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Trent Reznor: A Life of Amplitudes

I've always been reluctant to write about music. The reasoning for this has fallen into the schism between two different opinions about the topic: one, as Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks,” and the other reason is a fear of a word salad, Lester Bangs-esque attempts at creating a vocabulary to describe it.

Trent Reznor has produced a lot of work, even outside of his Nine Inch Nails moniker. He is a collaborator with Marilyn Manson, Al Jorgensen from Ministry, El-P, Jane's Addiction, Queens of the Stone Age, in addition to his side project; How To Destroy Angels. But what Trent Reznor has done with his life is so much more than be a musician. In addition to his Oscar winning scoring for The Social Network, he is an audio engineer, producer, collaborator, along with other honorifics; he is a visionary and a revolutionary for what he has done for many industries, if not the entire world of art. Plus, my friend Lisa thinks he's hot. So, he's got that going for him too.

Yet another honorific that can be thrown his way is polymath. For the demos he assembled under the Right Track collection, (which ended up as some songs on Pretty Hate Machine) he played all of the instruments (with the exception of the drums). Also not included on those demos or the album, he played saxophone throughout high school as well. The pinnacle of his interests laid in the early Moog Synthesizers, like the Voyager And the Prodigy; it was part piano, part beat machine, part computer. He took this instrument and helped define the Industrial music genre. (Ministry tried to do this as well, but that's just not my thing… sorry).

Trent has always been a staunch individualist when it comes to the release of his music. After Year Zero came out under the Universal label, he had multiple issues with how they marketed, as well as sold the album. He went ahead and released a version of his next album, The Slip, on his own website for free. Reznor’s next production offered only two distribution options: either download the album for free, or for five bucks, get the higher quality audio. This album was Saul Williams’ excellent work: The Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust.

We all know Trent Reznor’s incredible music, but I wanted to take some time to honor some of the work he has done for the art of audio engineering. After he attained freedom to truly do whatever he wanted (after The Downward Spiral went quadruple platinum), he suffered with a torrent of unfortunate circumstances: drug addiction, deaths that severely affected him, and the same perfectionism that stultified Brian Wilson as he was making Smile. It was five years until Reznor’s next release: The Fragile.

Trent had left an indelible imprint on the music industry overall; he is the Chief Creative Officer of Dr. Dre's Beats Music service, and continues to work in this role even as they were ultimately acquired by Apple. The quality of the audio master has also always been important to Trent, later on in his career he released separate mixes and master per album for Hesitation Marks. Additionally, he has been very vocal about what software/hardware he uses, and has developed a collection of Modular Synths as well.

Reznor has a legendary IMDB page when it comes to the films he has worked on. He helped produce: Lost Highway, Quake, Natural Born Killers, The Crow, Se7en, The Social Network, Gone Girl, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It would be impossible to talk about this subject at length without drawing attention to the extremely impressive work that Trent and Atticus Ross did scoring the David Fincher movie: The Social Network. Although it is no secret, sound, diegetic and non-diegetic music, can all play a huge part in whether or not a film leaves a lasting impression. I have not heard a score done so adeptly, with the gentlest nudge of an intuition in the recording studio, have such an impact. By utilizing one technique, the opening score encapsulates the leitmotifs present in the movie.

The score and technique in The Social Network is more subtle than even the masterclass scoring utilized in The Graduate or The Big Chill. The music takes on a caricature of sorts but it becomes an integral component of the film. In their song Hand Covers Bruise, they successfully mirrored the growing distance and dissonance between the film’s main characters (Mark and Eduardo) as it developed over time, by expanding the distance between the repeated notes on the piano during the recording session; and furthermore, they underscore the gradual dissolution of the entire world’s communication protocols. On paper, this is a simple call and response. However through ethernet and fiber optics, the response gets more distant, diminished and distorted. This is an infuriatingly simple approach to orchestrate a brilliant point. To me, this is the pinnacle of Sound Design for a film. Yes, I realize that’s a loaded statement, and I might be chastised by people who disagree, but I'll stand by it.

To elaborate further on my earlier point of the old Hans Christian Anderson quote: music can make you feel exactly what an entire character arc is - assuming that music was written by a fucking brilliant wunderkind like Trent Reznor.


Jordan Young

Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic, and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.




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