The score for 'The Social Network' came with rules, says Trent Reznor. Now how about tour dates?
For his first-ever film score, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame was eager to have a bevy of new toys at his disposal. Perhaps a string section? Perhaps a full orchestral suite? Yet "The Social Network" director David Fincher put an instant end to such film music tropes.
"We got the idea from David that he wanted something that was not orchestral and not traditional," Reznor said recently. "He referenced 'Blade Runner' and Tangerine Dream. He mentioned sounds that were a synthetic landscape of sorts. Then we just spent a couple weeks with no picture and no input and were thinking of how we could create a world of sound."
Reznor, working with frequent collaborator Atticus Ross, will vie with film composer heavyweights such as Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and A.R. Rahman, among others, for best original score at this Sunday's Golden Globes. It's illustrious company for Reznor's first film (Ross last worked on the film "The Book of Eli"), and the music of "The Social Network" couldn't be more atypical than the kind of orchestrations awards voters typically fawn over.
It's taut, largely digital, and minimalistic in its mournfulness, decorated occasionally with a piano. Whereas electronic maestros Daft Punk brought enough orchestral grandiosity to their "Tron: Legacy" score to stage a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, Reznor and Ross went the opposite route. Instead of adding to their synth-driven repertoire, the pair were taking away.
"We spent time in advance setting up rules," Reznor said. "If we were working orchestrally, we’d have these sounds and this kind of voicing to us. We adapted that to a world of modular synthesizers and an acoustic piano, and a general aesthetic of X,Y and Z."
For Reznor, the music of the film, a dramatization of the drama behind the creation of Facebook and its tormented-genius founder Mark Zuckerberg, was to stay nearly singularly focused on the main character.
"We do that by putting up restrictions to which instruments we would use, and we wanted to articulate this guy’s journey -- an act of creativity and the pursuit of a great idea and the consequences that come from that," Reznor said. "We thought we would create a very synthetic landscape, and when there was to be a melody, we would make it a very frail acoustic piano."
Though Reznor and Ross were delivering what Fincher wanted -- the director had used pieces of Nine Inch Nails' "Ghosts I-IV" as temp music in "The Social Network," Reznor couldn't help but be just a tad bit bummed.
"There was a part of me that was really disappointed," Reznor said. "The orchestral route was a challenge that I thought would be fun to address. In hindsight, it was the best move. What Atticus and I have done over the years is develop our own skill set. We know what instruments we can get to sound certain ways. We really spent the time wanting it to sound like it came from a place."
Also avoided were trappings that would make "The Social Network" feel too much of a time or an era. Though dealing with a modern topic in social-networking, the legal drama is largely free of techno flourishes. Only occasionally do old 8-bit video game sounds pop up.
"In the initial writing batch, there was a bit more 8-bit chip-tune-sounding elements that would creep in and out," Reznor said. "The only thing left of that is on the track 'In Motion.' It just started to feel like a gimmick."
Regardless of the award outcome on Sunday, Reznor and Ross have already won themselves another gig working with Fincher. The two will provide the music to his "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," due this year.
With Nine Inch Nails on hiatus and unlikely to tour in the future, if ever, would Reznor consider a few stripped-down dates with Ross to showcase the pair's film work? He didn't answer yes, but anything other than a "no" should offer some sort of optimism to Nine Inch Nail fans.
"The idea of performing this live is intriguing," Reznor said. "As I’m trying to move away from Nine Inch Nails as a live rock band that tours endlessly -- and the idea of being thrust into something that feels like there’s no safety net -- performing this live in a stripped down environment, of some sort, that’s a very appealing idea that we could get to later."
-- Todd Martens
Photos: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, credit: Columbia TriStar; Reznor performing with Nine Inch Nails, credit: Ann Johansson.