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Steve Reich Comments on the “WTC 9/11” Album Cover

  • Thursday, August 11, 2011
    Steve Reich Comments on the “WTC 9/11” Album Cover

    Composer Steve Reich comments on his forthcoming Nonesuch Records release, featuring his piece WTC 9/11, performed by Kronos Quartet, and the album cover:

    As a composer I want people to listen to my music without something distracting them. The present cover of WTC 9/11 will, for many, act as a distraction from listening and so, with the gracious agreement of Nonesuch, the cover is being changed.

    When the cover was being designed, I believed, as did all the staff at Nonesuch and the art director, that a piece of music with documentary material from an event would best be matched with a documentary photograph of that event. 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.

    When the cover was released on the Nonesuch site and elsewhere, there was, instead, an outpouring of controversy mostly by people who had never heard the music.

    When WTC 9/11 was performed by the Kronos Quartet, first in Durham, North Carolina, at Duke University and then shortly afterwards outside of Los Angeles and then at Carnegie Hall and again at the Barbican Centre in London, the reaction of the public and press was extremely thoughtful and moving. To have this reaction to the music usurped by the album cover seemed completely wrong. Accordingly, the cover is being changed.

    I want to thank Nonesuch for backing up my original decision about the cover and for backing up my decision now to change it so we can put the focus back where it belongs, on the music.

    —Steve Reich

    [Editor's note, 8/12/11: Read Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette's thoughtful article on the matter at washingtonpost.com.]

on August 10, 2011 - 5:32pm
Excerpt: 

Composer Steve Reich comments on his forthcoming Nonesuch Records release, featuring his piece WTC 9/11, performed by Kronos Quartet, and the album cover.

Copy: 

Composer Steve Reich comments on his forthcoming Nonesuch Records release, featuring his piece WTC 9/11, performed by Kronos Quartet, and the album cover:

As a composer I want people to listen to my music without something distracting them. The present cover of WTC 9/11 will, for many, act as a distraction from listening and so, with the gracious agreement of Nonesuch, the cover is being changed.

When the cover was being designed, I believed, as did all the staff at Nonesuch and the art director, that a piece of music with documentary material from an event would best be matched with a documentary photograph of that event. 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.

When the cover was released on the Nonesuch site and elsewhere, there was, instead, an outpouring of controversy mostly by people who had never heard the music.

When WTC 9/11 was performed by the Kronos Quartet, first in Durham, North Carolina, at Duke University and then shortly afterwards outside of Los Angeles and then at Carnegie Hall and again at the Barbican Centre in London, the reaction of the public and press was extremely thoughtful and moving. To have this reaction to the music usurped by the album cover seemed completely wrong. Accordingly, the cover is being changed.

I want to thank Nonesuch for backing up my original decision about the cover and for backing up my decision now to change it so we can put the focus back where it belongs, on the music.

—Steve Reich

[Editor's note, 8/12/11: Read Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette's thoughtful article on the matter at washingtonpost.com.]

Publish date: 
Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 10:30
Article Type: 
featuredimage: 
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Comments

wow - of course the cover should be changed. so should the title. so should Reich's approach to what constitutes tasteful subject matter for a composition.

Reich did the right thing on both covers. He picked a iconic image that captured the emotion of 9/11 and also realized his work my be compromised with such a powerful picture. He still has my respect as an artist and humanitarian. Perhaps a non direct title like "Different Trains" was for concentration camps during WWII. It takes character to say you were wrong. let's not over see the humility in this decision.

It's ridiculous to think that a mere picture of something would harm Reich's music. Such a photo as the "controversial" one should be as graphic as desired, such as the Hindenburg exploding... which is what photos of the events of 9/11 will eventually join the ranks of in terms of significance. That is, to say, that the music in the product itself will have a such lasting impact. People should stop being so falsely sensitive.

Steve Reich--one of America's greatest composers--chose an image that he felt best represented his music and, when people reacted negatively to it, changed the image.

Mr Panzer; please tell what he should be apologizing for?

Nonesuch should consider offering for sale the already-printed, first run copies of WTC 9/11 to those who would otherwise choose to purchase it. That would restore some balance, some harmony to this matter, and provide a measure of respect to those involved with the creation of that first cover.

I was nearly killed in that. I left the towers less than 10 minutes before the planes hit. Very few "memorials" to it were things that I thought were called for. The piece is one of them. The cover isn't..

I got very lucky in more ways than one -- not only was I spared but everyone I knew who worked there was also spared for one reason or another, so I can't comment on it from the point of loss, only the very near miss. I was in Sam Goody's for a CD wallet around 9:00. If I'd paused to shop for music I would have been in it. The only thing that really saved me was my feeling that a cup of coffee in the towers was too expensive and I could get one much cheaper during my walk over the bridge to Brooklyn.

what a pity - I pre-ordered a signed copy of this album back in July, and now this. Just like it's possible to enjoy a wonderful recording with a traditionally generic classical CD cover, so it is possible to enjoy a wonderful recording with a thoughtful, personal cover. Why the classical blogosphere has chosen to get so involved with a CD cover is really overwhelming. Let the artist be! hate the cover? buy the mp3s.

I find the original cover design powerful and valid, and I will replace the new design with it on my own copy.

This is very sad. The work, which I haven't heard yet - but which I ordered a signed copy of - is a memorial work about a terrible tragedy. Should we hide that tragedy now, 10 years later, after more Americans have died as a result of the war that followed? The chosen picture is indeed emblematic, and has been widely seen. It underscores the horror of that day, which should not be forgotten, nor sugar-coated.

I'm a composer and recently blogged about wtc 9/11 on my Web site (http://dtoub.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/wtc-911-some-thoughts/) and reviewed it for Sequenza 21 (http://www.sequenza21.com/cdreviews/2011/08/wtc-911/). I think that the cover is perhaps not what I would have chosen, but that said, who cares? It's a cover. There are no bodies, in close up, falling from one of the towers (although that would certainly have made a more powerful statement than the current cover with the plane and the WTC). Just as with Different Trains, there are no images of bodies being piled up. I don't think SR should have changed the cover, any more than I thought the Islamic cultural center a few blocks away should be moved. If some people are disturbed by the cover, so be it. They probably wouldn't listen to the piece anyway. And Nonesuch might realize that the controversy, such as it is, might spur others to listen to the piece and purchase the album. I think it's ridiculous, just like the objections to the John Adams opera about Leon Klinghoffer.

When I was a kid growing up in the 60's, I had a LP set of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 that had the photo of a poor Russian boy on the cover. Given that we were in the midst of a cold war and nuclear tensions, I don't recall anyone complaining that he/she was offended or disturbed by the cover. I also had a recording of Shostakovich's 13th symphony with a distorted, Munch-like photo of an old Jewish woman who one could imaging is being burned. Again, no controversy. Nor should there have been.

WTC 9/11, if you read my review and even worse, my blog post, is not my favorite piece by SR, whom I've met several times (I interviewed him 2-3 times in the early 80's for my college radio program at the U of Chicago) and who had an important influence on the direction of my own music. But that's my point-it's the music that matters. Not the album cover. I am disappointed that the cover art is being changed. Artists should not bow to convention, even if the art in question is disturbing. Guernica is disturbing. Should we replace that too?

Good decision. My instantaneous reaction to this cover when I first saw it was that it was a mistake. Reich's music is not sensational and does not need such imagery to market it.

What better way to assert our freedom than to bully a composer into changing his album cover art.

Fascism is coming to America (and in many ways, has already arrived).

Hear, hear AMB.

If the goal was to get people to stop talking about the artwork, then I believe Mr. Reich you may have failed. You just fanned the flame, given the discussion new life, and new context. I hope Nonesuch isn't coaching you into these not well thought out decisions.

Also note I was at the Carnegie Hall performance, I believe the last section of the work "WTC 9/11: III. WTC" is some of his best composing: ever.

Nobody gets to decide what should or should not be controversial. Society as a whole does and did. Reich and Nonesuch had the right to decide what their cover was. He and Nonesuch exercised that right. People have the right to like it, not care about it, or be disturbed by it. They exercised their right. Reich has the right to change his mind, for whatever reasons he comes up with. He did. And now with this new cover, guess what? People have the right to like it, not care about it, or be disappointed that it was changed. And they are exercising that right. Yes, "what better way to assert our freedom" indeed!

I had an adverse reaction to the original cover for a much simpler reason: the rich, heavy colours and the dramatically poised plane made it seem (unintentionally, I'm sure) that the event was being glamourised or sensationalised; an untreated photo would have presented it more authentically, as it was. Mr Reich's piece neither glamourises nor sensationalises.
I respect Mr Reich greatly for having the courage to reconsider the matter and to change his mind.

I'm very happy to respect other people's opinion about the original cover, those in favour and those against. I also respect the record label and Steve Reich's right to change their minds. But I do find it hard to understand those who are/were against it. Sure it is a very literal cover but no more so than the title (compared to say Different Trains). Why are people offended by the photograph but not the title? Also, I would have thought a major lesson we should have learned by now is that taking fundamentalist and stark positions on relatively trivial matters is what leads to conflict.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGDBR2L5kzI#t=0m45s

Replace "practice" with "the CD cover" and replace "game" with "piece of music"

It seems like I was one of the very few defending the original cover in the face of the ridiculous over-reaction to it. Where were all the defenders when this first became a "controversy?" It seems there are many more now after the fact. Part of me wishes that Reich and Nonesuch stuck to their original decision, but I can understand the rational of putting "the focus back where it belongs, on the music." It just sucks that a bunch of whiners put them in such a position that this became a distraction. I can't wait to find out what the sanitized "Politically Correct" cover turns out to be. So Disappointing.

The original picture is one that evokes memories. Strong memories. Memories that should really never be forgotten. Yes, we can learn to adapt, and live with the events that happened, to always be ready. No more Pearl Harbors, no more 9/11's. The picture should stay. Or pehaps, the choice. Two album covers, two available products for the consumer to choose from. I am willing to bet the original will sell like hotcakes, and people will listen to music designed to evoke and honor those memories.

KEEP THE COVER KEEP THE NAME KEEP EVERYTHING FREEDOM OF SPEECH. IF SOMEONE DOES NOT LIKE THE COVER, OR THE MUSIC WITHIN, DONT BUY IT, DONT LISTEN TO IT.. KEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVERKEEP THE COVER

I think your original cover was right on, appropriate and riveting - as it should be. what a shame to have to change it. i say this as a musician, graphic artist, and someone whose friend died in the towers.

Sad. I was going to buy and give a listen to an album I might otherwise had not been interested in. This PC snuff job has convinced me that the music is probably similarly compormised and thus no longer worth any consideration of myself or (possibly millions) of others who feel likewise.

This is not at all the spirit of those who stand for freedom of expression - a value reinforced following 9/11.

While Reich's decision is a pragmatic and gracious one, it was regrettably prompted by a failure to defend intellectual freedom-- an American value and tradition. Also regrettable was the decision to delay the physical release of the recording. That action deprives those unable to attend the limited number of concert premieres to experience this work, which was in part intended to stand as a timely commemorative, on the day. I hope Nonesuch will reconsider the possibility of restoring WTC 9/11's earlier release date, or at least ensure the availability of the downloadable release for both domestic and international audiences.

Tip top stuff. I'll epxcet more now.

My Name Is Paul Butera.
I saw what happend to tawer 1 at Donkin Donuts When I got to my friends house
I did not know that Tawer 2 got hit and the same thing In Washington DC..
My Friend Fred from The Port Athority was In tawer 1. I new some thing was worng leter that day.
I like what they did since 2002 when the put the blue lights on 2002 was the best year we all had. The
and The Athletses wer waving there American for the 2002 State summer Games to open the Games.
with there littel American flags. Next yera marks the 10th year for The 2002 Summer Special Olympic Games.
And lost The Founder Special Olympics 7 years later and lost SGT Shriver 8 years later. I miss Fred too much.
I will never for get him . 2002 will always be the best year for me too. From Paul David Butera.

If its anyone business. At the time of 9-11 Stevie and his family lived two blocks from ground zero. Anyway he wants to express himself is ok with me

Wow. Yeah, I wasn't sure if I was seeing a new cover or an avatar. Personally, I think both are compelling, although the original sent a much more powerful message. The idea of it capitalizing on the horror never crossed my mind, although I can see that some may have taken it that way. In the end... my hat, heart, mind tips to Mr. Steve Reich, for not only giving us one of the most emotional bodies of work ever conceived, but for having the humility and focus of purpose to make the change to assure that what's most important in the package stays that way - the music vs. the visual art in which it's wrapped.

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