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Reznor on the 'found' sounds of 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

December 5, 2011 |  2:16 pm

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

It doesn't take a deep exploration of the soundtrack for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" before the music takes a turn toward the unsettling. Just a few taps on a piano becomes a reason for exploration, as each strike takes on a different tone until it's unclear what, if any, actual instrument is being played. Perhaps it's a piano, or maybe it's the sound of ice hitting concrete. 

"We had a chance on this film to explore something we’ve done in Nine Inch Nails," Trent Reznor, NIN frontman and film score composer, said in early November. "We could explore the idea of noise and found sound as music."

Reznor and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross, who earlier this year won an Oscar for their work on "The Social Network," have again teamed with David Fincher for their follow-up into the world of cinematic scoring. Unlike "The Social Network," however, in which Reznor and Ross were late additions to the project, the two were able to dedicate a full 14 months to the score for "Dragon Tattoo," with Reznor even visiting Fincher on set in Sweden when shooting began. 

"We didn’t have pictures, and we were given no script until the beginning of this year," Reznor said. "Yet you pretty much know what the story is going to be. I was talking to David on set in Sweden and he was explaining how cold it is and the vibe and read he’s getting there. He dictates things he hears, like there were a lot of bells and motifs he wanted to have access to. But a lot of that early phase is just working from an impressionistic, gut viewpoint."

It ultimately led to a score, six tracks of which were released for free online today, that feels more alive than the claustrophobic electronics of "The Social Network," with works worming their way through the dank and demented world of "Dragon Tattoo" and picking up and discarding pieces of the scenery at will. They were tools, Reznor said, sharpened while he working with David Lynch on his 1997 thriller "Lost Highway."

"That was an education in how to take tension and build it into music, to take found sounds that you’re not identifying but are making you feel uncomfortable," Reznor said. "There’s a lot of moments of feeling uncomfortable. There’s a lot of unpleasantries dealt with in this film.  We wanted to make a score that had that sense, where you feel a sense of anxiety."

At times, the score, which will be released digitally on Friday (Dec. 9),  even gives way to the effects in the film. "We were able to fade into songs that fade into things that are happening in the film," Reznor said. "There’s a scene where a character walks out of a room, and something pretty uncomfortable happens. It segues into the sound of a floor buffer, which is the same key.

"We were trying to consider all those things. The score and the sound design feel as a whole. That’s what we wanted to do. That takes us out of the world of grand sweeping melodies. This isn’t a soundtrack that’s filed with ‘Star Wars’-esque theme songs."

There were practical challenges as well for the American remake of "Dragon Tattoo," set to open Dec. 21. Ross characterized it as "experimentation in the notion of space," adding that it wasn't easy to achieve such a sound due to his daily close proximity to Reznor. 

"Without that sounding too pretentious," Ross clarified, "it was simply spacial experimentation. It feels like there’s a depth. Getting that was something we spent a lot of time on, especially because we’re sitting less than five feet from each other."

Reznor, poking fun at his partner's theoretical explanation, quickly added, "Atticus will be appearing in an interpretive dance performance at the coffeeshop down the street."


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-- Todd Martens

 Image: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross in 2010. Credit: Columbia TriStar