Steve Reich WTC 9/11: out 9/6/11

 

I heard Kronos Quartet perform Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 (2010) earlier this year at Carnegie Hall. For three string quartets (two were overdubbed in this live performance) and recorded voices taken from phone calls by first responders on September 11, 2001, as well as interviews with New Yorkers some years later, it doesn’t serve as a nostalgic remembrance. Rather, it’s a dramatic whirlwind of a piece, at times bracing and overwhelming.

For those who’ve tired of the languid sentimentality and unfortunate jingoism that has too often been attached to  9/11 by those who’ve been witnesses from a distance, Reich’s response is an affecting tribute, both to those lost and to the New Yorkers left behind. I’m glad that its recording will see release near the 10 year anniversary of September 11, 2001.

The release also include So Percussion performing Reich 2009 Mallet Quartet and Reich and Musicians performing Dance Patterns (2002).

Thanks to Nonesuch for letting us debut the CD’s artwork.

30 Responses to “Debut: Artwork for Steve Reich’s WTC 9-11 CD”
  1. Ummm … Will … you do know that Terry Riley and Steve Reich aren’t the same person, right?

  2. Will Wilkin says:

    That photo is an artistic choice presumably deliberate in evoking the emotion intended by the composer. However, other choices could have been made, and it seems the audience commenting above would have preferred such. For example, Angel Records didn’t find it necessary to depict the horrors of the Warsaw Uprising on the LP cover of Schoenberg’s “Survivor in Warsaw” –a self-portrait of the composer was deemed more appropriate. Maybe Mr. Riley doesn’t paint.

    Its too bad he doesn’t. Riley’s compositions are tedious, boring, repetitive, more machine-like than human in their feeling of pre-programmed determinacy. The moment depicted in the photograph is the worst-case scenario of a feeling familiar whenever Reich first opens a piece: we are no longer free, we are locked in to the inevitable predictable inescapable banality of repeating loops, each passage as if another Groundhog Day after Groundhog Day after Groundhog Day. But who would want to listen to recurring loops of Ground Zero Day Ground Zero Day Ground Zero Day? The image and Reich’s composition style promise to freeze us in that terrible feeling and moment forever.

    Perhaps those directly bereft of loved ones from this horrible event want or need some literal remembrance, but personally I would expect the need for healing and to make life for the living would drive audiences towards more post-911 perspectives, with some musical feeling of rebirth or rebuilding or recovery and something more human on the cover to carry us along in that process. I wonder if Steve Reich has ever tried painting? Surely his paintings would sound better than his quartets, and for those above who actually like his music, the need for a more palatable CD cover seems the consensus.

  3. T. Djll says:

    The image is instantly recognizable and treated to look like perhaps a newsreel from the fascist age of the 1930s. A distant view, lacking in humanity. Cheap effects added. As Steve L. said, it’s hitting us over the head, telling us how we should feel. It adds nothing to the discussion — might as well be labeled “FOX NEWS PRESENTS:”

    Unfortunately, the gestalt of the picture/title suggests – no, propagates – exactly what the terrorists want to get across, i.e., mass subjugation. It reflects a paucity of imagination (not to mention taste) in depicting the human dimension of the atrocity. (What about the street view? the shoes? The rescuers? The survivors?) Showing the plane, the billowing smoke, the giant architecture — all that disaster kitsch just amplifies the sickly heroic nature of what the perpetrators did (heroic in their eyes only).

  4. Given that Reich’s piece has a specific subject matter, and that the subject matter itself is fraught with disturbing associations, I am of a mind that the choice of cover image is defensible.

    The negative reaction when Christian Carey first put up this post, particularly on Twitter from within the New York musical community, led me to post a defense/apologia on my blog:

    http://www.afoolintheforest.com/2011/07/deep-dark-truthful-mirror.html

    At least in light of the disappearance of record stores and, most recently, the closing of Borders, there’s not much worry of seeing row upon row of these covers in a window display or end cap.

  5. Also mentioned at WSJ site.

    One thing I’d point out is that, in the pop world, artwork is routinely debuted on a website prior to a CD’s release. Nonesuch is a label that releases both classical and pop CDs. So, this isn’t that unusual a practice for them.

    They asked Sequenza 21 to release the artwork instead of, say, Pitchfork or Stereogum, because our readership is more likely to be interested in a new Steve Reich CD than the average Pitchfork reader.

    Now, whether the art is “in good taste” or not is certainly up to debate and I’m glad we’re discussing that here in the comments. My one suggestion: if you hear the piece, which is very disturbing and visceral, you might view the cover differently. Does the cover make me uncomfortable? Yes. But then, so does Reich’s piece.
    So do Different Trains and Come Out. Relevant artwork, topical artwork, is risky; sometimes it makes us uncomfortable. But like Reich’s aforementioned earlier works, I think that WTC 9/11 has something meaningful to say.

  6. Steve Layton says:

    Other discussions of this have been going as well, at NPR and Slate.

  7. What is he trying to prove by using this picture on a record cover? Whatever it is, it ain’t working for me.

  8. Paul Muller says:

    Similar discussion – and a similar range of opinion – going on at Steve Reich’s Facebbok page:

    https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/SteveReichMusic

  9. BipperBali says:

    The reason why this is different than a rock band doing something provocative, is because in our field a.) the music is supposed to do the talking and b.) Nonesuch and Reich are accomplishing what they want here, people are talking about this and it’ll translate to record sales: they are doing the equivalent of hocking “real coins made from steel found at ground zero.” Literally hundreds of people will buy this record.

    Really bad form.

  10. Phil Fried says:

    “But its purpose is to sell CDs, not to piss people off,..”

    But Armondo since you can’t be all things to all people this has to be finessed. Pissing the right people off can create controversy which oddly can be great for sales. We are providing publicity even as we speak. As I remember the theory is there is no bad publicity.

  11. Chris Becker says:

    I mastered by CD Saints & Devils two weeks before hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast. That CD is a musical trip through Louisiana and the deep South that includes a few guest musicians from New Orleans. Playing the CD the day after the levees broke was an amazing experience. The artwork, which is by a New Orleans photographer who is a good friend of mine, was delayed almost a year a result of the storm.

    The photographer and I spent a long time trying to decide how to acknowledge Katrina as an event, and the hope for an equal amount of goodness that can come from that level of destruction. Neither one of us wanted the artwork to be cheap, exploitive or (worse in our minds) timestamped.

    The cover is a photo taken in the fifth ward shortly after the levees broke. The ladder is real, the strange squiggly line going into the water is not. I actually sat by the photographer in front of a laptop going through his incredible collection of photos just offering what I could as support while we assembled the art. But it’s really his vision.

    But no, I’m not on a label. I don’t have management or a marketing team behind what I do. So there’s a whole group of decision makers involved with the 9/11 WTC CD that I, perhaps thankfully, do not have to deal with.

    Here’s the CD cover if anyone is interested: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/chrisbecker

    Reich and co. obviously felt the need for a different, arguably valid concept. But the results leave me cold. For many New Yorkers, the image will resonate differently. Again, I’m only speaking for myself.

  12. Jerry, those covers are just ugly, not offensive. Well, at least not in the same meaning of the word I was using, in any case.

  13. “don’t find tasteless a very persuasive argument against doing something in an age in which baby killers become bankable celebrities and people mention Chris Botti in the same paragraph as Miles Davis. We don’t do historical memory very well and that image–the untarted up version of it–is an indelible reminder of something that we shouldn’t forget. We now live in a world in which the Gulf Oil spill is ancient history. Who, other than the people directly affected, still thinks of the Japan earthquake or the wild tornado season from three months ago? 9/11 has now become a recycled news cycle that comes up once a year like celebrities working in soup kitchens on Christmas or Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. My feeling is that if the cover pisses you off, it’s probably served its purpose.”

    But its purpose is to sell CDs, not to piss people off, since that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of the piece. I respectfully disagree with your position regarding the cover, even while agreeing with you about our lack of collective memory. Thing is, I’ve been blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with good and long memory. The memories of 9.11.01 are still rather fresh and raw in my mind, even after ten years. This cover is cognitively dissonant with me.

  14. Jerry Bowles says:

    If you really want to see a CD cover that is offensive and in bad taste, check the line of Universal opera reissues: http://chambermusiciantoday.com/blog/posts/Opera-for-the-Color-Blind/

  15. Phil Fried says:

    Since many folks purchase the coolest current book, that they never read, I suppose its no surprise that folks would buy cd’s they never listen to for the symbolism alone.

  16. Christina Jensen says:

    I’m told by a commenter over on the Nonesuch site that “revealing” an album cover is very common in the rock world as part of the marketing plan, and that it doesn’t even need to be a controversial cover for this to be done. I can’t imagine that would be really effective with most classical records — unless you’ve got a cover like some of those over on http://www.awkwardclassicalmusicphotos.com. Kidding. But maybe I’m wrong!

  17. Christina Jensen says:

    I posted this over on the Nonesuch site too. What I want to know is, why the separate announcement specifically about the CD cover? They announced the CD release itself on July 6, and then on July 20 “revealed” the album cover and “debuted” it here. That’s pretty unusual — I haven’t seen an album cover released separately from the album itself before. Obviously, they really wanted to call attention to it.

  18. Stanley Moon says:

    Well, now that Caylee Anthony has been invoked, I believe this discussion is nearing its resting place at the bottom of the barrel.

  19. Jerry Bowles says:

    I don’t find tasteless a very persuasive argument against doing something in an age in which baby killers become bankable celebrities and people mention Chris Botti in the same paragraph as Miles Davis. We don’t do historical memory very well and that image–the untarted up version of it–is an indelible reminder of something that we shouldn’t forget. We now live in a world in which the Gulf Oil spill is ancient history. Who, other than the people directly affected, still thinks of the Japan earthquake or the wild tornado season from three months ago? 9/11 has now become a recycled news cycle that comes up once a year like celebrities working in soup kitchens on Christmas or Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. My feeling is that if the cover pisses you off, it’s probably served its purpose.

  20. Tell me about it!

    Great Noise Ensemble actually has a concert on September 9, something I was trying to avoid like the plague because of the potential for misfired tributes. I’m hoping that the performance of Steve Hartke’s “Beyond Words” will be a moving enough memorial.

    Yes, yes: I’m a hypocrite. But an exclusivity rider made me one! ;-)

  21. Steve Layton says:

    Speaking of ‘commemorative plates’ and your own feelings on this, Armando, I’d caution you to not go near any newspaper, news website, magazine or television during the first half of September this year.

  22. I’m sorry, Steve, but I’m with Chris: it’s a tasteless cover. Just like it would be tasteless to put pictures of concentration camp victims in a recording of A Child of Our Time or the picture of the U.S. officer executing a suspected VC operative during Vietnam for a recording of the Britten War Requiem. I have never lived in New York and it’s still, ten years later, too raw for me to look at any pictures from that day. To see a picture of the attack used to hock wares like this, even if it’s a tribute to the victims from one of our foremost composers (even if the piece itself is not one of his best), well, it’s no better than if it were a commemorative plate.

  23. Steve Layton says:

    The original photo is perfectly legitimate to look back squarely on what was, in that sense no different than the importance of the images from WII concentration camps or Vietnam. Here’s the original, taken by Masatomo Kuriya, and obtained from Corbis:

    http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/DWF15-196477/terrrorist-attack-on-world-trade-center

    My complaint would only be with the alteration; the smokey, grainy, sickly haze is a clumsy attempt to heighten a horror that needed no heightening, and that’s just bad theater. Like so much political art, it weakens the message by turning the volume to 11, clubbing you over the head with it and telling us how we should feel.

  24. Stanley Moon says:

    It shows an almost unbelievable lack of taste, something one is supposed to assume Steve Reich has. Horror and shock can communicate well, but this is schlock, more befitting a bad rock band than a supposedly great composer. How far Steve Reich has fallen!

  25. Chris Becker says:

    Steve, your link takes you to a press release quoting Sequenza 21. Although there’s a line where Reich helpfully explains he was out of town on that day, but that he had family in NYC. But this doesn’t address my issue with the cover.

    I’m not gonna play this game of “I was there and you weren’t…” I only pointed out that I was there that day so that my comment is taken into some kind of context.

    The cover is contrived. Nonesuch said “hell no” when John Zorn proposed releasing an album with a cover photo of a decapitated head. Here we have a nice artfully blurred shot of “that event” that, as “Another David” points out, is free of falling bodies (which, speaking for myself, were absolutely horrifying to witness). We don’t see the decapitations, the melted flesh, the shattered bones, the screaming children, etc. Because this is part of a marketing campaign designed to prop up Steve Reich the composer. And it should be unnerving, but not too scary.

    I can’t speak for Reich, and he may simply disagree with all of this and have a completely different and valid take on the cover and the marketing of the work.

  26. Paul Muller says:

    I’ve only heard a few excerpts, but given the graphic nature of the cover and Reich’s comments about that day, this would seem to be a work that puts you in the historical moment. We need to hear what Reich has to say about this event musically – but I think it will form part of a large dialogue: what power does/should this event have over us ten years later?

  27. Stanley Moon says:

    I think another way of looking at it is that Reich’s music has become increasingly contrived and shallow, and that this cover art is an accurate reflection of such degeneration. Very sad.

  28. Another David says:

    I guess they couldn’t find any pix of screaming people on fire jumping from the 100th floor?

  29. Steve Layton says:

    It certainly isn’t showing anything more than we’ve been able to view for years, with just two or three clicks on Google. That the cover is so dark when it all occurred on such a sunny perfect day, I think highlights the visceral, almost apocalyptic emotion so many had and hold to this day. But then Reich rarely does ‘requiems'; his best work is often about capturing, reliving ‘the moment’. As to his own investment, it worth reading this:
    http://www.nonesuch.com/journal/steve-reich-wtc-911-album-cover-revealed-2011-07-20

  30. Chris Becker says:

    Horrible CD cover. And no, that’s not fair I suppose to Mr. Reich and all of the good folks at Nonesuch. But as someone who was there when this happened, I find I have trouble still watching any kind of footage of the attacks.

    I’m only speaking for myself but Jesus, you think they could have come up with something a little more intelligent for the artwork?

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