reich and wtc 9/11

Are there images that should not be used in connection with art and commerce? Should artists seek to provoke? Steve Reich’s new recording scheduled for release on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 called WTC 9/11 played by the Kronos quartet is giving rise to something of a taboo subject. The doctored cover of the Kuriya photograph indicates a darkening vision of America whose somberness is not a commodification of the event , yet it does reflect Susan Sontag’s interpretation of 9/11 as a desperate reinvention of the culture of capitalism, or its the emergence of its post-post ethos. It is what Sontag called “the strenuous mercantilist biases of American culture”.

For Reich, his new work seems a completion of his Different Trains piece, one also imbued with remembrance and memory over the holocaust tragedy. Both Reich and Sontag look at the blood soaked response to 9/11 and its tragedy within the perspective of the humanist tradition, which quite profoundly is more than a facile reenactment of the trauma.   Sontag was broiled for her remarks at the time, but she was somewhat prescient in asserting that the  military complex was using the most tragic terrorist attack in American history to further its own agenda to assert Western hegemony:

---In her last speeches Sontag offered a similarly bleak view of the American-style consumer society that spreads itself across the globe, destroying the past, and enclosing all horizons within a selfish materialism. “We live in a culture committed to unifying greeds,” with “everyone on the planet feeding at the same trough of standardized entertainment and fantasies of eros and violence.” She grew nostalgic for the iconoclastic spirit of the 1960s: “How one wishes that some of its boldness, its optimism, its disdain for commerce had survived.” In her later years she warned repeatedly of the dangers that the global culture of individual gratification posed to thinkers and artists. “There is no culture ... without a standard of altruism, of regard for others.”---Read More: image:

…“Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy – which entails disagreement, which promotes candor – has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us to understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. ‘Our country is strong,’ we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.”Read More:

If Sontag, like her major influence, Hannah Arendt, felt that writing could influence the course, or at least tenor of dialogue, eich does not seem to hold the same illusions.In fact, it can almost be implied that influential works of art decrying war may actually reinforce and promote the violence as part of a broader aesthetic.  What’s the function and effect of art in influencing society and politics? Can such work drive leaders to think differently about their decisions?…

---Reich compares the histories and biographies that inspired Different Trains to his recent, and obstensibly similar 2009-10 piece, WTC 9/11. Reich: "My first thought in Different Trains was really just that I wanted to use a sampler with a string quartet. So actually, when I begin pieces I have an abstract idea that has no content whatsoever. The idea of Different Trains was: speaking voices are integrated with string players. I had no idea, none, who the speaking voices were. As a matter of fact, my first idea for a speaking voice was, “Oh, it’ll be the voice of Béla Bartók!”...Then I began to think, “Wait a minute, I’m writing a string quartet, do I really want Béla Bartók looking over my shoulder while I’m doing that? I think enough is enough.” Then I thought, “Oh, I’ll use the voice of Ludwig Wittgenstein!”...Then, I just thought to myself, well there must be something closer to home. And, God knows, the thoughts of my personal trips on these trains popped into my head. Only later, did I think, like I mentioned, well when did this happen? Well, this happened when little kids like me were being taken off to Poland and they weren’t talking to you on the phone today."---Read More: image:

Steve Reich: Basically negligible. Let’s take some very clear examples: Pablo Picasso is arguably the greatest painter of the 20th century. His greatest work is a piece called “Guernica,” which is about the bombing of a little town in Spain called Guernica, by Franco, who was a friend of Hitler. He bombed civilians. Civilians had not been bombed before. This was the beginning of something that’s become commonplace. So Picasso painted this enormous painting in honor of Guernica. Did Picasso’s masterpiece, this overwhelming work of art, stop civilian bombing for a millisecond? Not for a fraction of a millisecond. Artistically, “Guernica” is a giant masterpiece. Politically, it’s an irrelevant flop.

On and on. Kurt Weill and Threepenny Opera and the whole movement of Bertolt Brecht and Weill together to stop the ascendancy of Hitler and Nazism: masterpieces! Threepenny Opera is one of the great pieces ever written. Make a difference to Hitler? Not for a second. Brecht and Weill had to run for their lives to get out of Germany….Read More:

---As I suggested in my original comment, one of the reasons this cover comes as something of a shock is that we have established a habit in this country over the past ten years of not looking directly toward September 11, 2001, of wrapping those events in a gauze of piety or "Don't Tread on Me" American exceptionalism (or worse, both)—what Christian Carey, speaking more about Reich's piece than about the cover, referred to as "languid sentimentality and unfortunate jingoism"—or of simply looking away, couching denial as a form of respect. ---Read More:

…Don’t make any mistakes: My piece is not going to affect anything. The Cave is about various Israelis and Palestinians and Americans being asked, “Who for you is Abraham? Who for you is Sarah? Who for you is Hagar? Who for you is Ishmael? Who for you is Isaac?” It was even seen by one of the ambassadors to Jordan. Did that make a political impact? Forget it. It will live or die on its success as a piece of music and video art. Read More:

Reich:So whether you’re in the experimental end of things–if that’s how it’s discussed–or the maverick end of things, or considered as old-fashioned as Bach was considered in his day, ultimately, that’s not going to matter. What’s really going to matter is, “Did you do an incredibly good job?” and “Is it really very emotionally moving music in one way, shape, or another?” I think history seems to bear out that that’s what people care about….Kurt Weill–is he a songwriter or is he a composer? I don’t know, but he’s great in both. George Gershwin, one of Michael Tilson Thomas’ favorite composers and one of my favorite composers, was he Tin Pan Alley? Yes. Was he a composer? Yes. This is typicall

erican. Even though Weill was a German he thrived over here. When I went to music school in the late 1950s and ‘60s, there was this wall between classical music and popular music. I was a mole….Read More:

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