Music in the movies: The Social Network – an appreciation of 2010’s best score

In light of The Social Network's Oscar win for Best Original Score, here's Glen's appreciation of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' work...

There were many fantastic scores released in 2010, many of which weren’t considered during awards season. But the fact that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Original Score is quite an achievement.

Best original score is a suitable label for this contribution by Reznor and Ross, who have shied away from the conventional approach and worked within a system that they’re both familiar with, having collaborated with each other a number of times in the past on other, non-movie-related projects.

For me, The Social Network had the most original and cohesive score of last year and the one that exceeded my expectations. I feel that Nigel Godrich attempted something for Scott Pilgrim Vs The World that had moments of interest, but it didn’t come together in the same way as Reznor and Ross’ score here. Also, Daft Punk’s score for Tron Legacy promised much more than it delivered. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good score. But it could have been, and should have been so much more than an amalgamation of other composers’ works.

The reason I picked out those two scores as a point of reference here is that I think they’re similar to the score for The Social Network, in the way that they were approached by artists who weren’t overly experienced in composing for film, and attempted on some level to try something different from the norm. And in that sense, Reznor and Ross’ score for The Social Network was the runaway success and is very much deserving of the awards it’s received.

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Atticus Ross had experience in composing for film prior to undertaking this project with Reznor, but Reznor winning an Academy Award with his debut score has achieved something very few other composers have accomplished.

Only four other composers have taken home the statue with their debut compositions and these include Bernard Herrmann for The Devil And Daniel Webster in 1942 (he was also nominated for Citizen Kane in the same year), Joe Renzetti for The Buddy Holly Story (Best Adaption Score) in 1979, Michael Gore for Fame in 1981, and Prince for Purple Rain (Best Original Song Score) in 1985.

Of that list of names only Gore won for their debut proper in the Best Original Score category, as Herrmann won for The Devil And Daniel Webster, and Citizen Kane was released prior to that, and Prince and Renzetti won in sub-categories. So, the fact that Reznor and Ross won this year is a huge achievement.

The score itself is a work of beauty that is driven by a simple piano motif that features throughout the film, which is used expertly, and the subtle changes in the performance and recording enable it to be used to convey a variety of emotions and moods. Although, at the core, the piece that plays at the beginning of the film is identical to many pieces used throughout the film, it’s the aforementioned subtle changes that add layers of interest.

Leitmotifs, when used poorly, can make it seem as though the composer lacks ideas. But when they’re used well, as is the case here, they can elevate a score to new heights by providing listeners with a familiar hook to return to.

The track, The Gentle Hum Of Anxiety, is one of my favourite pieces on the score and both the title and the track itself are representative of the score as a whole. The title acts as an apt description for the piece, and musically, it’s an amalgamation of the themes and methods explored throughout.

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The recent Blu-ray release of the film features a fascinating look at the process of recording the score that shows the kind of setup Ross and Reznor use and their approach to recording, which seems to be Reznor will play for a period of time and then disappear for a walk, whilst Ross sequences his works in a manner that would be suitable for the film. And then they build from there. It’s a creative partnership that clearly works very well and relies on absolute trust between the two of them.

The disc also features a look at their take on Greig’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King, which is one of the score’s highlights. The previous documentary had the pair explain that, whilst they were happy with the results, they were almost driven to the point of insanity, as they heard the track thousands of times over the course of a week while trying to perfect it and come up with the version Fincher had in his head, based on his description.

The feature shows the evolution of the track, and the finished version is very much the best one. But hearing the others is very interesting.

The fact that the score leaves such a huge impression in a film where dialogue is very much the priority, meaning that the music, for the most part, has to be secondary and unobtrusive, is another one of the reasons that it’s a modern masterpiece in composing and is fully deserving of the awards it’s received. Although it plays a secondary role in the film itself, it’s an incredibly strong standalone listen and is one I frequently return to.

For me, that’s why the score for The Social Network was the finest of 2010 and I hope it marks the start of a long career in composing for both Reznor and Ross and their emergence as a strong force in the world of composing. With their score accompanying Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo later this year, I hope I can say similar things about the pair this time next year. Until then, the score for The Social Network will remain on heavy rotation.

I can imagine that the pair’s combined talents will be in demand for the foreseeable future, and whilst I was writing this article, the news was announced that Reznor will compose the score for (and will also have a cameo role in) Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter giving us yet another project to look forward to.

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UPDATE: On March 10th, after this piece was prepared, Trent Reznor posted on the NIN forum that he would not be appearing in or scoring Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He said: “As it turns out, I WON’T be working on (acting or scoring) ALVH after all. There’s no juicy story here, it’s just that when the news mysteriously leaked out about my involvement I hadn’t made up my mind completely, because various aspects of the project were changing.”

You can read more of the post here. Hitfix has more on the story here.

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