Composer Steve Reich has retracted the artwork for his new album WTC 9/11, which is scheduled for release this September. The original cover art featured Masatomo Kuriya's infamous photograph of the second plane flying into the World Trade Center on 11 September, 2001. The photo was darkened with a sepia tint for the album cover.
Reich's record label, Nonesuch, revealed the cover a few weeks ago, provoking a heated debate over whether the image was appropriate or exploitative. Composer Phil Kline called it "the first truly despicable classical album cover that I have ever seen."
Yet others, including David Harrington, violinist for the S.F.-based Kronos Quartet, believe that the cover matches the documentary, raw nature of the triple quartet. Kronos Quartet commissioned the piece from Reich, as a "bookend" to Reich's two other compositions for Kronos, "Different Trains" (1989), and "Triple Quartet" (1998). In an interview with SF Weekly, Harrington expressed support for the controversial cover image.
"As I told Steve, I have two favorite Nonesuch covers. One was the cover for our Early Music album. The second one is WTC 9/11," Harrington says in a phone interview. He was not involved in the cover design, but says, "War has been so sanitized. How many Americans died [today]? How many Afghanis? How many Iraqis? To keep people from thinking about it ... is not good."
WTC 9/11 is a piece in three movements that uses pre-recorded voices in a stop-motion sound technique. The recordings come from NORAD air traffic controllers raising the alert that the airplanes were going off course, from FDNY workers on the scene, from friends and neighbors of the Reichs recalling the day, and from the women who kept vigil over the dead, singing and reading Biblical passages in a tent outside the Medical Examiner's office. Kronos Quartet's live performances of the piece so far have received glowing reviews.
It seems that Reich worries that the controversy over the cover will prevent people from appreciating the recording. In a statement released on Nonesuch's blog, he says he decided to change the cover "so we can put the focus back where it belongs, on the music." The new cover art has not yet been released.