Hal McGee - "The Secret Life of Hal McGee" (Haltapes 2005, DVDR)

Uploaded to Aural Innovations: September 2005

The Secret Life of Hal McGee is an interesting title for Hal's first DVD release. Though in many ways revealing, it's not a biography in any normal sense. But it is very much about the way the world looks through Hal's eyes, which isn't so secret given that there's a large body of work that illustrates how the world sounds through Hal's ears. A professor in college once told the class that artists see the world differently than everyone else does. I don't know if Hal sees the world differently so much as that he's just a very keen observer of what for most of us is the everyday mundane encounters with our environment and the nothings that we pass as we trek from point A to point B.

The Secret Life of Hal McGee is like Wired For Sound Enhanced, Wired For Sound being the audio release from 2000 that best exemplifies (of the works I've heard) Hal's use of field recordings to create a day in the life, Hal about town audio art work. Wired For Sound was strangely captivating in its ability to amplify and collage style arrange the ordinary day to day sounds and conversations most people (especially me) pay no attention to whatsoever. So with The Secret Life of Hal McGee, let's not just record it… let's film it too. We've got Hal chatting with his neighbor and riding on the bus and observing fellow passengers. There's lots of strolling down the street and through the woods. But Hal's not simply observing the surroundings. He's really getting into the details of the ground underfoot… zoom in on a bolt, a manhole cover, garbage in the street, ants, and by golly I never really noticed the patterns in the sidewalk before. Kind of like fingerprints. The sounds of the city are interspersed with the quiet and calm of more pastoral parts of town (Gainesville, Florida). We're also invited into Hal's home, where we get to visit with his dog, cat, art and extensive collection of instruments and tech toys. He also runs the camera over his wall of cassettes, and at these times I kept pausing the video trying to read the titles. And while in his home we're treated to Hal's music and audio experimentations.

My favorite part of the DVD is where Hal is filming and conversing with his good 'ol girl neighbor and she jokingly calls him "a fart" for going around filming people (in this case it was 6am and she was walking her dog before work). But Hal keeps her interested and chatty (actually she never comes up for air) by asking questions. Nothing deep or complex, just enough to show her he's genuinely interested. And they're just talking… just shootin' the shit… which is what people do, right?

Part artsy investigation into the urban landscape, part moving canvas, and part avant-garde National Geographic documentary, The Secret Life of Hal McGee will appeal, or at least be interesting, to anyone already seasoned on Hal's sound art recordings. It's 2 hours long and took me a couple visits to get through. Would I like to see Hal do more of these? I haven't decided yet. I liked having the experience of seeing what I've heard so much of on Hal's recordings, and other artists that make similar use of field recordings. It certainly makes sense to make an audio-visual experience out of it. But my jury is still out because part of the fun of reviewing Hal's recordings is they exercise my imagination. I have to come up with the imagery myself. In my review of Wired For Sound (see AI #19) I said that I felt like I was following Hal around and hiding in the bushes as he experiences a typical day. With the DVD I was keenly aware of sitting before my computer and observing a film. Maybe I prefer the voyeuristic sensation and image inducing experience of audio only? These are, of course, very personal views of my experience with Hal's work, and he's obviously got my brain working as I've been mulling quite a bit over the audio only vs. audio-visual differences. I'll keep an eye out for more reviews. I'm curious to see additional thoughts on this one from other Hal fans.

For more information you can visit the Haltapes web site at: http://hometown.aol.com/haltapes1.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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