Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross - The Social Network Music Album Reviews

Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross - The Social Network Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ first film score, a groundbreaking collaboration that gave The Social Network its icy, unsettling tone.

David Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network opens with the wound that drove Mark Zuckerberg to create the largest social network and media company in human history. As the camera pans across the rooftops of Harvard University, Zuckerberg jogs past smiling students to his dorm, where he is grimly determined to create something, anything, that will get his mind off of being savagely dumped by his girlfriend, Erica Albright.

The scene has become so iconic it hardly matters the whole thing is ersatz. First off, the Harvard of the film is Johns Hopkins—the university refused to grant Fincher filming privileges. Mark Zuckerberg is of course Jesse Eisenberg, playing a character written by Aaron Sorkin, who’d never used Facebook before writing his screenplay and who based his portrait entirely around one book, Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires. And Erica Albright—the girl who delivers the immortal line, “It’ll be because you’re an asshole”—never existed. Zuckerberg has protested in interviews that he built Facebook simply because he “liked building things.”

But if the film has settled into a cultural parable—Facebook as revenge of the jilted nerd—it’s in large part because of this scene, which is when we hear the first notes of the film’s score. An upright piano, luminous and recorded very closely, plays a simple figure, reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “1/1” from Music for Airports, or perhaps Eno’s startup music for Windows 95. Backed by the busy chatter of tremolo strings, the piano theme drifts through the noise like a ghost. It’s dark, light, winsome, menacing— the film’s entire world telescoped down and reduced into 40 burbling seconds. Then, just as the camera pans up to the dorm, a deep, dark synth note resounds, glaring out at you with yellow eyes. At this precise moment, the credits reveal the composers’ names: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

The Social Network represented a pinnacle for everyone involved: For Sorkin, who had created The West Wing and churned out some high-profile screenplays (A Few Good Men, The American President) but hadn’t been given his A-list moment in the sun. For David Fincher, who had already redefined American movies at least twice but hadn’t yet been handed the reins to a prime piece of Oscar bait. For Justin Timberlake, whose impish grin and Satanic cuteness personified the emerging Silicon Valley rock-star ethos and expanded his portfolio into “movie star.” For Eisenberg, whose performance inverted the usual karaoke-style rules of biopics: He sounded nothing like the real Zuckerberg, but his is probably the face most people see when they imagine Facebook’s creation.

No one, however, had their career trajectory altered so completely as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The Social Network only won three Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, for Sorkin’s magnificent contraption of a script, Best Film Editing, and Best Score. It was Reznor and Ross’ first-ever score, and they nailed the majority of it the first time they sat down to work.

When Fincher asked Reznor if he wanted to work together, he blanched at first and said no. Reznor had just come off of touring with Nine Inch Nails, had just gotten married, had never scored a film before. Uncertain of his ability to tackle a new discipline, he approached his friend and longtime collaborator Ross, who encouraged him, and then the pair started bouncing sounds back and forth in the studio and sending files to Fincher. They were unsure if the music they were making would be too harsh, too dark. They made about 16 tracks, each between three-and-a-half to eight minutes long.

The sketches they sent Fincher were meant as a mood board, a sampler. “Hand Covers Bruise,” that tremolo-and-piano track that wound up serving as the film’s de facto theme, was track seven on the playlist, and neither Reznor or Ross attached much significance to it. But Fincher’s sound editor Ren Klyce took those cues and populated the movie with them; the first draft became the score. When Fincher brought Reznor and Ross to screen a rough cut and those piano notes wafted out over the credits, Reznor got goosebumps.

Fincher knew exactly what he wanted when he hired Reznor. Without the music, the film shrugs off its shadows and shifts into a standard Sorkin workplace dramedy. There would be no menacing undertones to the increasingly ridiculous saga of the Winklevoss twins, clinging to their vision of “Harvard Connect,” pursuing Mark Zuckerberg across campus and then through the courts, stopping in for a chat with Larry Summers. On paper, the movie is chatty, funny, frothy, observant—Reznor described the 40-minute rough cut he saw, with rock songs temped in, as “kind of feel good, John Hughes-ish.” The music is Blade Runner, The Shining; the sound of one young Harvard nerd inventing dystopia in his head.

At all moments, you can peek under the music and see the alternate film—antic, weightless—playing beneath it. When Divya Narendra (played by Max Minghella) discovers that Zuckerberg, the shrimpy programmer he hired to build his Harvard Connect website, has launched Facebook, he falls backward out of his chair during an a capella rehearsal—a patented touch of Sorkin screwball. But as he jogs out into the night, a nightmarish sound enters the track, a melted scream straight out of György Ligeti’s “Lontano.” The tone clusters were generated not with string sections, but with an analog synth called a Swarmatron, which generates peeling skin-from-flesh glissandi that make you forget you are essentially watching one Harvard kid jogging in a dinner jacket.

Likewise, when Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Zuckerberg are seduced by a pair of (probably mythical) Facebook groupies, the screen fills with a positively evil din, clotted and blaring and full of inhuman shrieks, turning the transparently silly scene into something like a pagan ritual. Even in the airier tunes, like the aptly titled “Intriguing Possibilities,” those dark bass notes keep chugging throughout, suggesting that there’s always somebody, somewhere, that might not be too thrilled with what all these intriguing possibilities represent for them. Try to imagine the famous boat race without Reznor and Ross’s infernal retooling of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” beneath it. The creeping dread that pervades the movie, the intimations of existential rot, only exist in The Social Network because Reznor and Ross put them there.

The Social Network OST was the birth of Reznor’s third act: His film scoring career, which went on to more or less define the tone of the next decade, began when David Fincher took a flier on him. It’s a credit to Reznor and Ross’ partnership that in all the work they’ve done together since—recreating the sound of a 1930s Bernard Herrmann orchestral score for Mank; the tranquil idyll of their work on mid90s—they’ve never quite visited this sound world again. The closest they came was in the music they composed for the Pixar film Soul, specifically the scenes set in the Great Before. Tellingly, the dramatic milieu is cheerily blank, bright, officious, manipulative—purgatory as Silicon Valley campus.

If Eno’s famous line about ambient music was that it was “ignorable as it is interesting,” Reznor and Ross explored the flipside of the coin, making music just busy enough to be stimulating. If you worked at a desk wearing headphones at some point in the past decade, you are familiar with that point in the morning when your mind and fingers race while the rest of you atrophies, an edge that signifies the pleasant rush of the morning is about to curdle. Pieces like “In Motion” feel like tasting that dread, and playing it while working is delightfully perverse, like partaking in the thing that you know is complicit in killing you. One of the titles here does all the interpretive work for you: “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety.” Eno made music for airports; The Social Network OST is Music for Shared Workspaces.

The “Hand Covers Bruise” piano theme reappears twice on the soundtrack, each time sounding diluted and further away. Onscreen, it serves as a sort of leitmotif for whatever human and decent qualities might be swimming around inside the Zuckerberg character—whenever those piano notes resurface, they mark another melancholy signpost in his downward moral trajectory. One of them is during the famous cross-examination scene (“Do I have your full attention?”). Just as Zuckerberg’s eyes turn into darkened slits and he unleashes the full measure of his dry contempt, that deep bass synth note resounds again

The dark synthesizer note underneath the piano figure tells us everything we need to know about the story after the story of The Social Network. The film is a relic from an era when people still mostly used Facebook to reconnect with their exes, to look at pictures of their high school friends’ kids. Nobody was talking, yet, about how social media use contributed to increased depression, anxiety, and above all, loneliness. As of July 2010, Facebook’s user base was 500 million—still larger than the populations of the United States, Mexico, and France combined, but not yet eclipsing the number of adherents to Christianity, as it does today. Facebook was merely a fabulously successful company, and we observed billionaires in our cultural midst with awe and bemusement, a bunch of little Charles Foster Kanes pining away for their little Rosebuds. Compared to what Facebook (now Meta) has become, Fincher’s portrait looks so quaint it’s practically sepia-toned.

But the music’s icy grip foretells developments lying just around the corner. In 2011, shortly after Fincher’s film was released, Zuckerberg went to the Federal Election Commission and asked for “an exemption to rules requiring the source of funding for political ads be revealed.” The music knows about the Cambridge Analytica scandals, and about January 6th, which was incited and stoked chiefly on Facebook. That deep synth note is the sound of militia members actively recruiting for, organizing, and executing the storming of the Capitol entirely on Facebook, even posting pictures and streaming the event live there. And it’s the sound I hear whenever I watch the real Zuckerberg, saucer-eyed and vacant instead of narrow-eyed and contemptuous, testify once again in front of a group of performatively angry senators before reporting back to Facebook headquarters.

The Social Network misses all of this, focusing on the corporate hurly-burly of who owns what, who screwed over who. In the final scene, Rashida Jones—a plucky junior partner—tenderly delivers the movie’s final verdict on Zuckerberg (“You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.”). She departs, and then, as Zuckerberg turns to his laptop, pulls up the Facebook profile of the apocryphal Erica Albright, and requests to be her “Friend,” the strains of the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man” play. The truest version of the movie would have closed on a Reznor cue—blank, pistoning, uneasy, both wide-open and completely empty.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross - The Social Network Music Album Reviews Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross - The Social Network Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, July 31, 2022 Rating: 5

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