Drumroll (22 minutes, 1 second) was McQueen's first multiple image work, and the first work in which he used sound. It consists of a triptych of projected, colour video images. McQueen generated the images by rolling a metal oil drum through the streets of midtown Manhattan, with cameras mounted on the side and two ends. When installed in a gallery-space, the central image is round while the two either side of it are predominantly rectangular, with the corners occasionally eclipsed.
The optical dimension of the film is made up of rotating images of store-fronts and cars, flashes of blue sky and McQueen's bright pink coat. The soundtrack consists of the ambient din of traffic, the relentless clatter of the oil-drum over the uneven pavement, and the artist's warnings and apologies to passers by for the obstruction he is causing as he makes the work. As the critic Michael Newman has pointed out, Drumroll, like the American artist Robert Morris's Box With the Sound of its Own Making (1961), is essentially 'a work that records its own construction' (Steve McQueen, 1999, p.30).
In 1996, McQueen said that he wanted 'to get more physical' in his film-making generally. ('Let's Get Physical', interview with Patricia Bickers, Art Monthly, no.202, December 1996-January 1997, p.2.) In 1997, he also commented: 'I object to feeling I have my head in a clamp - forced to see things from the perspective of the film-maker.'('Steve McQueen on Film', interview with Philip Dodd, tate: the art magazine, no.13, Winter 1997, pp.37-8.) Drumroll relates closely to both these statements and watching it can induce a feeling of nausea. The installation seems to recreate for the viewer the perceptual experience of the three different cameras on their centrifugal junket through the city. Watching the tryptich of images, viewers may sense themselves simultaneuously inside the body of the barrel, glimpsing an ever-changing scene from the rotating holes at centre and either end, and on its surface, feeling the friction of its bulky mass as it clatters over the pavement.
At a metaphorical level, Drumroll can be seen to engage themes such as journeying, movement, dislocation and marginalisation which have been referenced elsewhere in McQueen's work. Commenting on the possible political implications of the work, the curator Robert Storr has written:
'No', in theory, an experimental artist's colour should not matter, but 'Yes', when the experiment is run in public space, it does. And so McQueen takes note of himself, and of his voice, and of the patterns of response as he makes his way. A drum roll heralds a ritual or event. In this case, the ritual is making a moving picture that documents a city's exhilarating kinesthesia; the event is a young black movie-maker 'taking' Manhattan without warning, simply because it is there to be taken. (Steve McQueen, 1999, p.16.)
Okwui Enwezor, Michael Newman, Robert Storr, Steve McQueen, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1999, reproduced p.43
Polly Staple, 'Steve McQueen', Untitled, no.4, Spring 1999, p.20