Best known for his edgy, industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor has become a prolific figure in the world of music since the band’s hit tracks like Head Like a Hole and The Perfect Drug. As he prepares for the Nine Inch Nails 2022 tour which promises reputable opening acts from Yves Tumor, 100 Gecs, and Boy Harsher, Reznor has also used his musical aptitudes in cinema.
Of course, Reznor is no stranger to film. Since the early 90’s, he has produced a number of unforgettable soundtracks like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
However, in recent years, Reznor has fully dived into film scoring. After his work on David Fincher’s The Social Network, the musician has taken home several awards for a number of films since then.
Here are just a few of his most notable scores and soundtracks.
Very much a departure for Reznor, who is more likely to play his music in a clandestine basement by candlelight, he dipped his toes in the animated world of Disney and created an excellent score for the heartwarming comedy-drama film, Soul.
While working with a family-oriented company like Disney may still come as a surprise, Reznor’s appreciation for jazz and questions about the afterlife makes perfect sense. Working alongside Nine Inch Nails bandmate Atticus Ross, the two composed what critics are calling a metaphysical and ethereal score that encapsulates the wonder of life, death, and what comes after.
The duo collaborated with jazz composer Jon Baptiste to successfully mesh the world of jazz with ambient to create a seamless and complete score. Without a doubt, their efforts were met with great rewards. Soul secured The Best Original Score awards from both the 2020 Golden Globes and the Oscars.
While Reznor is known for his dark, industrial ambient vibe, HBO’s 2019 spinoff of DC’s Watchmen demonstrates Reznor’s interest in jazz and blues, which paved the way for their work in Soul.
Considering its historical context, taking place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of much cultural tension, Reznor and Ross successfully capture that essence of a haunted atmosphere, seemingly frozen in time despite the promise of progression. With its hypnotizing beats and playful rhythms, the duo created a rich soundscape that took a photograph of the American South’s complex landscape.
Watchmen was particularly challenging due to its length, considering the fact that it is a nine-episode tv series, rather than a feature-length film. However, as an enthused fan of the original comic, Reznor approached director Damon Lindelof and offered to score the music for the show. The Reznor-Ross duo released their work in a three-part vinyl collection, Reznor explaining its broken up release to accommodate listeners’ “short attention spans.”
The Watchmen creative team took advantage of the multiple releases, making official and unofficial artwork for the albums in the spirit of Alan Moore’s iconic mixed-media approach. The albums were very well-received and also won the Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series at the 2020 Emmy Awards.
The breakthrough film, Gone Girl, turned viewers’ heads upside down with its unexpected plot twists about a seemingly perfect marriage. Not to give any spoilers, but not even an expert poker player could have read the poker faces in that film, and they know a thing or two about bluffing. Specifically, in the game of poker, poker players bluff to make their opponents think they’re better off than they actually are. Reznor mimics the characters’ mental games of cat and mouse, as the soundtrack’s cold, almost metallic melody rolls over and over in a cyclical pattern.
Working in the dark ambient genre, the score intentionally produces anxiety and dread as the tension builds throughout the film. The daunting, echoey notes bleed into the film’s desaturated color palette, and ultimately, reflect the loveless relationship between the protagonists.
Gone Girl was Reznor’s third time collaborating with director David Fincher and also his third original film score that he composed and produced with Ross. It received two nominations, including the 2014 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
To imbue the sense of absolute impotence, darkness, and horror, Reznor worked with a limited selection of artists including himself, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, David Bowie, and David Lynch’s favorite Angelo Badalamenti among others.
The soundtrack has a narrow scope, featuring ambient instrumental, death metal, and the occasional nostalgic Americana track. Compared to his work on Natural Born Killers, where he selected an array of music from many artists, Reznor produced more of his own work to provide the ominous atmosphere of the film. Some of the songs include Nine Inch Nails’ hit, The Perfect Drug.
The Lost Highway soundtrack works as an interesting foreshadowing of Reznor’s later work in producing soundtracks.
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Oliver Stone’s iconic and controversial film, Natural Born Killers, stayed with viewers long after watching, not only for its larger than life imagery and high octane pace but also for the soundtrack that managed to enhance it.
Reznor explained that his goal for producing the soundtrack was to create a sort of musical collage inspired by Stone’s insane editing style, rather than simply putting songs over the film to fill the silence. He mixed a wide variety of songs, adding dialogue over them, overlapping them on top of each other, and manipulating their sound the way many DJs would. Working with the film’s formal qualities, Reznor successfully produced an excellent soundtrack that was both commercially and critically acclaimed.
While many of the songs are much older and in fact, emblematic of American culture, many were also written and produced specifically for the film. Still with Nine Inch Nails at the time, Reznor created his own song to feature in the soundtrack, Burn, which later appeared in the band’s best-received album, The Downward Spiral.