the right of an artist to make a scene

There's quite a bit of hoopla around the cover art to Steve Reich's new album, WTC 9/11

for those unfamiliar with the cover, here's the cover release link

go through the comments for a bit and you'll see the wide ranging discussion- from using a tragic event to market an album, to discussion of how the image itself just looks tacky, to fighting for the artists right to use whatever material they want

Sequenza21 also posted the cover. the responses were equally broad there, from support to shame.

even Slate critic Seth Colter Walls jumped on this one, but from a "unique perspective"- someone who has...wait for it...ACTUALLY HEARD THE MUSIC! astounding...

the big one is that Robert Hurwitz, president of Nonesuch, had his own reply.

i waited a bit to let my own thoughts be heard on the matter. in fact, if you couldn't tell, i basically took the summer off. but here's my 2 cents

first, this is not a commercialization of a tragedy, nor using an image to market a piece. This is an image chosen by a panel of people, the composer, the cover artists, the president of Nonesuch, that they felt best described the work.

second, i think that, as far as art goes, it's pretty lame. I agree with those stating that it looks like a beginner dropping a quick sepia filter on a photo to make it look all creepy. The original stock photo isn't of great quality, so some doctoring would probably need done.

third, there's a group saying "no one should use these images" and "it's too soon to look at anything this tragic." there are even those that cry out from far reaches of the US that "this is a personal tragedy and they are being taken advantage of."

ok, the comments from people that were THERE saying "this is a bit much for me." I GET that. I had a friend once, a former NYC firefighter, one of the first FDNY units to respond. His job was communications, so he stayed at the truck as his unit raced in to help people. He still gets flashbacks of watching the towers fall on his unit. For those people, the image may be too much. The music would probably be even more disturbing for them. And they have damn good reason.

Mr. "I watched the whole thing from my TV in Midwest USA, and i went to NYC once and saw the towers," you sir, don't have that attachment. if you DO have that attachment, it is false. It was made for you by the media. Sorry man. I'm pretty good at sympathy, but there are things i cannot comprehend. I cannot comprehend what it was like to go through the Holocaust. I can never understand the pain of child birth (kidney stones almost made me pass out. how the hell does a child come out?!? AND HOW DO WOMEN NOT JUST PASS OUT!!! That, my friends, is BALLS.)

I cannot comprehend what happened that day to the people there. Steve Reich felt personal pain. His apartment is nearby, his son, daughter in law, and granddaughter were in his apartment while Mr. Reich was in Vermont. There was no phone service. Finally, his neighbors, their family, and his family, were able to evacuate to Vermont.

I cannot comprehend this. I have no possible frame of reference. All i can say is "goddamn...that is freaking astounding. and you faced it, years later, and wrote a piece? a piece as haunting as your experience? well...shit..."

For all you bleeding hearts out there, you can't understand. and yet you tell a man who has been through it that his image is in poor taste because you are offended. I'm sorry, i don't buy it.

In the end, it's an artistic choice. someone once said "art is a mirror." I think it's attributed to Shakespeare, but i remember it from Joseph Campbell. It is a mirror; a mirror that reflects the observer. Why don't people like this image? What are they really rallying against?

Personally, i don't like the image, but from an "artistic" point of view. I'm with the group that says "that's a bad sepia filter giving it the archetypical post-apocalyptic feel. it's heavy handed." While some of Reich's music can be a bit heavy handed (his phasing pieces feel that way to me) others treat everything much more delicately (Different Trains, for instance). That's my issue with the cover art- it's just not as engaging. I think Walls had some great ideas in his article for Slate (especially the off the hook telephone.)

My friend Lizz had an even more disturbing thought- "what if the image had been a drawing by his granddaughter about the day? what she saw, what she thought?"

THAT disturbed me without even seeing the image. it could have been just swirls meant to depict the clouds of dust and i'd still cry. that is visceral. It's not a disconnected image of a plane about to crash and take it all down with a bad sepia filter. It's not an image we've seen every day. it's an image drawn ten years after the fact. granted, i believe his granddaughter was 1, so there probably isn't any real memory, but, it would be disturbing, no?

In the end, the piece of music is undoubtedly far more visceral, disturbing, emotional than the image ever could be. 95% people would listen to it and discount it cause "i don't get it" instead of just listening, being a part of the experience. Then again, when i played "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" for my music appreciation classes, even without telling them the name of the piece, they were disturbed. (i do find that funny, since that wasn't the original title.)

as artists, we don't have to back down to make something acceptable to PC audiences. I'm surprised my tape piece "Beijing 2008" hasn't hit some of the same types of attacks. It's pretty straight forwardly calling the anti-immigration stance in America one step from the same kind of crackdown that occurred in Tibet just prior to the Olympics. And yet no one has really said anything.

because it's music and i didn't come right out and say that in the music. and Reich dealing with this event through music is more than permissible. And yet, an image doing the same thing is not? where do we draw the line? What are we allowed to do when stating something artistically? don't be direct? don't be blunt? only abstract expression need apply?

I say the cover art is lame art, but as an expression, Steve Reich believes it goes with the music. If you don't like it, don't buy it.

Then again, when going through the comments, most people commenting (some even said "i've never heard of Steve Reich, but i think...") wouldn't have bought the album anyway. so, screw'em. Grow some balls, face the tragedy head on instead of burying it in the past, and listen to one man's story about the event and the image that he felt helped tell the story. maybe the idea is the view out the apartment window that day.
Maybe we're supposed to be disturbed

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