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Zen And The Art Of The Tape Recorder

by Hal McGee

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new audio master uploaded May 17, 2013

Zen And The Art Of The Tape Recorder is a 92-minute tape collage work by Hal McGee, recorded on cassette and microcassette, September 13-30, 2007
- in Andrew Chadwick's automobile, in Chapel Hill North Carolina, Richmond Virginia, Washington DC, Baltimore Maryland, Charleston South Carolina, Gainesville Florida, Bobby Moseley's automobile, Tallahassee Florida
- with the participation of Andrew Chadwick, Rick Zender, Grayson Currin, Bryce Eiman, M.C. Nazi Dad, Jeff Bagato, Kendra Calhoun, Michelle Hindt, Zan Hoffman, Keith Childress, Kelly Nourse, Jesi Langdale, Jay Peele, Blast, SOS, Bobby Moseley, Aposable Scum, Christopher Cprek

KEY WORDS and PHRASES pertinent to Side One of the cassette: dada, fluxus, collage, cut-up, Hal McGee (voice, Sony TCM-200DV cassette and Olympus Pearlcorder S701 microcassette tape recorders, circuit bent Casio SK-1, circuit bent Casio SK-5, circuit bent Casio Rapman, shortwave radio, piano), Andrew Chadwick (voice, car radio, cassette, recording assistance), Chadwick's automobile, noise duck, September 17 2007 performance at Rivers Communications Museum (Charleston, South Carolina), Rick Zender (voice), car radio, Interstate 95, that shit ain't ghetto, clicks, pops, static, tape hiss, extrapolation, auditory hallucination, September 13 2007 performance at Nightlight Bar + Club (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Grayson Currin (article on McGee in Independent Weekly), Bryce Eiman (Casio SK-5), Scotty Irving, promute, irrationally perceived challenge, Carrburrito's, unwanted sound, system noise, squeaks, crackle, sizzle, hum, auditory illusions, indeterminate questions, King Lear, National Public Radio, Anton Chekhov, September 14 2007 performance at Pom Hole (Richmond, Virginia), M.C. Nazi Dad, pots, pans, flower pot, doors, shoes, acoustic guitar, Jason Leonard's house (Chapel Hill), pointless questions, aggressive driver imaging, Rorschach Audio, capture errors, fricatives, sibilances, fluxatives, rhythmic mechanical noise, air conditioner, Kelly Nourse's apartment (Richmond), washing machine, drinking glass, Kenny Yates, starts, stops, swishes, swooshes, Interstate 85, September 15 2007 performance at Sonic Circuits Festival, The Warehouse (Washington, D.C.), Jeff Surak, Kendra Calhoun (harmonium, voice), Michelle Hindt (voice), Zan Hoffman (voice), beeswax, cassette stays, Jeff Bagato (balloon), temporal masking, that same thing with this, not tethered to a cable, as I'm doing the thing, auditory mirage, sounds that intrigue me, a combination of choice and chance, Keith Childress (microcassette, recording assistance), clothes dryer, Kelly Nourse (voice, telling the story of the origin of the name "Constant Mauk", microcassette, recording assistance), Washington emergency vehicles, death metal covers with accordion, smile - you're on tape, a choice that will not be worth remembering, pirate band, oh my, cowboys and clanking robots, exploratory audio, coathanger, The Green Revolution, Atomic Books, No Loitering Within 8000 Miles Of This Sign, West 36th Street (Hampden area, Baltimore, Maryland), the talking machine, description of the preferred embodiment, a new sound identification device, that shit ain't right, centuries after you have crumbled to dust, noise ordinance enforced, despite the early failure of magnetic recording technology, the cassette tape had its origin in utilitarian purposes, reflection, refraction, diffraction, polarization, a weird "k", exacerbating factors, ambiguous audio signals, destruction of time-space...

KEY WORDS and PHRASES pertinent to Side Two of the cassette: dada, fluxus, collage, cut-up, Hal McGee (Sony TCM-200DV cassette and Olympus Pearlcorder S701 microcassette tape recorders, piano, harp, throat, urine), Jesi Langdale (voice, piano, acoustic guitar, shortwave radio, harmonica, jaw harp), 1982 Bar, West University Avenue in Gainesville, Yamaha DGX-500 Portable Grand Piano, Jay Peele (voice, trumpet, circuit bent Casio SK-1, recklessness), you've laughed for an hour?, drugs flow like a river, brainwashed by endless hours of television, Interstate 75, Interstate 10, September 24 2007 performance at The Beta Bar (Tallahassee), auditory mirage, when to be crazy and when to be normal, an enormous collection of tapes, device system noise, Rorschach Audio, bangs, whistles, claps, screams, the instant invention in the open position, auditory hallucination, Christopher Cprek (voice, "15 minutes, Hal"), Blast (performance at 1982, Gainesville, September 23, 2007), Seth / SOS (voice, sitar), big balls, Bobby Moseley (voice, keyboard), Bobby Moseley's Honda Element, Aposable Scum (performance at 1982, Gainesville, September 23, 2007), the bullshit Third Eye, "Tampa Tried To Kill Patti Smith", watching, looking, reading, listening, Tallahassee emergency vehicles, the protest concert that we didn't play on the steps of The State Capitol, repeated meme, driving fast is as dangerous as fucking, telephone wires, radio towers, nice field studies skills asshole, are you guys hiring?, they live in fungus, Sunset Journal, our star, you improvise to the sunset, right on Tharpe, that shit ain't ghetto bro, get a good look at this, the cow, are you going to repeat everything I say?, not only that, perspicacious, birds in the wilderness, going to the rock club we're gonna rock it hard, sandwich way, cleverness, forthcoming mist, Irene Moon, a 30 year head start, spandex thong, subhuman primates, a yeasayer!, product of a multinational corporation, stove timer, is this thing on?, test requiring a pause, Rivers Communications Museum (Charleston, South Carolina), Rick Zender (voice), Andrew Chadwick (voice, cassette, recording assistance), wire, cylinders, Non, Sam Sfirri, Kieran Daly, bounced off the walls and came back, I forgot to turn on Record, windshield fluid pouring from the sky, word association, ketamine, the shaved-off remnants, yeah whatever works for you dude, my mom's dishwasher, real deal homey feel, without larynx or pharynx, mimics your tones, speaks with your voice, Thomas Edison, centuries after you have crumbled to dust, when the going gets odd the weird turn normal, little ballerina, going commando, Andrew Barranca (GayBomb), Ashley (Coonbeef Hash), Rutledge Coffee & Cream, seeds, it's illegal to break the law, the candle burning at both ends, rewind this film and go back, Andrew Chadwick (voice), pumping air with a bellows, September 30 2007 microcassette and cassette feedback performance at Microshow (Gainesville)...

Here is a bulletin that I posted on Thursday, September 13, 2007:

This morning I will be departing Gainesville with Andrew Chadwick (Ironing) for our "Hissing Across America Tour".

Our first stop will be tonight at Nightlight Club in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we will meet up with our friend Keith Childress (A.M. Salad). A.M. Salad will be playing at three of the four dates on our tour. Also playing tonight with us will be The Clang Quartet, featuring Scotty Irving, who many of you heard on Charles Rice Goff III's Taped Rugs 06 Tour Of The Southeast USA 7xCDr + DVDr set.

On Friday we will travel to Richmond, Virginia, where we will play at Pom Palace, 500 W. Marshall. This show is organized by our friend Kelly Nourse (Constant Mauk, who will also be playing at the Sonic Circuits Festival).

Saturday it will be time for what will probably be the highlight of our trip, the Sonic Circuits Festival in Washington DC! This month-long event is organized and operated by Jeff Surak, one of my hometaper associates from the 1980s. I will be meeting up with Zan Hoffman (who will also be performing that night) for the first time in about 20 years.

Sonic Circuits
Saturday, September 15, 2007, at The Warehouse
1017 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Metro: Mount Vernon Sq/Convention Center
Show time: 8:00pm
Tickets: $12.00
Esther Venrooy
Oier Etxeberria
Hal McGee
Gunung Sari
Zan Hoffman
Constant Mauk
a.m. salad
Musica Ex Machina festival presentation

We will take Sunday off to hang out and spend time with friends, and we might go see the Sunday night Sonic Circuits show -- I am especially looking forward to seeing Michael Thomas Jackson for the first time in 17 years.

And on Monday the 17th we will travel to Charleston, South Carolina, where we will perform with Kieran Daly and Sam Sfirri at Rivers Communications Museum, at 58 George Street.

I will be taking with me copies of my The Man With The Tape Recorder CDR for sale and trade, as well as my newest release, a 90-minute cassette called NoiseFuck Monument. We will also have Hissing Across America t-shirts for sale.

Please feel free to make sounds during my upcoming performances in Chapel Hill, Richmond, Washington DC and Charleston. In fact, I encourage it. If you want to bring a small handheld sound-maker of some sort, please do so. Examples: portable shortwave or other radio, circuit bent gear, Casios, Gameboys, homemade instruments, flutes and other wind instruments such as horns and party hooters, small drums and other percussives such as pots and pans, music toys, spoken texts, appliances, etc. Items should be acoustic or have a built-in speaker, all battery-operated (nothing requiring plug-in electricity) - NO amplification! -- and do not play these during sets by the other performers. I will record bits and pieces here and there of interesting audience sounds and include them in a live-action cut-up tape collage that I will create on-the-spot "on-stage".

Here is some info on Ironing and A.M. Salad:

Ironing is focused on manipulating and recontextualizing somewhat autobiographical sound sources, altering them through lo-fi analog processes. A pile of cast off equipment, hissy tapes and damaged records get worked into a collage of microcassette field recordings, blown out Miami beats, local radio and abused cassettes in a noise collage meets hyperactive dub frenzy.

A.M. Salad is an ever-changing sound sculpture set in motion, currently existing at a junction between energized, chaotic rumble and waves of trancing drone; a moody, schizo-sensory treatment fusing meditation and destruction. Sounds are teased from mic'd wire, metal, tools, assemblages, and junk instruments by way of flailing, untamed movement from man, device, and environment. Sounds are altered and infused with various electronics.

P.S. Plus, I will be doing a show in Tallahassee on September 24th with Pax Titania, Jijimuge, and others.


Here is an article written by Grayson Currin, which originally appeared in the Wednesday, September 12, 2007 issue of Independent Weekly. I quoted copiously from this article during my live performances in Chapel Hill, Richmond, Washington, and Charleston.

Hal McGee will leave his home in Gainesville, Fla., for a four-show tour along the East Coast in less than 100 hours, and right now, the only thing he knows he'll have with him is a handheld silver Sony tape recorder. He'll probably take some clothes, maybe some keyboards with bent circuits, perhaps a transistor radio, and possibly a video camera to tape his sets. But, for six days, that tape recorder and one blank tape will be McGee's primary instruments. He has no idea what it will sound like.

"I've worked with live improvisation and tape collage before," says McGee, "but this is the first time I'm doing them together."

As McGee pulls away from Florida en route to his set at the month-long Washington, D.C., experimental festival Sonic Circuits, he'll begin recording sounds that intrigue him—bits of conversation, a phrase read from a scrap of paper hidden in his travel bag, moments heard from the window of his car as he travels north along Interstate 95. When he arrives in Chapel Hill, he'll rewind the tape, listen for an interesting starting point and push play. As the tape advances, he'll encourage the audience to play along to the collage with the items and instruments he hopes they bring to the show. And when he hears something worth recording, he'll press record and begin the process again. As the tour progresses, the sounds pulled from one night's show will erase bits of other nights, nesting the present inside of a partially erased past, stored for possible future use. This sort of imposed surrealism fascinates McGee: "It's a combination of choice and chance.... I am looking for unexpected, weird juxtapositions of sounds I record. Oftentimes, I surprise myself even as I discover these things."

The indeterminate questions McGee's set-up offers reveal several interesting, practical challenges: Each stop depends on an interaction with an audience that may not exist. He could be recording total stillness. He's never played any of the rooms on his itinerary, either, so he's not sure whether he will run his tape deck through a club's sound system or just rely on the recorder's tiny internal speaker. This is his chance for solo interactive listening.

"A lot of artists don't leave any room to listen to sound. If the entire sound field has this assault mentality, you can't listen," he says. "And I'm challenging myself and the audience to listen and hear these relationships of sounds."

Hal McGee joins Ironing, Clang Quartet and AM Salad at Nightlight Thursday, Sept. 13, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $6.


Hal McGee at Nightlight Club, Chapel, Hill, North Carolina, Thursday, September 13, 2007. See photograph by Katherin Machalek (photo available with download). Here you see me with my Sony TCM-200DV cassette recorder, my circuit bent Casio SK-1, and a text that I took from the Interweb. During the performance I read passages from books that I brought with me, and books that I found on the tables at Nightlight, such as Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Two times during the performance I walked up to a bookshelf, pulled a random book off the shelf, opened to a random page, plopped my finger down, and read a phrase.

In addition to shooting video of my performance, Andrew Chadwick recorded sections of my performance in progress on a portable cassette recorder, and then played back various fragments during the performance, which I then recorded on to the Sony recorder, making the re-recorded fragments part of the collage and the preformance. Keith Childress recorded my entire Chapel Hill performance on microcassette. He played back these recordings during my performances in Richmond and Washington.

See photograph by Michelle Hindt of Hal McGee records Bryce Eiman playing his Casio SK-5 keyboard (see photos available in album download). In the Interweb bulletins I sent out prior to the tour, I invited audience members to bring their own portable sound-makers (see above). Before the show Bryce told me that he bought one of my Dog As Master cassette releases about 20 years ago. That night we stayed at Jason Leonard's house, who has one of the biggest and nicest dogs I have ever met. I recorded the guitar, squeaky door, and some household sounds, as well as some found texts, at Jason's on Friday morning. Before Andrew and I drove to Richmond, we ate lunch at Carrburritos, where I ate a yummy Pure' de Papas (sweet potato) burrito [possibly the best burrito I have ever eaten].


The show on September 14th was at Pom Hole, 500 W. Marshall Street, Richmond, Virginia. It was a rainy night, and we played to an enthusiastic, rowdy audience of about 30-40 in a tiny basement of a house. M.C. Nazi Dad got the audience whipped up to a frenzy with her pseudo-neo-fascist rantings.

See photograph by Michelle Hindt. Hal playing back a section of the tape, before stopping and cutting in new material. See Andrew's hand holding his cassette recorder, on which he is recording me playing back the material. Thanks to Kelly Nourse for setting up the show. We stayed at her apartment, where I recorded some of the household sounds that you hear on the tape. I was also happy to get to meet Kenny Yates, one of the key figures, along with Nourse, of the 804 Noise Collective. We had coffee on Friday and breakfast on Saturday at Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream.


Here I will share with you an excerpt from the MySpace Blog of A.M. Salad (Keith Childress):

...Then it was off to Chapel Hill to meet up with Hal McGee and Ironing who I played with during the final three shows of the tour. Clang Quartet joined us in Chapel Hill for a performance of noise energy with wearable sound makers that also acted as statements on the religious beliefs of the performer. He is also a very talented percussionist and utilizes a bombardment of cymbals and other beatables. He didn't make a believer outta me in the greater sense, but I respect his passion and I have to say the Clang Quartet performance is quite an experience that I would recommend checking out. And he is a really nice guy too. Richmond had a surprising turnout even with it raining buckets of buckets outside. Narwhalz (Of Sound) got to the final level of Zeltar as a gameboy was turned into a key unlocking the pixel world long enough for it to shatter into a million sounds while Bald Bull punches you the fuck out and wedges your limp body between two Tetris blocks. The Sonic Circuits Festival in D.C. was very well done, with some pretty varied and interesting sets... among them were Zan Hoffman and Constant Mauk, both of which are also really nice people to talk with... Zan gave lots of suggestions on cool places to play overseas. Constant Mauk played a nice short set of huzz crackle and swishes with some electronic treatments and contact mic speaker massages, weaving a cloud over our heads only to have it burst into feathers that weighed as much as anvils. Zan hammed it up as he peeked over his executive-style briefcase while electronically fucking with recordings he made of the previous Sonic Circuits performers earlier in the evening as well as other tweaked audio, all while dashing around in a slick suit handing out documents to the crowd. I wish I could tap into Zan's energy level. I had a blast hanging w/ Andrew Chadwick (Ironing) and Hal McGee throughout the final three days of the tour. All three of their sets that I witnessed were really damn good. Andrew has a knack for the cassette / turntable audio overload assault. The murky loops and slowed downers infuse with in-between beats and clutter, and then it seems to come together just long enough to confuse, and then Janet Jackson slips in a comment on how nasty the boys are and its soooo true. Ladies? Awesome. Hal really threw me for a loop, literally, with an amazing lecture of readings from random pages in books and loose papers while recording his readings and then plopping some circuit bent splushes on top, rewinding and adding some pot and pan percussion... press play and add something random off the tape which might have been from 2 minutes earlier or maybe it was from some comment or found sound he squeezed on there while walking through a gas station parking lot the night before. Loops, electronic slosh, comments on stereophonic sound, record, play, readings from the article written in the local independent press about the very show he is performing that moment, etc., etc. Oh, and all the sounds were unamplified... all coming from either his mouth, or the tiny speakers on his handheld tape recorders or battery operated casios and circuit toys. Andrew assisted with the "press record, press play, rewind, play, record" musical button game, which added to the amazement. I joined in on two of Hal's sets adding microcassette accompaniment of raw audio I recorded from his Chapel Hill performance... my favorite moments were when Hal was reading a passage in real time while one of his taped readings haunted the background space at the same time...


See downloadable photo by Hal of Andrew Chadwick, Keith Childress and Michelle Hindt on Sunday morning, September 16, 2007, in Baltimore. Baltimore was perhaps my favorite of the cities that I visited during the tour. Here you see us walking up the hill to West 36th in the Hampden area, where we ate breakfast at The Golden West Cafe (where I ordered Huevos Montuleños), visited Atomic Books, and a cool local record store, The True Vine Record Shop, that bought some tapes and CDRs from me and Andrew. It was during this time in Hampden that I recorded me reciting words from flyers I taped to shop windows and walls (such as the bits about "cowboys and clanking robots", "no loitering within 8000 miles of this sign", and suggestions for playing a secret, quiet concert in a public library). I really had a lot of fun staying at Keith and Michelle's house on Fait Avenue on Saturday and Sunday nights. Michelle made some excellent percolated coffee using the classic Chock full o'Nuts brand coffee. I definitely want to go back to Baltimore and visit Keith and Michelle again - and I have some ideas about shooting a new video there similar to The Secret Life Of Hal McGee.


See downloadable photo of Michael Thomas Jackson (with Noel Hunter). On Sunday night, September 16th, Andrew and I attended the Sonic Circuits concert at the Black Cat Lounge. It was a great event for me because I got to meet up with Michael Thomas Jackson (who performed that night with Brian Osbourne), an old friend of mine, who lived in Memphis, from the 1980s hometaper days! The last time I had seen him was 1990! Michael used to record under the name Cephalic Index in the 1980s, and as a duo with Chris Phinney under the name Cancerous Growth. Phinney, Jackson, and I recorded a tape of free improv analog synthesizer music called Ditch. Jackson also operated the XKurzhen Sound label, and he released my tape Weed, by Dog As Master. He now lives in North Carolina and is still quite active with experimental music activities.


On Monday, September 17, 2007 Andrew and I drove from Baltimore, Maryland to Charleston, South Carolina, for a show at the John Rivers Communications Museum. The show was organized by Non. Other performers that evening were Sam Sfirri, and Kieran Daly. Before the show and walked through the museum, looking at the displays and reading out loud from some of the information placards and recording. At the beginning of my performance I instructed the audience members to get on their feet, and with my microcassette and cassette recorders in hand I led them through the museum, stopping in front of some of the exhibits and placards. I even took them into the Men's Bathroom where I flushed the toilet and recorded the sound, as well as out the front door of the museum and onto the sidewalk on George Street. After the show, the curator of the museum, Rick Zender, took us on a personal guided tour through the museum. You can hear his voice on both sides of Zen and the Art of the Tape Recorder. I was happy to get to meet Ashley Coon, who attended the show, and with whom Andrew and I had breakfast on Tuesday at Rutledge Coffee & Cream. It was also nice to get to spend some time with Andrew Barranca (Gaybomb), who let us sleep at his house that night.


Many of the sound recordings that you hear on Side Two of the tape come from road trip to and from Tallahassee, Florida, where I performed on Monday night, September 24, 2007. I was accompanied on that trip by Bobby Moseley, Jesi Langdale, Jay Peele, and Seth SOS, all of whom performed as Jijimuge that night. You can also hear fragments of sounds that I recorded at the Blast and Aposable Scum show at 1982 in Gainesville on the night before.


Special thanks to Christopher Cprek (Pax Titania), who set up the show at The Beta Bar. I enjoyed staying at Chris and Irene Moon's house in Tallahassee, and meeting their cat and dog, and watching weird videos about volcanoes and the brain. Irene fixed some delicious Yuban coffee on Tuesday morning, and Chris made pancakes and biscuits for us.


see downloadable photo of Hal McGee doing microcassette feedback performance at Microshow, September 30, 2007, at Jesi Langdale's house in Gainesville, Florida. You can hear sections of this near the end of Zen and the Art of the Tape Recorder.


released October 4, 2007




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