Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Reaction to Steve Reich's "WTC 9/11"

Original cover photo of Steve Reich's WTC 9/11, via the Washington Post

Steve Reich with Kronos Quartet and So Percussion, WTC 9/11
(streaming at NPR)

  • Despite the contention about the original cover photo (shown above), Steve Reich's commemorative piece "WTC 9/11" is warm, engaged, non-sensational. Reich's acumen for chopping up text (stretching back to "It's Gonna Rain" in the mid-60's through "Different Trains" in the late 80's to "City Life" in 2002) is here used in the greatest sympathy to the music; the string quartet matches the tenor of shocked reactions yet maintains clamped anxiety, which is what I remember of 9/11.
  • I was pulling into a parking lot at work in Kansas City when I heard the news, comparing sketchy data with my co-workers as we made it up the sidewalk. The first tower had already fallen; I got to the conference room to see the second collapse on the big screen. The boss had already called the people we dealt with that worked in the tower and they got out quickly. We gathered our collective confused horror and left for the day, eyeballing the mini-NYC that is the Kansas City skyline and the blue sky above it.
  • Kansas City's proximity to Whiteman Airforce Base, home of the Stealth Bomber and employer of my father-in-law, plus its role in the rail networks made it a common-knowledge "target city." Target cities were part of the Cold War folklore of my youth; we professed to know what was going to be bombed in what order. There were missile silos all around there. The nation's hard copy archives are trucked to Missouri and stored in cold, limestone caves. There was a lot to destroy in Kansas City. My daughter wasn't even one yet. Is 9/11 in her folklore, now that she just starting to misunderstand and spread her version of the history she is living?
  • Reich's "Mallet Quartet" that follows "WTC 9/11" on the CD comes as a relief. It is his worker-bee form of maximal-minimalism, fraught with its own jarring twitch, but one we can, with a sigh, easily accommodate. We twitch now. The melodies walk So Percussion's marimbas and vibraphones like a gang of cats traversing a room of mousetraps; elegant, cocky, but furtive. We have been that gang of cats in the ensuing decade.  Waiting for a snap that doesn't come.
  • The 2002 "Dance Patterns" that caps the disc is of a different time, from before our consciousness was spread like crepe batter across the hot griddle of social media, before what we wanted to watch on TV was exploded  versions of "real" people getting their feelings hurt, before we were considering giving into the robots as David Rushkoff (kinda) suggests in this daring piece "Are Jobs Obsolete" bubbling up from the morning's data feed. We didn't consider jobs or anything about ourselves to be obsolete before this century got rolling. We were like Reich's complicated boogie-woogie, a mish-mash of interlocked contexts spinning along or locking gears, but going somewhere, man! Somewhere great! Let's do this thing! Now we are in a  political climate where communal effort is suspect, people are shoring up about Satan and thieves again, our first concern with stepping foot in the new digital world is how do we protect these new naked flanks. Reich's "dancers" have none of that hesitation. They are indifferent to the world outside of their patterns, too wrapped up in the glory of enterprise to worry about the ill wills of others. Arrogant and lithe. Calm as cats, not a mousetrap in sight.

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