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Crazy sounds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

William Kentridge's brilliant "The Refusal of Time" combines large multiscreen videos and eight-channel audio to great effect.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
William Kentridge's "The Refusal of Time" Metropolitan Museum of Art

William Kentridge's "The Refusal of Time" (2012) creates its own environment through the ever-morphing, large-format videos depicting the collision of technology, social upheaval, and industry. The five videos display a series of scenes, texts, shifting diagrams and papers, and laborers shown in silhouette marching across the screens. Music and voices come from eight speakers -- four large JBL studio monitors -- and four smaller megaphone-like horns that make announcements throughout the piece.

Picture and sound quality are exceptional, and while the sound is realistically loud, I never thought it was too loud. The running time is 30 minutes, but you can't hear or see all of "The Refusal of Time" from any one vantage point in the gallery. I moved through the space and experienced different aspects of the work. It's akin to walking around a sculpture; you can never take in the entirety of the piece in one exposure, and that's what makes "The Refusal of Time" so fascinating. I will definitely go back to experience it again and again.

Kentridge's visuals consistently dazzle, but music propels the piece. Philip Miller's driving score sounds, at times, like a gigantic music box or calliope gone haywire, a clockwork contraption that reels and wanes as metronomes tick out time. The rolling drums, xylophones, tubas, and trumpet flourishes lead to the next event in time. I liked the music so much I bought a bunch of Miller's albums on Amazon, and the recording quality is superb.

"The Refusal of Time" also features a large kinetic sculpture -- "breathing machine" or "elephant" -- an organ-like automaton with massive pumping bellows in the center of the room. It was inspired by plans from the 1870s, where pneumatic tubes would have run under the streets of Paris that would pump bursts of air to calibrate the city's clocks. The sculpture is the soul of "The Refusal of Time."

The show runs through May 11, 2014, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The piece is jointly owned by the Met and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ("Time" will be shown there in 2016). The Met's "suggested" admission fee is $25, but you can pay as much or as little as you want.