reich: avoiding the sentimental maudlin fantasy

What goes over the line in terms of offensive to prevailing sensibilities? The commemoration of historical memory has always been a delicate issue, especially in regard to the WTC 9/11 attacks. Steve Reich’s new compositions performed by the Kronos Quartet have been interpreted to center on the nature of religious violence in a comparative perspective, not his first effort on this theme.But are they not also about disavowal and the manufacture of innocence;the resistance to such a rupture which appears to center on  the opposing and contradictory forces of the duty of remembrance and what has been termed  “the option of forgetting,”

NPR: The photo, which appeared on the website Sequenza 21, and then on Nonesuch’s own site, is a graphically enhanced version of Masatomo Kuriya’s shot of the second plane approaching the World Trade Center’s twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. The album, to be released Sept. 6, contains Reich’s new work WTC 9/11, performed by Kronos Quartet.

---Colter Walls' considered Slate piece chastises the cover not for being exploitative, but for doing an injustice to the delicacy and emotional complexity of the music. Other comments likened the art to Jerry Bruckheimer's films and the video game "Call of Duty," neither intended as compliments. It stands in stark contrast to the sepia cover for Reich's "Different Trains," in part an exploration of Holocaust survivors' memories as seen through the mechanics of how they were moved across Europe.---Read More:

Not long after September 11, Susan Sontag  notoriously penned an article for The New Yorker sharply critical not of the hijackers or Osama bin Laden but of the citizenry, their naiveté and  in particular “the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators.” For the New Yorker is was a bit like Hannah Arendt redux on the Eichmann trial. Sontag’s  rawness, never one to mince language,-especially on fascism- rubbed the readership, for the most part, the wrong way by pricking the shallow skin of our identity, our myths and our tendency to take the path of least resistance.

And that leads to larger questions such as how art embodies grief and fear. We might point to other Sept. 11-related items, like the ghostly black-on-black Twin Towers that Art Spiegelman created for the cover of the New Yorker, or if we are talking music, the John Adams album On the Transmigration of Souls (also released on Nonesuch), which sported a brooding sky over Manhattan. And some will argue that an album cover, no matter how artful or distasteful, is merely the packaging that sells a product. Read More:

---Personal directness is the heart of Reich's music and influence. In the late 1960s, Reich revolutionized classical music, which had become too academic, by stripping it down to an emotional core, said composer David Lang in a recent interview. Lang, 54, won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008. "The lesson of Steve's music was: If you have something to say, just say it." Reich pioneered a new minimalist sound in American music by writing simple patterns. Played on percussion, or keyboards, the repetitious patterns gradually changed, like the sound of a stream, weaving a spell over listeners. Reich's style of minimalism, said composer John Adams, "was the most important stylistic breakthrough in the latter 20th century." Retaining hypnotic rhythms at the heart of his compositions, Reich went on fashion rich harmonies and melodies with brilliant arrays of instruments. His 1976 masterpiece, "Music for 18 Musicians," creates a magic ride on the pulsating tones of marimbas and pianos, clarinets and female voices. His 2009 chamber work, "Double Sextet," won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.----art by Christopher Koelle. Read More: image:

The real controversy with Reich is that his works  refuse to follow any established socially prescribed function of memory.He conveys his aesthetic and political positions in an  individual and personal form, refined though it is, which examines the means by which a self-prescribed national mourning seizes upon the murdered victims of 9/11. There is an aesthetic power here that disturbs the ceremony of the solemn and self-righteous national memorial service which is the daily ration. That is, solidarity with the victims is the comfortable solution for us.This is instead of  documenting our own involvement as offenders that helped bring about this situation. 9/11 was not tragedy in a vacuum, but rather a tragic symbol of militarism, racism and consumerism which seemed emboldened, reinforced and invigorated in the wake of Western response.
One has to question to what level and to how many the grief of 9/11 is truly felt. Politics and geo-political agendas quickly turned the disaster into a lie on the level of a national declaration. This dynamic has been remarked in Germany regarding the holocaust in which there is a  blending of perpetrators with the victims. That is, The indistinguishable ashes and embers  of the dead are necessary to serve as a catharsis for
the living. A rational way to be fatefully definite and leave an event behind. Yet, with 9/11,  a closer look reveals that  historical fabrications convey a frightingly real picture of  existing continuities, both in terms of ideology, methodology  and even  personnel involved. It does give the impression of a resigned conviction  of our world’s inalterability, a pessimistic view of history; one that enters the realm of apocalyptic vision.

Jeffrey Herman photo. ---Why use such source materials for a 9/11 piece? My way of dealing with these things is to stay as close as possible to the documentary reality. If Different Trains or The Cave or Three Tales or City Life have any validity, it's because I've been able to stay with that reality without turning it into some sentimental, maudlin fantasy. That's exactly what I'm trying to do with the voices of the NORAD traffic controllers, the New York City Fire Department and my friends and neighbors who went through this. By taking that matter-of-fact attitude, one actually preserves the emotion perhaps by understating it a bit.---Read More:

Its interesting to contrast Reich’s response to 9/11 with Stockhausen of which there appears to be a great deal of divergence:

William Osborne:In any case, I found an article in German with more of Stockhausen’s statement about the recent terrorism. It also exemplifies the cycles of revelation, destruction, remorse and rebirth that characterize patriarchal transcendental idealism. After Stockhausen described the WTC bombing as “the greatest work of art ever” a journalist aske

m if he equated art and crime. He answered:

“It is a crime because the people were not agreed. They didn’t go to the ‘concert.’ That is clear. And no one gave them notice that they might pass away [draufgehen]. What happened there spiritually, this jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life, that happens sometimes poco a poco in art. Otherwise it is nothing.”

Again we see an artist-prophet’s transcendentalist view that art must be a revelation, a process of spiritual death, remorse and rebirth, or it is valueless. It is interesting in history how often artist-prophets have confused human life itself with the material of their “creations.” I think this form of transcendental idealism that objectifies human life has played a large, but unacknowledged, role in the development of western art music. Perhaps it is most noticeable in the way large numbers of musicians are instrumentalized under the absolute authority of the “inspired” patriarchal conductor in symphony orchestras. (Think of the of the conductors who terrorized their musicians, such as Reiner or Toscannini.) The human, in effect, becomes a fantasy of the conductor’s own mind. This might be seen as one manifestation of patriarchy in music. Read More:

Julia Spinola, Sep. 25, 2001:Asked at a press conference on Monday for his view of the events, Stockhausen answered that the attacks were “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.” According to a tape transcript from public broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk, he went on: “Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn’t even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for 10 years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying, just imagine what happened there. You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 people are dispatched to the afterlife, in a single moment. I couldn’t do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing. Artists, too, sometimes try to go beyond the limits of what is feasible and conceivable, so that we wake up, so that we open ourselves to another world.” Read More:

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