Even in modern arts circles, umbrage is apparently easy to come by. That seems to be the case with Steve Reich whose forthcoming album, WTC 9/11, has created such an imbroglio that the usually cantankerous and self-assured composer has pulled the cover, an arresting and dramatic photograph by Masatomo Kuriya of a plane flying into the burning Twin Towers.
“When the cover was being designed, I believed, as did all the staff at Nonesuch, that a piece of music with documentary material from an event would best be matched with a documentary photograph of that event,” Reich said in a statement. “I felt that the photo suggested by our art director was very powerful, and Nonesuch backed me up. All of us felt that anyone seeing the cover would feel the same way.”
Possibly Reich misjudged his audience, but I believe his initial instincts were right. You’ve got a composition based on the events of 9/11 that uses found spoken words and interview fragments about the attack. These aren’t employed frivolously. They’re meant to commemorate, to reflect and possibly to heal. Nevertheless, there’s always someone ready to take offense, like fellow composer Phil Kline who is quoted saying that it is “the first truly despicable classical album cover that I have ever seen.” That’s the kind of indignation and outrage that is usually the province of the far right, not the heart of New York’s art scene. What happened to the idea that art is supposed to provoke? What was Reich supposed to put on the cover, a peace sign? Would a sunny, cloudless blue sky like the one on 9/11 have been more appropriate or would that be undue and “despicable” irony? Can’t have that in the art world.
And the music? It’s in the mode of Reich’s “Different Trains” with location sound, traffic controllers voices on the fateful day and reminiscences, all fractured through sampling and deployed as pitch material along with the Kronos Quartet who play lines that are equally fractured.
Steve Reich has pulled the cover, delaying the release of the album, but he’s not the one who should be taken to task. Instead, it’s those who create false outrage at images that have been imbedded in the American visual vernacular for a decade.
Here’s an article from Yahoo.