Trent Reznor Explains How He Composed ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Soundtrack
Trent Reznor has been everywhere on the radio waves lately, giving interviews preceding the release of his soundtrack for the movie ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. From what I have heard about the score, the NIN frontman has indeed composed a very atmospheric music, which probably makes sense while watching the movie.
But one thing that surprised me when listening to him talking on Fresh Air, is that he did not compose the music after having watched the movie. On the contrary, he started 14 months ago, when Fincher was just starting shooting the movie, without having seen a frame of footage or even read the script.
Reznor said he just spoke to Fincher who told him how he visualized the shape of the sound, that he wanted ‘to sound textural’: ‘We wanted to create the sound of coldness, emotionally and also physically’, he said to Terry Gross on Fresh Air. An interesting idea, as a sound can certainly be linked to an emotion, but the physical part is a sort of second layer, not immediately seizable.
Reznor also said he ‘wanted to take lots of acoustic instruments from strings to lots different bell instruments and prepared piano’, and ‘transplant them into a very inorganic setting, and kind of dress the set around them with electronics’. He explained more:
‘So you were hearing a lot of live, modular synthesizers creating a kind of icy or pulsing bed with something that feels very non-electronic, an organic and imperfect instrument played imperfectly, sitting on top of that. And that's kind of one of the templates we use for this film.’
It is interesting to listen to him talking about music composition, he obviously knows what he is talking about and has a sort of calm intensity when explaining all this, that parallels the music he composed.
He almost became a classical concert pianist, as piano was his instrument when he was just 10 years old, and if you wonder like me what is a prepared piano, this is what he said:
‘We picked up a bunch of upright pianos for cheap, and then we just started trying things, from clothespins to nailing nails into where the strings go, some of it ruining the instrument, some of it just creating imperfections so that you'd have to learn to play certain melodies a certain way because certain keys wouldn't work. Certain notes would ring in funny ways and create interesting interactions between the notes.’
‘It's a very hit-and-miss procedure, and also very volatile because you might get something good, but when you – the melody you're looking for, the string changes or the clothespin pops off, or the item that's sitting on top of the strings buzzing just right isn't there when you go back to that note. It's a frustrating, but fun process to go through.’
He also said he was very inspired by bands like Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept, and films of David Lynch, early in his career, and, in an effort to experiment more with the sound he has always ventured at layering sounds ‘that might bother you under music to create a sense of anxiety’,… sounds like ‘the hum of a radiator, to a room tone’.
He explained he has always been into sampling things, basically everything from a car driving by or the sound of a crowd of people, ‘and taking that sound, manipulating it sometimes, stretching it or tuning it, and creating, sometimes, a playable instrument out of that’.
So if you go see ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, you have to know that the melodies you’ll hear ‘started as violins or cellos being strummed in a certain way or bowed in a certain way, and then processed and stretched and manipulated into a setting where it may sound harmonically familiar, but if you tune into it, it's not behaving in a way that you're accustomed to that type of sound behaving, the range or the way it's articulated.’
I hope you got it.
There is also an aggressive Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ cover with Karen O in the soundtrack and I kind of got an answer about the show with Deadmau5 and James Murphy to promote the movie. Reznor said they wanted to present the movie to the world in different ways, so that the film is not forced on the public… I’m not sure I completely understand but it sounds like an interesting marketing.
So, may be it’s gonna be another Academy Award for Mr. Reznor, who, by the way, couldn’t be happier these days!