you don’t get to create a genius soundtrack without making a few mistakes

29 Dec

It’s been a while now since I watched The Social Network and listened to the official soundtrack of the movie. Still, have in mind that I’m an old Nine Inch Nails fan, so, naturally, if there is anything going on in the broad field of Reznor Studies, be sure I’ll write something about it.

Of course, I am trying to be objective. It’s not so easy if you speak about your favorite artist. Yet, I believe I am capable of pointing out disadvantages of this project. However, I won’t lie, I consider the work done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a great thing. Actually, I had this idea in my mind for a long while already. Sometime around 1999, right after The Fragile which remains one of the most important albums in the career of Nine Inch Nails and in the history of rock music in general, I thought that an obvious route for Reznor should be movie scores. It did not happen then, of course, although Reznor already had a pretty interesting experience with the movie biz, producing soundtracks to David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. I do not need to mention that both of these soundtracks are epic.

11 years after The Fragile Reznor, together with Atticus Ross, wrote a score to David Fincher’s The Social Network. A brilliant score, I have to say, very much in the style of Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts – a record for which I have strong emotions, even though some of my friends consider this album a mistake. The soundtrack is following the path of Ghosts consequently and the Reznor-Ross duo remain in the genre of widely understood electro. It’s ambient sometimes, sometimes it inclines pretty much towards industrial. And, yes, it has very strong features of other compositions by Reznor. Strong beats, rock guitar riffs (even though here they are mostly moody and in the background) and the haunting piano – one of the most important Reznoresque patterns. The soundtrack is written carefully in a way. While watching the movie it becomes poignant at times, but is never tiring. As if Reznor had planned to write it carefully, not to make any mistakes in his first original movie score. It’s a good feature. The music goes well with the movie and doesn’t switch the attention of the audience towards tracks rather than the scenes filmed by Fincher. It is also perfectly cooperating with the brilliant dialogues written by Aaron Sorkin, one of the most interesting screenwriters of our time.

Still, although I very much admire Reznor’s work and even though I consider this record a great piece of composing, there are flaws. Most of all I was a little disappointed to hear two tracks which are originally performed on the Ghosts album. Sure, they are remixed a bit and adjusted to the score but it made me disappointed in a sense I had a huge hunger for more and more of Reznor’s new compositions. The other mistake is the electro version of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King (from his Peer Gynt suite). Somewhere in the internet (can’t remember where) I read an interview with Fincher and Reznor. Somewhere in between the lines Reznor said that Fincher had insisted on adjusting this piece for his movie. Reznor, initially, refused (not to mention the fact that he also refused to write the score and changed his mind later). It was sad for me to read this interview. As a person who is musically educated, Reznor, probably, had more intuition in the case of this piece, than Fincher did. Remixing and adjusting classical pieces is an extremely difficult thing. Many artists perished on this trail. Bones scattered everywhere. Taking a classical piece and recording it again with a new, contemporary ensemble, especially if we’re talking about electro here, is a musical suicide. Reznor sensed it well. And, by agreeing to Fincher’s idea, he made a huge mistake. In the Hall of the Mountain King is just cheezy and very, very naïve. It is much better than most of the contemporarily “adjusted” classical pieces, this I have to admit. Reznor did his best not to destroy the classical piece and you can tell this work had been done in the most meticulous way possible. Still, it’s a big mistake. And I am afraid that Reznor will regret it pretty soon, if he doesn’t regret it already.

Of course, one can say I’m picky and a pain in the ass if these two, in fact minor facts can destroy the joy of listening to a very good soundtrack. But it’s also a very difficult situation, if you’re dealing with an artist, whose standards are so high, you cannot expect anything but brilliance. Reznor got me used (if not addicted) to his perfectionism. Hence, every small mistake is very painful, when it comes to his music.

All in all I actually do hope that Reznor and Ross win an Oscar, or, at least, a Golden Globe, in 2011. In my opinion, even though it’s not flawless, it’s the best soundtrack of the last year. Very powerful, very emotional, even though frugal in sound. Clean, structuralized compositions, which strike the listener with their mood no matter, if it’s a hypnotic disco tune, or a gloomy piano melody. Also, a thing I consider very important, I think this soundtrack should get an Oscar for the sole fact that it would probably be the first award of such importance, given to artists which created the whole score in a pretty unorthodox way. Sure, minimalists tried it already, most importantly Philip Glass for Koyaanisqatsi. Still, the majority of Hollywood composers choose the grand orchestral way of creating musical scores. In the world of symphonies full of pathos, in the world of John Williams, Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer (not that I do not value those composers at all), it is important to promote other ways of creating soundtracks. A small shift began already in the 1980s with such brilliant examples as a strongly electronic score by Ennio Morricone written for John Carpenter’s The Thing (one of my favorite movies ever). Also, even when it comes to traditional instrumental pieces, the audience’s taste changed a bit and nowadays among the most highly valued composers we’ve got Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman, to name the best of them. I suppose we should take the next step and appreciate those who choose a completely different composing strategy than the majority of those who create soundtracks.

P.S. Below there are my favorite tracks. They can actually give you a good taste of what the whole is like.



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