of their best work. A few stand out, Past Lives (issue 7) are one of the most amazing new bands out of Seattle. Linda & Ron's Dad (issue 12) made their entire record out of David Bowie samples, which came out amazing. And Dutch Dub's record (issue 2) is also an old fav, he ties the whole issue together with a narrative sailor theme. It's like a tiny opera, so cool. I feel like the issues that are most successful are the ones where people bring another concept or element to it.
-What music have you been enjoying recently?
Most of what I'm listening to at the moment is 70's German Krautrock, Electronic, and Prog. I have a good friend who has been compiling all the best jams for me. Beyond that I've been into Blank Dogs, who are a really scrappy sounding lo-fi band out of Brooklyn, sort of in the same vain as Wavves and other bands like that. I've been really digging the last Matmos record (would love to have them contribute to the JPN).
-The way JPN works is somewhat akin to a record label, do you ever think you'll go down that path?
Yeah, actually I co-released the debut record from Truckasauras with Seattle label fourthcity and I'm about to release an EP from another Seattle band called Flexions. Both bands had contributed to the Journal in the past under different names and it seemed like a natural progression to continue that relationship.
-JPN is reaching its 2nd birthday this year, how long you plan on keeping it going? What's changed in the time that you've been running it?
I'm trying to keep this thing going for as long as I can. But that remains to be seen. It still seems to be gaining momentum and I think the spring/summer edition is going to really kick it up a notch. Its going to be an all spoken word edition featuring Andrew W.K., Ian Svenonius, Walker & Cantrell. I just got the Andrew WK record this morning and it is insane. Couldn't be more excited about it. I think the biggest change is that we're more confident in what were doing! At first it was like this little thing i was making in my living room but before I knew it we've been able to reach people from Japan to Australia. It's a really great feeling to know that you're a part of something that people from all over are enjoying and as excited about as I am.
The Journal of Popular Noise can be found online at popularnoise.net.