Last night a small thread emerged on Facebook about the cover for Steve Reich’s new CD on Nonesuch Records.
Quickly, the FB consensus is that it is “repulsive.” Me, I am not so sure about that.
I felt very strongly that in the months and years after 9/11, an industry emerged around it. It was to be found on refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, and all sorts of tschotske. Even worse, were the politicians who wrapped themselves in 9/11 rhetoric, to advance their careers (surprise), and even worse, get us into highly questionable wars. There was the media exploiting the events of 9/11 to sell copies. There were the Blackrock, Halliburtons, and more, who made unnumerable amounts of money from the exploitation into commerce, of the events related to 9/11.
Is this, all that?
Along comes an artist, with a work directly related to 9/11, and the use of this particular image, one of terrible meaning and power, is used to represent the music. Is it for sales sake? I doubt it, for in reality, Steve’s recordings are never go to sell all that much, unfortunately.
So, while there may be a debate about the use of this image, that has the remote potential to garner controversy and press beyond that of your average Nonesuch recording, in the end, the arts educator in me thinks that this is a learning opportunity/teachable moment. What does the piece of music say and why was this cover chosen? Are there images that should not be used in connection with art and commerce? Should artists seek to provoke? What is the responsibility of a corporation like Warner Music Group, which owns Nonesuch?
What do we want from our artists in terms of providing meaning to the world we live in?
And finally, for all those who feel that classical music lacks relevance, well, this one certainly is an exception, don’t you think?
One response to “Steve Reich’s New CD Cover: Is It An Outrage or Not?”
What’s not seen in this photograph, since it’s perspective is from a great distance, are those that are dying in this moment. I don’t think it’s shows any tact, but not outrageous, whenever someone attaches a macabre image to classical music. Reich’s piece is distanced from the events being a work of music, and I don’t know if the artists involved have thought about how this might be disrespectful to the families. We show our tact by presenting things in an honored setting, not taking the most fundamental approach as it effects us.
Would Reich accept as respectful all future performance of his Clapping Music if it were to be performed at by a group of performers dressed as high school cheerleaders chewing gum and doing their routines while clapping his piece as music? What would it say about the performers, audience, and by reflection the composer allowing it. It would reduced its value to shock or spectacle. This may be the case for the cover.