Steve Reich pulls image of 9/11 WTC attacks from album

Steve Reich, the Pulitzer-winning American composer, has pulled the controversial artwork for his upcoming Sept. 11 memorial album.

The cover of the album, "WTC 9/11," featured an image of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. When Reich, a pioneer of minimalist classical music, unveiled the cover last month, it was immediately met with criticism.

"As a composer I want people to listen to my music without something distracting them," Reich said in a statement. "The present cover of 'WTC 9/11' will, for many, act as a distraction from listening and so the cover is being changed."

Reich -- who selected the photograph by Masatomo Kuriya for the cover--composed the three-part score with the Kronos Quartet in memory of the terror attacks. The recording includes samples of air traffic controllers, first responders and women who kept vigil over the dead.

Nonesuch Records had planned to release "WTC 911" on Sept. 6, 2011, five days before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The record label will now release the album with an altered cover on Sept. 20.

"When the cover was being designed, I believed, as did all the staff at Nonesuch, that a piece of music with documentary material from an event would best be matched with a documentary photograph of that event," Reich said in a statement. "I felt that the photo suggested by our art director was very powerful, and Nonesuch backed me up. All of us felt that anyone seeing the cover would feel the same way."

Not everyone did.

[ Photos: See images of the 9/11 Memorial Site at Ground Zero ]

Phil Kline, a fellow composer, called the original "the first truly despicable classical album cover that I have ever seen."

The 75-year-old Reich, a New Yorker who lived blocks from Ground Zero in 2001, expressed shock at the outcry.

"It stirred up an enormous controversy that I was absolutely amazed to see," Reich said in an interview published in the September issue of Limelight magazine. "I couldn't believe that people wouldn't just say, 'Well, of course, you know, we're talking about 9/11, so here's a picture of 9/11.'"

Others were surprised too. "This is a kind of image we were inundated with for weeks, months, even years after the event," Anne Midgette wrote in the Washington Post. "Newspapers and magazines and television screens and the covers of books were flooded with pictures of towers being hit, towers burning, towers falling, rescue workers with red-rimmed eyes standing numbly amid the rubble of the towers." So why, 10 years later, is this cover any different?

Reich said the controversy was stirred "mostly by people who had never heard the music," noting that the critical response to live performances of the piece -- including at New York's Carnegie Hall -- was overwhelmingly positive. "To have this reaction to the music usurped by the album cover seemed completely wrong."

[ Related: 'Man on Wire' artist remembers twin towers ]

It's not the first time the minimalist pioneer has approached the subject of terrorism in his music. Reich's 2006 album "Daniel Variations" is a tribute to Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was decapitated by Islamist extremists in 2002.

It's also not the first time a musical act has faced a 9/11 cover controversy. The Coup, an Oakland, California-based rap group, was forced to pull an album cover -- even though it was designed several months before the Sept. 11 attacks -- that eerily resembled the attacks on the World Trade Center.

And a synth-pop duo called I Am the World Trade Center was browbeaten into changing its name to I Am the World shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. They eventually changed their name back.

"I want to thank Nonesuch for backing up my original decision about the cover," Reich said. "And for backing up my decision now to change it so we can put the focus back where it belongs -- on the music."

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