Nonesuch Records and Steve Reich Pull Controversial 9/11 Album Cover

Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 02:11 PM

Three weeks after it sparked a storm of online controversy, Nonesuch Records has changed the cover art for WTC 9/11, a forthcoming album featuring Steve Reich’s eponymous composition about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The album, which features the Kronos Quartet, is slated for a Sept. 20 release.

The original cover featured a graphically enhanced version of Masatomo Kuriya's photo of the second plane approaching the World Trade Center. But its appearance on the Web site Sequenza 21 sparked heated controversy. Dozens of commenters reacted on Nonesuch's Web site, and others chimed in on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

In a statement on the Nonesuch blog Reich defended his initial cover choice, but said it had become too much of a distraction. “As a composer I want people to listen to my music without something distracting them," he said. "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.”

Nonesuch Records spokesperson Melissa Cusick said that a new cover is not yet available. By way of further comment she cited a blog post by label president Robert Hurwitz in which he stated: "In the end, though, we won't put out a record unless the artist feels happy and comfortable with the package that has their name on it.”

The 15-minute piece, which premiered in Durham, NC on March 19, and subsequently toured to Los Angeles, New York and London, features the sampled voices of fire department workers, air traffic controllers and neighborhood residents. It has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics.

“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,” added Reich in the statement. “To have this reaction to the music usurped by the album cover seemed completely wrong. Accordingly, the cover is being changed.”

Some of the intial outcry on Nonesuch's Web site came from within the classical music field.

"Always look forward to new works by Reich. However, your art direction is vile,” wrote Craig Zeichner, an editor at Ariama.com. “On one level it's pitifully ham-fisted, on another despicably (exploitative). I put this on the same plane with the ghouls near the WTC site who sell photo albums of the burning towers.”

Composer Phil Kline also weighed in to say "I think you may have broken new ground. This is the first truly despicable classical album cover that I have ever seen." 

Yet commenter Kurt Mortensen took the opposite point of view. "I'm actually a bit surprised about all the ‘controversy' over this album cover in the comments here. Let me get this straight? It's exploitative because it ACTUALLY shows what the piece is about? I'm a proud American who would be very offended if I thought such a thing was disgracing or disparaging in any way. Personally, I think they ought to show these images on TV every 9/11 so we never forget."

Weigh in: What do you think of the change? What would you recommend as a replacement?

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Comments [10]

jody breslaw from nyc

This whole controversy is pathetic. What kind of sensitive souls are we that the pictures we saw over and over for years are now too offensive and traumatic? I'm sorry Reich and Nonesuch caved to this ridiculous pressure, as if we need to sugar-coat the awful truth of 9/11. I'm reasonably sure no one is suffering PTSD from exposure to these graphic images. We all suffer more from the terminal hypocrisy of this manufactured controversy. Get a life!

Sep. 16 2011 04:39 PM
Joel from westchester

The replacement cover was more abstract and, I feel, more in keeping with Reich's music; not that I had any emotional or p.c. problems with the original cover, however.

Sep. 08 2011 12:14 AM
Frank Feldman

I'd like to know how much Steve Reich was paid for this heartfelt commission.

Sep. 07 2011 06:40 PM
Victor Otto from New York

We live in an age where "political correctness" replaces truth.

Aug. 12 2011 06:28 PM

I believe that the cover is just fine. It is a vivid memory of how our nation can come through such an evil tragedy and still be victorious.

It shows what happened on 9/11 the same way the pictures and film of Pearl Harbor show the nation what transpired on December 7, 1941.

Lest we forget, "Remember Pearl Harbor"!

Lest we forget, "Remember 9/11 and the World Trade Center"!

Aug. 12 2011 04:21 PM
Carolyn from NYC

What's the hoopla about?! The piece is about 9/11. We lived through that. Reality is reality. Should we "dumb" it down like Hansel & Gretel and other children's stories? Trying to soften the harshness of life? There's no disrespect shown on the cover. It certainly says what the piece is about.

Aug. 12 2011 10:15 AM
Bernie from UWS

I agree with Kurt Mortensen. We saw those pictures and video for months and months on end after 9/11 on TV and elsewhere. Why all of the sudden do some get so bent out of shape? Reich should have stuck to his guns on this but then again, that's the culture we live in today.

Aug. 12 2011 07:15 AM
ricardo from nyc

Because I know there's so little money involved in this, I'm not suspicious that this was a PR campaign from the beginning.

Since its not, it was just an exercise in poor taste and judgement. Now let's "not be distracted from listening": zzzzzzzz

Aug. 11 2011 09:55 PM
Michael Meltzer

I can't imagine the Kronos Quartet lending their name or efforts to anything that was not honest and sincere in its artistic intent.
But, composers aren't judged on intent because after all, we're really not mind readers.
They are judged on how they are perceived, so Mr. Reich probably made a correct decision.

Aug. 11 2011 06:01 PM
Joseph Livingstone from Liverpool, England.

I released an album last year on the US classical label Centaur Records. Its title was `Physical Overtures`. I chose to use the Edgar Degas painting `Interior` (The Rape). On reflection, I wish i`d have chosen a close-up of a vagina therefore attracting tons of controversy...otherwise known as free publicity. That may seem a tad cynical BUT ,it seems, this is the way the world operates these days. Publicity is all..sadly. By the way, there is a piece on this album dedicated to the victims of the twin towers attack, entitled `The Hallelujah Door`. It got ZERO publicity. Proves my point I suppose.

Aug. 11 2011 03:28 PM

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