Composer Steve Reich changes controversial 9/11 album art | Bleader

Composer Steve Reich changes controversial 9/11 album art

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In next week's paper I'll be recommending a free concert in Millennium Park on Mon 8/22 that celebrates the upcoming 75th birthday of composer Steve Reich. One of the pieces on the excellent program is Mallet Quartet (2009), a mesmerizing, almost jazzy composition for two vibraphones and two marimbas. The first recording of the piece, performed by New York's terrific So Percussion, is included on Reich's next album, WTC 9/11 (Nonesuch), which was originally scheduled to be released on September 6. Today comes news that the release has been postponed for two weeks, until September 20, so new album art can be created.

The original artwork, pictured at top left in this post, was an intense photo from the attacks on the World Trade Center, made more lurid by dark, ominous tinting. The key piece on the album, performed by Kronos Quartet, is titled WTC 9/11 and represents the composer's response to the terrorist attacks, which occurred just four blocks from his New York home—though he was in Vermont when they happened, his son, granddaughter, and daughter-in-law were in NYC. The piece itself incorporates archival recordings of firefighters and air traffic controllers during the attacks and recordings he made of people in the neighborhood recalling the tragedy. The cover art has drawn heavy criticism—not only because the trauma of 9/11 still feels fresh to some people, but also because the Hollywood-style bombast of the image feels exploitative to many.

Label president Robert Hurwitz wrote a lengthy defense of the original art at the end of July, noting that only once has the label refused to release an album due to its artwork—Leng T'che Grand Guignol by John Zorn's Naked City. with a photo of a leng t'che victim on the cover (he ended up releasing it on Avant). But today the imprint's website has published a note from Reich, explaining his decision to change the cover art, which arises mostly from a concern that the image will prevent listeners from hearing the music without distraction. While I don't think the use of such an image is problematic in itself, its postproduction treatment by designer Barbara deWilde (Reich picked the version above out of several given to him) is incredibly tacky, and makes one of America's greatest tragedies look like a disaster-film poster.

Today's playlist:

Sam Newsome, Blue Soliloquy (no label)
Liudas Mockunas and Ryoji Hojito, Vacation Music (No Business)
The-Dream, Love King (Def Jam)
The Astronomical Unit, Relativity (Jazzwerkstatt)
Sun City Girls, Funeral Mariachi (Abduction)

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