in Frieze | 01 NOV 07
Featured in
Issue 111

The Journal of Popular Noise, Vol. 1, Issues 1–3

(The Journal of Popular Noise, 2007)

in Frieze | 01 NOV 07

If the brains behind legendary art-magazine-in-a-box Aspen (1965–71), had been forged in furnaces of pop rather than minted from the crisp dies of avant-garde art history, then they might have come up with The Journal of Popular Noise. The first volume of this new Brooklyn-based periodical comprises three seven-inch vinyl singles, which sit snugly within the exquisite architecture of the magazine’s folded sleeve. Each seven-inch is given over to a different artist, and the cover folds out to reveal an elegantly typeset editorial column, three short texts on the musicians and a delightfully quasi-scientific-looking chart. Volume one features sounds by Dutch Dub, Foscil and Ones.

The Journal of Popular Noise editor, designer and publisher Byron Kalet observes that ‘recorded sound seems to have transcended its former physical manifestation and returned to its original formless presence, vibrating air’ and that ‘in a way I find this perfect and beautiful, but sometimes I feel that something is missing’. Hence, Kalet sent the three contributing musicians and groups a set of instructions. Track one should be 30 seconds long and ‘reflect the quintessential sound of your record’. Tracks two and four should base themselves on ‘simplest pop song structure’. Track three asks that the musicians ‘think about how water travels across the same landscape but never takes the same path’. For the fifth, ‘it may help to finish this track before the first track and work backwards’.

Dutch Dub – aka Nick deWitt – does not, as the name might suggest, produce rib-shaking bass lines loping through caverns of echoing percussion. We’re told in deWitt’s biog that ‘coffee and cake seem to fuel his creative and physical energy exclusively, however a recent purchase of the sticky icky has derailed his sense of purpose and boundary’. Whatever ‘sticky icky’ is, deWitt should try more of it, for his ‘Sailor’s Waltz’, ‘S.O.S.’ and ‘Stranded on Fire Island’ are charming without being twee, pitched somewhere between Pavement and The Residents. The sea shanty ‘Sailor’s Waltz’ stands out in particular, its 3/4 time signature making me wonder just how the four-to-the-floor beats of most pop ever shoved the gentle bounce of waltz time into the tumbleweed sidings of unfashionability. Seattle-based Foscil’s ‘Part 001 – Part 005’ is a fantastic suite of languid, jazzy and occasionally Far East-inflected electro-acoustic tracks featuring haunting layers of woodwind. Turned by the crank of Cagean abstraction, ‘Azimuth’ and ‘Sturge y Oñes’ by Ones require more patience from the listener, yet in focusing the ears on the timbral minutiae of clicks, burrs and hums their two tracks have a certain rewarding quality.

In the tone of its writing, The Journal of Popular Noise shares something of the kind of whimsy to be found in the pages of The Believer and McSweeney’s, but this is held nicely in balance with the sheer oddity of the music. Sounds, as Kalet puts it, ‘as diverse as they are gnarly’.