CD+DVD Reviews

STEVE REICH: WTC 9/11; Mallet Quartet; Dance Patterns – Kronos Quartet/So Percussion, 2 vibes/2 xylophones – Nonesuch CD + DVD

I find WTC 9/11 the most effective musical composition yet on the subject of 9/11.

Published on January 13, 2012

STEVE REICH: WTC 9/11; Mallet Quartet; Dance Patterns – Kronos Quartet/So Percussion, 2 vibes/2 xylophones – Nonesuch 528236-2 – CD: 36:41 + DVD: 15:59 (16:9 color) *****:

Sorry to be so tardy in reviewing this important 2011 release. The big work here is of course Steve Reich’s very moving tribute to 9/11 with the Kronos Quartet—though their 15-minute-recording doesn’t constitute the major part of the CD. Similar to one of the Beatles’ covers and some other albums, there was quite a bit of controversy over the original selection for the cover of this one:  the photo of the second plane heading directly into the World Trade Center tower.  At the last minute it was changed to this shot of just a bellowing cloud of dust.

Reich used similar constraint in selecting the reality recordings he was going to mix into his prerecorded tape which is played in sync with the Kronos Quartet performance of his music. Instead of using reality recordings of phone calls from the three planes or from the WTC, he used NORAD and NYC Fire Department actuality recordings of air-traffic controllers and firefighters, as well as neighbors from the day plus recalling events of the day years later. His use of repetition of both the voice excerpts and the Kronos material does deep into the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions of another thing WTC stands for: “The world to come.”

The short work opens and closes with the prominent sound of a phone that has been left off the hook for some time. Combined creatively with the Kronos Quartet and the voice clips, the work has a very strong forcefulness and grief quotient. It has some similarities to Reich’s earlier found- recordings-and-Kronos composition Different Trains. I find it the most effective composition yet on the subject of 9/11, in spite of Reich’s extreme minimalism sometimes getting on my nerves.

The two other Reich pieces are almost an anticlimax. The included DVD is a live video of So Percussion performing the Mallet Quartet work in their own studio space. The piece is played on two vibes and two five-octave marimbas. It is spare and deliberate in its design and construction, like most of this arch-minimalist’s work.  Dance Patterns is some of the music from the soundtrack of an hour-long film on choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. For two vibes, two xylophones and piano, it reflects Reich’s minimal rhythmic, harmonic and melodic structures.

—John Sunier




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