Hive Five: Comparing the Trent Reznor Scores

Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor at the Golden Globes, Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

In a lot of ways the newly released/Golden Globe nominated score for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has a lot in common with last year’s Oscar-winning one for The Social Network. Both are the creation of Nine Inch Nails/How to Destroy Angels mastermind Trent Reznor and his collaborator Atticus Ross. Both are appropriately dark and moody (Reznor has never been known for crafting sunny pop songs), and were released as albums by Reznor’s own Null Corporation. And both soundtrack David Fincher films centered on enigmatic computer geniuses — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the prickly punk hacker Lizbeth Salander. But that is where the similarities end. Below are five of the differences between Reznor and Ross’ two scores—and no, one of them isn’t “The Social Network’s score won an Oscar,” because we’re betting that, come February, that will be another thing these two projects have in common.

1. Time Commitment

The composers were involved in Dragon Tattoo from the get-go. Reznor and Ross were late additions to The Social Network’s creative team, coming on board after the film had already been shot and roughly edited together. Reznor recently told The Film Stage that he and Ross basically had a finished movie to write for with The Social Network. But for this latest film, the duo devoted 14 months to the project, even joining David Fincher on his Swedish set to get a feel for its mood.

2. Length

The Dragon Tattoo score is a lot longer than that of The Social Network. The latter has been sold as a 19-song collection with a runtime that tops out at just over an hour. By comparison, the former is 39-tracks long and features more than 3 hours of music. (To wit, the forthcoming “Deluxe Edition,” which is due out in February, will feature six LPs!) The difference in length is probably due to all that time Ross and Reznor spent composing—you can write a lot of music in 14 months. Or maybe Dragon Tattoo’s dark, violent and, at times, sadistic subject matter really inspired Reznor (no stranger to such subject matter — have you heard Pretty Hate Machine recently?) so much that the prolific composer had a wealth of material to choose from.

3. Organic, Not Synthesized, Sounds

The Social Network was suffused with digital sounds: buzzy, claustrophobic synthesizers and abstract, atmospheric songs meant to take viewers/listeners inside the mind of Mark Zuckerberg and between the divide of humanity and technology. But Dragon Tattoo sounds totally analog, marrying stark, insistent pianos (which practically conjure the snowy Swedish landscape) to “found” sounds, like those chiming bells and twinkling music-box melodies that show up repeatedly on multiple tracks. The highly percussive moments — yes, the collection is more than just chilly soundscapes, staccato note patterns and slow-building melodic tension — are even exacerbated with the sounds of a ticking clock.

4. Delicate Melodies

Sure, Dragon Tattoo has been billing itself as “the feel-bad movie of Christmas” and its score is filled with the requisite moments of creeping dread, noisy dissonance and taut, percussive, heart-pounding (“Oraculum,” for example). But, for the most part, the melodies on many of the 39 tracks are sparse and delicately constructed out of bells, chimes and pianos with lots of space around the notes to let them breathe or linger on the air. The Social Network’s score, with its suffocating synthetic soundscapes punctuated by 8-bit videogame bleeps, seems almost bombastic by comparison.

5. Vocals

The Social Network’s score was entirely instrumental, but a couple of Dragon Tattoo’s tracks do make use of vocals, though in an abstract, voice-as-instrument-in-the-mix kind of way in which ghostly soprano voices add chorale “ooohs” over those ever present chimes. But not only are there are few voices in the score, but the Dragon Tattoo album is bookended by two actual “pop” songs — both covers. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O caterwauls away the burden of the memory of Robert Plant’s iconic howl on a propulsive ice-and-steel re-imagining of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Reznor’s How to Destroy Angels project turns Bryan Ferry’s “Is Your Love Strong Enough” into a haunting, murky dirge replete with elegant vocals by his wife, Mariqueen Maadig.

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