WTC 9/11: The real problem with putting a photo of the 9/11 attacks on the cover of Steve Reich's…

Arts, entertainment, and more.
July 21 2011 6:50 PM

Looming Towers

The real problem with putting a photo of the 9/11 attacks on an album cover.

(Continued from Page 1)

Reich's composition is clearly the product of a mind working on several tracks with respect to 9/11. City-dwellers (as well as cable news watchers) naturally retain distinct memories of watching the buildings fall. But the variety of sources used in the piece suggests we have other intellectual and spiritual concerns about 9/11 worth investigating, beyond the re-enactment of trauma.

The cover art for WTC 9/11 captures none of this complexity. It's crass not because images of 9/11 are automatically crass but because the Nonesuch art department has had to interpret Reich's art very narrowly to let this image stand for the work as a whole. I'm not a graphic designer, but I can think of several more suitable images, suggested by the music, off the top of my head:

1. A phone dangling off the hook (to fit with the opening and closing notes of the piece)

2. Some representation of the women, who, according to the Nonesuch press release "kept vigil, or Shmira, over the dead in a tent outside the Medical Examiner's office, reading Psalms or Biblical passages" and who form the basis for the third movement (which features the reading of Psalms, among other things).

3. A picture of the current hole in the ground where the towers used to stand. (This image—upsetting in its own way—suits that haunting last line of the piece, "and there's the world right here.")

Advertisement

Composer Timo Andres—himself a Nonesuch recording artist—has already fashioned an alternative cover for WTC 9/11 that simply removes the underlying photograph, preserving the Gotham script. *

For now, there's little known about what led to Nonesuch's decision. (Two emails and a phone message to Nonesuch's PR representative were not returned, nor was an email to Reich's publisher, Boosey & Hawkes.) Also worth noting: there are two other, non-9/11-related Reich pieces on the CD: "Mallet Quartet," and "Dance Patterns," which only makes the choice that much more puzzling.

What a strange mini-tragedy it would be if one of the best albums of 2011 carried some of the most misguided cover art of the year. One of the conventions of live concert reviews in the Village Voice is that the writer has to imagine an alternative experience to which the concert under review was preferable (i.e., "better than seeing Rebecca Black perform neighborhood karaoke to her own music"). When I reviewed the Carnegie premiere of WTC 9/11 for the Voice, I wrote that attending the concert was better than experiencing "the ritual, anniversary replay of news broadcasts from the morning of 9/11." Nonesuch has dragged the experience of WTC 9/11 back toward that all-too-familiar zone. They still have a few weeks to decide whether they really want consumers to think that's where this challenging, surprising piece of music will take them.

Correction, July 22, 2011: This article originally gave the incorrect name for the album cover font. (Return to corrected sentence.) 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.