Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Gentle Hum of Anxiety

You know when you find yourself listening to only one album during the day? When a headphone is always in, the same music pumping through your veins for 8 hours, off and on? When it becomes white noise that plays even when the music is off? Well, that was today for me, and what came through my ears was a soundtrack for anxiety and loneliness. This might not seem like the best music for a school day, but it soon coated everything I was hearing (even when I was not listening to it) and didn’t seem to intrude with my interactions. I bought the soundtrack to the movie The Social Network a few weeks back, but today I decided to overdose on it.

         Though The Social Network and its soundtrack have been out for quite some time, a resurrection of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s masterpiece of a score for the multiple award-nominated movie is in order. Two nights ago, the two composers went up on stage at the Kodak Theater to accept their Academy Award, a very well-deserved one at that. Reznor is the former front man of the band Nine Inch Nails, and Ross is a British composer who is familiar with film scores. While Ross is obviously an important influence, it seems as though Reznor built the path towards the resulting timbres.

Reznor and Ross

Though electronic music is not often thought of as something the Oscars would commend, the Reznor/Ross collaboration easily beat out the other orchestrated scores nominated (Inception, Hans Zimmer; How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell; The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat; 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman). The Social Network’s soundtrack fit with the emotions of the movie like a jigsaw puzzle—the movie, about the founder of Facebook (Mark Zuckerburg), juxtaposes his successes with his crumbling relationships with the people around him. It asks the unanswerable question, what is more important? Success, or real friendship? Greed, solitude, and falseness are clear themes, parallel with the sentiments associated with Facebook itself.
The subdued and almost Minimalist score has a bit of everything while all staying in the same exclusive genre that Reznor and Ross have shaped to their liking. On the album there are dance tracks, pieces that are simplistic and resonating, and even a version of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Although electronic sounds are primarily used, the soundtrack has an organic feeling to it, probably due to the resonating, deep hums that accompany almost all the pieces. All the songs on the album evoke a feeling of mourning for oneself and the decaying of one’s happiness; they may be upbeat and in major keys, but the muffled electronic synthesizers and dry snare beats convey falseness (the emotion, not the music); like the cursory sensations are lies. It’s as if a membrane of isolation stretches over the entire score, and even though the patterns to the club and metal-influenced songs say something else, the music itself still suggests the same emotions that the subdued and reflecting songs do.

Scene to accompany club music

The first song on the album, “Hand Covers Bruise,” is the track most associated with the movie. It begins with an unidentifiable electronic buzzing that skips every so often like a scratched CD. This sound goes on for a while before the protruding melody comes in, the monophony, downhill piano cadences (F# E G, E D lower D). The timbres of the piece are so echo-y and canyon like that the solid, concrete feeling of the piano is like dropping stones down a never-ending chasm. After the first round of this downward spiraling melody, another nondescript vibration of electric sound saturates the accompanying buzzes. The song “Almost Home” uses a very similar melodic passage, but includes a constant beat instead. Like “Hand Covers Bruise,” “Penetration” also owes much of its emotion to the isolated piano passages. With strong octaves in the lower register and continued, alternating, Philip Glass-like thirds, it is short but provides the most organic piece on the album. The synthesizer ostinatos in “In Motion” and “Complication with Optimistic Outcome” are similar as well (but I suppose movie soundtracks need to have some similarity between pieces).
“A Familiar Taste” is one of the only songs on the album that has a heavy and ridged beat, and also includes electric guitar riffs and chords. The almost parrot-like squawks that intrude every so often are the perfect touch to give the song a frantic emotion. “A Familiar Taste” obviously can call Nine Inch Nails an inspiration. The piece “Carbon Prevails” is probably one of the most purely-sounding electronic songs and includes a downward stepping, vibrating synth beat that acidly cuts through some of the other muffled pieces. Another one of the heaviest pieces is “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” which certainly is creative but doesn’t try too hard to stray from the original (in Reznor/Ross language, of course). “ITHOTMK” could have been more melodically and rhythmically varied than the original.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have undoubtedly succeeded in making a soundtrack parallel with the movie it accompanies, and with evoking emotions so clearly with one language. Even as I write this I listen to the album. Personally, I’m ok with it accompanying me, let’s just hope the emotions don’t make their way into my life anytime soon.

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