Sunday, April 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Stirring 9/11 Memories With Music and Film

I'll admit it. I was dreading the mere thought of listening to composer Steve Reich's "WTC 9/11" tribute or watching the Blu-ray version of "United 93." Both came out this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the tragedy.

Stirring 9/11 Memories With Music and Film

I'll admit it. I was dreading the mere thought of listening to composer Steve Reich's "WTC 9/11" tribute and watching the Blu-ray version of "United 93."  Both came out this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the tragedy.

But now I'm glad I have spent time with these works and urge you to make them  part of your  weekend meditations.

Minimalist music master Reich, who lived with his family just four blocks from the World Trade Center complex, has created an amazing piece of sonic art - solemn, verging on liturgical, yet  also among the most accessible  he's ever created.

Both serious music fans and admirers of the newest electronica  will appreciate how he's constructed the three movement piece. Reich samples. loops and sonically tweaks the sound bites  of 9/11 survivors so that their  thoughts  start out spoken yet often  end up sung. (Laurie Anderson is more famous for exploiting this voice box technology, though Reich's been at it a whole lot longer, harking back to his 1965 gospel preacher sampling "Soon It's Gonna Rain.") And what really makes the process magical is how Reich's   stream of story tellers is seamlessly  blended  with his   hypnotically cyclical, canon-like musical scoring (his trademark), performed by a bulked-up with overdubs Kronos Quartet.

 So the listening experience becomes a bit  like a prayer service.

Blessedly, too, Reich (and his label, Nonesuch) have  paired this piece  with two  lighter, upbeat S.R.  works that deliver  sunlight after the storm. One's  a charming  world music  treat for vibraphones and marimba called "Mallet Quartet,"  performed by So Percussion, the other  the spritely "Dance Patterns" dished by Steve Reich and Musicians.

Steve Reich's "WTC 9/11" album is available for digital purchase from your favorite online store. If you'd prefer to own the CD version (which also features a bonus DVD live performance of "Mallet Quartet") you gotta wait until the package arrives in stores on September 20. Or  you can pre-order it at www.nonesuch.com and also get a free, instant download of the title piece.

A Screen Gem: As created by Paul Greengrass, with financial support by Philadelphia arts benefactor Sidney Kimmel, ""United 93" is a hokum-free, meticulously researched docudrama film that throws you into the situation rooms and cockpit of the hijacked 9/11/01 plane that didn't hit the (Capitol) target,  played out in almost real time.

The intentionally grainy film images aren't enhanced much by the new Blu-ray disc transfer, though the upgraded DTS HD-Master Audio surround soundtrack adds both subtle details and bone rattling theatricality, especially as the valiant passengers of United 93 fight back, to the death, as their plane crashed in Shanksville, PA.

If truth be known, the plethora of extras also found on the Blu-ray edition  of "United 93" struck me just as hard as the film. Most especially the interactive "Memorial Pages" section offering  pictures and biographies of each flight victim and an hour-long documentary focused on their  families.  It's heartening  to see how nobly they've coped. And the ways they   connect with  the actors who portrayed their loved ones in the film is touching beyond words,  more emotional (and tear evoking) than anything in the movie.

Concert Commemorative: Yet another way to mark the day and remember is by tuning in to  VH1's rebroadcast of "The Concert For New York." which airs commercial-free on Sunday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.  on cable, satellite  and VH1.com. Organized by Paul McCartney, the Madison Square Garden fundraiser featured the likes of Billy Joel, Jay-Z, Eric Clapton, The Who, Destiny's Child, David Bowie, James Taylor, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Short films by Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, Jerry Seinfeld and Martin Scorsese will also play again.  

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Encompassing the sounds and beats of the city, we're here to turn you on to the local notables and under-the-radar artists, while showing you more of the bands and hot spots you already know and love.

Jonathan Takiff Daily News Columnist
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