Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11
Friday, September 09, 2011
Steve Reich is one of the most acclaimed composers working today. He was a pioneer in using recorded voices as part of his compositions.
Even though Reich is no stranger to difficult subject matter (Different Trains, from 1988, is a meditation on the Holocaust), it took him nearly a decade to write about the attacks that hit so close to home. His new work WTC 9-11 is an unusual hybrid: part musical composition, part documentary. We hear the voices of air traffic controllers and firemen from that day, and Reich’s friends (including the composer David Lang) recalling it afterward. The recorded voices are accompanied by the Kronos Quartet.
But Reich tells Kurt Andersen he didn’t set out to write a ‘9/11 piece.’ “I’m doing a piece about something that happened to me.”
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Reich was out of town, but his son, daughter-in-law, and their small child were staying at Reich’s apartment, four blocks from the World Trade Center. When the composer returned home he had a flashback from his youth, watching the newsreel footage of Berlin and Cologne in World War II, “bombed, twisted steel wreckage, buildings down.”
Reich walks Kurt through WTC 9-11, which begins with the alarm of a phone off the hook. “The sound is about getting people's attention for something that needs to be corrected.”