Meet Gavan Eckhart, sound engineer for The Refusal of Time

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Elizabeth Caldwell and Gavan Eckhart discuss William Kentridge's Refusal of Time

It's an exciting afternoon at City Gallery with three international designers, Sabine Theunissen, Jonas Lundquist and Gavan Eckhart, making the final tweaks to the installation of William Kentridge's The Refusal of Time. Everything needs to be perfect for our preview at  Tuatara Open Late from 5pm. At 6.30pm, the designers will be giving a talk, convened by Chief Curator Robert Leonard, about their work in bringing Kentridge's installation to life in venues around the world. In the meantime,  I caught up with South African sound designer Gavan Eckhart and asked him a few questions:

How did you become interested in sound design? Did you have a career path mapped out?
I didn't really think about it much. I come from a musical family; my father is a musician and producer with an eclectic taste in music but a special interest in jazz. He's worked with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and SAFM radio and was a huge support to many musicians, particularly black performers.  I studied music throughout my schooling and learned lots of instruments including piano, recorder, the drums, guitar and saxophone.  At High School I was a DJ and I also used to do gigs with Dad, so moving into sound engineering felt like a natural progression.  My first job was in a jazz club and I soon moved on to producing albums – my first was for Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba,  known as Mama Africa.  It was at that same studio that I met Philip Miller  (Emmy Award-nominated South African composer who created the soundtrack for The Refusal of Time). He was already working with William Kentridge (Miller and Kentridge’s parents were friends). We found a good synergy and have now been working together for about twelve years.


What’s the most exciting project you have worked on?
There’s been lots of exciting projects! I’ve really enjoyed  working with Chaka Khan and George Benson in Nigeria recently. I also work on outreach projects in South African, taking young bands into the townships to perform for kids. I’ve also released an EP  under my own label with my wife, who is a singer.  One of my current projects is working with Phillip Miller on the Book of Negro series which is a spin-off of Twelve Years A SlaveThe Refusal of Time and its companion show Refuse The Hour  are probably the longest-running and most complex projects I’ve worked on.


What’s it like working with William Kentridge?
The great thing about Kentridge is the way he collaborates and trust others in his team. He strikes a balance between his collaborative projects and being a sole practitioner. He’s prolific!

The process of creating the sound for The Refusal of Time was born out of an epic two week workshop. The whole team came together including the singers and we developed ideas around quite open concepts of the project. For me, being in time and out of time at the same time is the underlying theme of the piece. One of the most important components of the soundscape is the metronomes, obviously central to the theme of time and controlling time. We built a mechanical drum kit controlled robotically to  represent the nine metronomes, which are central to the score. Another recurring theme is the Shembe Death March, traditional African music based on the Shembe movement (a quasi Christian group). Miller’s rendition of the song Le Spectre de la Rose by Berlioz is also incorporated throughout.


Rachel Healy, Communications Manager

Tuatara Open Late will preview The Refusal of Time from 5pm tonight. Gavan will be speaking at 6:30pm in the Auditorium.