Review: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “The Social Network”

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The Social Network

(The Null Corporation)
Sept. 28, 2010

A while back, to my extended-postadolescent horror, I awakened a long-stilled jones for video games. Luckily, I brained it comatose before it ran amok, but I was nonetheless unnerved by this momentary slip of composure.

The object of my obsession was The Sims, purchased in an impetuous fit. I was fused to my living room floor for 27 hours straight. Life did not, would not intervene.

When I finally stirred from my stupor, I was surrounded by corpses of breakfasts and snacks ravaged in delirium and only vaguely recalled. My cell phone bled increasingly frantic missives from the outside world. Weariness stung my eyes, tattooed ’em in throbbing gray. My limbs were numb; I rose only with agonized determination. Somehow I’d leapt from afternoon to afternoon with no clear memory of the trip. And I’d done all this, this nothing, while clothing, feeding, and maintaining a nonexistent doppelganger at the expense of my own social gratification. I stumbled bed-ward in a muddled buzz, where my dreams were pounded by godless chaos.

These visions returned with clarity as I listened to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network, a calculated excoriation or clear-eyed appraisal — whatever your hot-blooded bias — of wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of the almighty Facebook. As I’ve yet to see the film, I’ll reserve my judgment on that front. But, sneak peek, motherfuckers: I’m a fan of both David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin (I’m saint enough to admire Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as an interesting if bewilderingly inconsistent fumble), so I might refrain from accusing them of purposely undermining our Tech Utopia of Milk & Cookies on Hollywood’s wheezy behalf.

The Social Network’s a tough listen; at over an hour, it could be difficult to endure in one sitting. But considering its subject — the hurricane angst of a man-child uncomfortable in situations that can’t be controlled by programmable code — that’s to its credit. It’s a frigid enterprise, hypnotic and distant, with belligerent bursts of sustained magnificence.

The compositions hum with what seems like the entire history of electronics, from crude burps to effervescent burbles (“Intriguing Possibilities,” “Complication with Optimistic Outcome”). They tangle ruthlessly with more conventional instruments — the ongoing struggle between digital and analog — in a bid for sonic prominence. Pianos tremble cold and lonely, their trepidation pursued by an ever-present synthesized dread. Guitars squall and lurch from horizon beds of clinging tar. Beats are stripped to their motherboards or devoured in aggressive data streams (“3:14 Every Night”). Tracks like “Painted Sun in Abstract” are constructed as if to observe civilization from a comfortable distance: the passage of time, the changing of seasons, the living of lives. The only acknowledgment of humanity arrives in “Eventually We Find Our Way” as faint transmissions from another room — or maybe another realm, a vanished fantasy of the Used to Be. A treatment of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (alas, online or off, there’s no escape from trolls) winks at Wendy Carlos’ wired-in classical reinterpretations for A Clockwork Orange (1971), but this electronic calliope, its structure held unsteadily by strings, eventually spins loose from its axis into manic, breathless hysteria.

The Social Network stands as a natural progression from Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV (2008) — a few of its tracks are even careful reworkings or good-humored links (“A Familiar Taste”) — while serving to augment a completely different vision. And if the music’s this spellbinding without the visual stimuli, imagine how devastatingly revelatory it is against the palette of a shared epic darkness.


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