Thursday, August 4, 2011

Steve Reich: 9/11 Album Cover Controversy

Well Nonesuch Records' controversial album cover for the upcoming Steve Reich release, WTC 9/11 (listen here), has been a great success if the company's goal was to draw lots of publicity.  But critics of the distasteful photograph of the burning twin towers (such as this, this, and this) would probably find it worthwhile to dig a little deeper into Reich's increasingly conservative politics over the years.  The album cover's just a crass publicity gambit; Reich's opinions are what really warrant a thoughtful critique.  Here's what Sumanth Gopinath has to say in his recent article on Reich's early work Oh Dem Watermelons:
Reich's conservative leanings have not been extensively discussed in print, but they may be pieced together from the following bits of information, as part of a very gradual process: Reich's move away from San Francisco to New York in 1965 and his extraction from the New Left/proto-counterculture of that moment; his near-complete abandonment of African American concerns after Come Out in 1966; his (re)discovery of Judaism in the early 1970s with his wife, video artist Beryl Korot and their affirmation as modern Orthodox Jews as early as 1981; his growing interest in addressing subject matter of a politicized-religious sort in the 1980s and early 1990s (first arguably starting with the Holocaust treatment of Different Trains in 1988 and then more evidently with the Israel-Palestine conflict inThe Cave, 1990–93); the unveiling of a significantly antimodern religious worldview (as expressed in Three Tales, 2002); and a growing preoccupation and developing concern with the politics of Islamic fundamentalism, dating as far back as The Cave and City Life (1994), which uses voice samples of firemen responding to the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center, and more recently including an in-progress (and possibly withdrawn) choral work titled “9-1-1” in response to the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, informal reports of his support for the ongoing Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and his recent composition The Daniel Variations (2006) based on the words of Daniel Pearl, the Jewish-American journalist kidnapped and murdered by al-Qaeda members in Pakistan in 2002.

Here's Reich's Daniel Variations, which he discusses in this interview:

UPDATE: Now they've backpedaled and withdrawn the proposed album cover.  Even more reason to shift the discussion to Reich's politics...

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