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Here is a link to the first movement from Steve Reich‘s composition “WTC 9/11.” The music is performed by the Kronos Quartet with recorded voices from 9/11. The photograph shown in the video (below, left) was to appear on the cover of the album, but a new cover (below, right) was selected after many objected to the image.  Reich’s description of the composition appears on the Kronos Quartet website.


“‘WTC’ is also an abbreviation for ‘World to Come,’ as my friend composer David Lang pointed out,” Reich says. “After 9/11 the bodies and parts of bodies were taken to the Medical Examiner’s office on the east side of Manhattan. In Jewish tradition there is an obligation to guard the body from the time of death until burial. The practice, called Shmira, consists of sitting near the body and reciting Psalms or Biblical passages. The roots of the practice are, on one level, to protect the body from animals or insects, and on another, to keep the neshama, or soul, company while it hovers over the body until burial. Because of the difficulties in DNA identification, this went on for seven months, 24/7. Two of the women who sat and recited Psalms are heard in the third movement. You will also hear a cellist (who has sat Shmira elsewhere) and a cantor from a major New York City synagogue sing parts of Psalms and the Torah…

“The piece begins and ends with the first violin doubling the loud warning beep (actually an F) your phone makes when it is left off the hook. In the first movement there are archive voices from NORAD air traffic controllers, alarmed that American Airlines Flight 11 was off course. This was the first plane to deliberately crash into the World Trade Center. The movement then shifts to the FDNY archives of that day telling what happened on the ground.

“The second movement uses recordings I made in 2010 of neighborhood residents, an officer of the Fire Department and the first ambulance driver (from Hatzalah volunteers) to arrive at the scene, remembering what happened nine years earlier.

“The third and last movement uses the voices of a neighborhood resident, two volunteers who took shifts sitting near the bodies, and the cellist/singer and cantor mentioned above.

“Throughout WTC 9/11 the strings double and harmonize the speech melodies and prolonged vowels or consonants of the recorded voices. You will hear a total of three string quartets, one live, and two pre-recorded. The piece can also be played by three live quartets and pre-recorded voices.

“WTC 9/11 is only 15 and a half minutes long. While composing it I often tried to make it longer, and each time it felt that extending its length reduced its impact. The piece wanted to be terse.”

One Response to “Steve Reich, “WTC 9/11””

  1. Jenny Mix says:

    It’s interesting to look back on this day of class. I’m not a musical person so this day had to have been the most challenging of every other class. My music listening skills can be better defined as tuning out skills and managing to stay engaged throughout this whole class proved to be quite the challenge, but I was so grateful I made the effort. This was the only time I left class, called my mom, and cried. I think this was the first day, ever, that I really understood how personal 9/11 was. For me it had always been something that happened way out East, all the way across the country from me. On this day of class when we listened to the various musical pieces I suddenly understood how tragic this event really was. Of course I knew people died, but it’s like the saying “one is a tragedy, one hundred is a statistic.” The deaths were always just a number for me. The 9/11 attacks were always just an event. This class broke it down for me, from statistic to tragedy.