Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ The Social Network Synth Sounds

The Social Network was released in 2010, and as well as being directed and written by David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin respectively, it also featured the first feature-length soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The sound of The Social Network is dark and brooding, with emotive pianos often underpinned by electronic synth layers instead of a tradition Hollywood orchestra. The duo have since scored twelve films, won Oscars and Grammys for their work The Social Network and Soul, and had an undeniable impact on the sound of modern films.

In this article, I’ll look at the sounds of the track In Motion, the song that plays during the beginning of the film as Mark Zuckerberg hacks Harvard’s databases to build Facemash. The track is an uptempo track combining modular synth sequences, chiptune-esque leads and noisy guitars over a four-to-the-floor dance beat. Here’s my remake, which doesn’t use any samples from the original song:

A Synthetic Network

Although the frontman, multi-instrumentalist and producers of an industrial rock band might seem like an unusual choice to score a film, Ghosts I-IV, Nine Inch Nails’ 4-disc ambient album released in 2008, was a direct precursor to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross entering the film scoring world. When David Fincher reached out to them to score The Social Network, Fincher had already used material from Ghosts I-IV as a temp score to set his desired mood for the film. Two tracks from Ghosts I-IV were reworked for The Social Network soundtrack: Ghosts IV – 35 became A Familiar Taste and Ghosts II – 14 became Magnetic.

Well, the way this one worked is that with that 40 minutes of material he had created, he used the Ghosts material. From that I thought I could tell what he wanted us to do. I could also see that for a movie that is primarily people talking in a room, how important the emotion and tempo of the music could drive the film. – Trent Reznor

David Fincher also named Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, Tangerine Dream, and Wendy Carlos’ Tron soundtrack as reference points for the film’s sound, which guided Trent and Atticus to focus on synth-heavy compositions instead of taking the traditional orchestral route.

The multitrack stems for the songs In Motion and On We March were released in 2010 as part of an official remix competition, and the track names give some clues as to which synths were used. Classic analog synths such as the ARP Odyssey and Korg MS-20 were used alongside rare modular synths such as the Analogue Solutions Vostok. Although it wasn’t used on In Motion, the Dewanatron Swarmatron was used liberally elsewhere on the soundtrack.

trent reznor atticus ross

Bass Synth

Despite the intricate layering and modular synth sequences, In Motion is built entirely around a 4 bar loop that repeats for the entire song, and this loop starts with the plucked synth bassline. In the stems, the bass track is called Oddity, so this track was likely recorded using the GForce Oddity plugin, which is a software emulation of the Arp Odyssey. Trent Reznor mentioned Oddity in a 2005 interview, where he called it one of his favourite softsynths, along with another GForce synth, ImpOSCar.

The bassline in In Motion is a layered sound using two patches: the main bass sound and a higher melodic line. The main sound is a simple bass pluck using two sawtooth waves spread 19 semitones apart, so the higher oscillator plays a fifth + an octave above lower oscillator. I recreated this patching using GForce Oddity 2, and there is also a small amount of stereoization, which I added using a Dimension D plugin set to Mod Mode 1.

The high layer plays the major 3rd (+4 semitones) of each bass note, which combined with the fifth oscillator in the bass patch turns every bass note into a major triad chord. The melodic layer is low in the mix and panned to the left; it also doesn’t play on every single note. The final layered bass sound is then sidechained to a classic dance-sounding Roland TR-909 kick drum.

00:00
  • Main Bass Patch 00:00
  • High Layer 00:00
  • Bass Layered 00:00
  • Bass w/Kick 00:00
trent reznor the social network

Odyssey Arp

The next sound is an ascending synth sequence, which is called Odyssey in the stems, so likely came from the Arp Odyssey, famously used on The Hand That Feeds. Interestingly, Trent used both the original Arp Odyssey and the GForce Oddity – software emulation of the very same synth on the same track.

For my remake, I used Oddity 2 again, and the patch is a simple, single square wave oscillator sound with the filter set to 2000 Hz (no keyboard tracking) and minimal post-processing added. Interestingly, I tried creating this very simple patch in other softsynths, but the Odyssey sound has a unique character that other synths couldn’t quite 100% match. Here’s what it sounds like:

00:00
  • Odyssey Arp 00:00
  • Arp w/Beat 00:00
trent motion arp

Vostok Sequence

The next synth is the first of two heavily modulated sequencer tracks in In Motion. The track in the stems is called Vostok, which means it came from Trent Reznor’s Analogue Solutions Vostok, a semi-modular analogue synth with a pin-matrix and a joystick, which makes it somewhat inspired by the AMS and Synthi – though it’s not a clone.

analogue solutions vostok v2

The Vostok synth sequence in In Motion is a simple, octave-jumping sequence that riffs on a D-note throughout the song. Despite only playing one note, the sequence uses LFO modulation to create interesting movement that brings the sequence to live, and adds a sense of motion to the song.

I recreated the patch using Arturia Jup-8 V4, as it offers plenty of LFOs. My patch modulates the filter with a skewed bar-length triangle wave from LFO 2, and modulates the oscillator sync with a 2-bar long sine wave from LFO 3. The modulated oscillator-sync causes the sound to slowly become thinner as it’s modulated.

00:00
  • Sequence - No Modulation 00:00
  • Sequence - Modulated 00:00
  • Sequence w/Beat 00:00
trent motion seq 1

Piano Melody

The main melody of In Motion is played on a synthetic piano sound. The stems don’t offer any clues as to where this sound came from, and for my remake, I layered a piano sound from Arturia Piano V with a sine wave patch processed with a small amount of Valhalla ShimmerVerb. The melody is layered with several guitar parts, which I’ll cover in more detail further in the article.

00:00
  • Piano Layer 00:00
  • Sine Layer 00:00
  • Layered Sound 00:00
trent motion piano

Korg Lead

At the 1:13 mark, a synth lead is introduced that plays a melody that doubles the bassline. The stem for this sound is called Korg, so I think the sound was created on Trent Reznor’s Korg MS-20, which can be seen below, between his Arp Odyssey and Swarmatron. The lead patch uses two oscillators, a quiet triangle wave playing the root note and a louder sawtooth wave tuned up 4 semitones so that it plays the major 3rd of every implied chord.

trent reznor ms20

The patch also uses cross-modulation, which means that one oscillator is used to modulate another oscillator’s pitch. Using an oscillator to modulate pitch, instead of an LFO, results in audio-rate modulation that has a much different sound that can be buzzy or metallic depending on the modulation amount. Because the modulating oscillator’s rate is controlled by the keyboard, higher notes result in faster modulation than lower notes, which can result in different textures for different notes. If you’re interested in this, I wrote an entire post about cross-modulation over on my Patreon page.

I recreated the patch using Arturia Mini V, using VCO3 as the modulating oscillator. To create the cross-mod routing, open the extended modulation panel and set VCO 3 as a modulation source and send it to a VCO12 FM as a modulation destination. My patch has the mod depth set to 0.1768, and I have VCO 3 set to a triangle wave 2 octaves below VCO 1 & 2. VCO 3 is also muted in the mixer section so that it’s not audible on the patch; it’s used for modulation only.

For the second half of the song, the melody has a panning effect which I created using manual automation in Ableton Live.

00:00
  • Melody 1 00:00
  • Melody 2 (Panning Effect) 00:00
  • Melody w/Bass 00:00
trent motion korg lead

Outro Sequence

After the breakdown, a second modular synth patch is introduced. In the stems, this track is called Indi Synth; I’m not 100% sure, but this might mean that it came from the Access Virus Indigo. In this image of Trent’s studio, a similar Access Virus TI can be seen below his Vostok and Cwejman synths.

trent reznor vostok access virus

This sequence is interesting because it doesn’t play a repeating pattern, instead, it plays a stream of notes that never repeat. The sequence may have been created by using sample-and-hold & quantizer modules to generate a random sequence, but again, I’m not 100% sure.

I recreated the sound using Arturia Jup-8 V4, this time with LFO 1 opening the filter, LFO 2 modulating the square oscillator pulse-width and LFO 2 and LFO 3 both controlling the VCA envelope amount at different rates. This creates tons of movement, that combines with the random sequence to create a very organic-sounding patch that sounds unique on each repeat with minimal input.

00:00
  • Sequence 2 - No Modulation 00:00
  • Sequence 2 - Modulated 00:00
trent motion seq 2

SID Sounds

In Motion makes heavy use of the Elektron SidStation, a hardware synth module built around the Commodore 64’s SID chip, a favourite with chip-tune artists. The SidStation was Elektron’s very first hardware instrument, released back in 1999.

elektron sid station

To recreate the SidStation sounds in In Motion I used Plogue Chipsounds, which contains faithful models of the SID chips waveforms, along with all the noise and analog idiosyncrasies that go with it.

There are two SidStation leads in In Motion, the first is the gliding lead that plays at 3:30. This patch uses the Pulse waveform with Pulse Width set to 84%, which creates a thin sound. Portamento is set in the Modulation tab, and I have it set to 0.16 seconds. I’ve added some delay to this track as well as an EQ to roll off the harsh top-end.

00:00
  • SID Lead 1 00:00
trent motion sid lead 1

A second lead has the pulse width manually changed as part of the performance, which creates a super-thinned sound in certain parts of the melody. This lead is also layered towards the end with a percussive, shimmering pluck patch that I recreated in Arturia Jup-8 V4 processed with Valhalla ShimmerVerb.

00:00
  • Sid Lead 2 00:00
  • Shimmer Layer 00:00
  • Sid Lead w/Layer 00:00
trent motion sid lead 2

The SidStation is also responsible for the fast arpeggios that play that are used as a background effect as well as for transitions. These were likely created using the SidStation’s built-in arpeggiator, which allows individual arpeggiator settings for each of the SID chip’s three oscillators. This lets you create wild, highly complex arpeggios by layering different up to three different simultaneous arpeggiator times and patterns.

These parts are super-quick and were a challenge to accurately transcribe, so I didn’t use Chipsound’s arpeggiator for my remake. Instead, I used a total of six instances of Plogue Chipsounds with the arp patterns manually written out in Ableton Live’s piano roll.

00:00
  • Sid Arp 1 00:00
  • Sid Arp 2 00:00
  • Sid Arps Layered 00:00
  • Sid Arps 3 & 4 00:00
  • Sid Arps Layered 00:00
  • Sid Transition 1 00:00
  • Sid Transition 2 00:00
  • Sid Transition Layered 00:00

Guitars

Finally, there are five guitar tracks in In Motion, and the first two make use of a guitar sustainer. The most popular guitar sustainer is the eBow, which I used for my remake; however, it’s possible that a Fernandes or Sustainiac guitar could have been used for the original recording of In Motion.

To stop the eBow from sounding too bright, I rolled the tone knob on my guitar all the way down and palm-muted the strings while using the eBow. These tracks play the same melody as the piano melody, and one eBow track is clean, and the other one has light distortion.

00:00
  • Guitar 1 (eBow Clean) 00:00
  • Guitar 2 (eBow distorted) 00:00

The third guitar plays the same melody, but with aggressive tremolo picking and plenty of overdrive. The fourth and fifth guitars consist of aggressive guitar noise, and for these overdriven guitar tracks, I used stacked distortion using a combination of Ableton’s Pedal device in Fuzz mode, Soundtoys Decapitator and UAD Raw, a Proco Rat emulator.

There’s some aggressive EQing on these tracks to clean up the noise produced by the distortion, as well as some stereoization to make the guitar tracks nice and wide.

00:00
  • Guitar 3 (Tremolo) 00:00
  • Guitar 4 (Noise 1) 00:00
  • Guitar 5 (Noise 2) 00:00

Closing Thoughts

That’s all the main sounds of In Motion covered, phew! Below are some additional things I learned while putting together this remake:

  • It’s a very dry mix with only a small amount of short reverb. Compared to all of the other remakes I’ve done, this is easily the one with the least amount of reverb. During the final mix, I frequently found myself turning the reverb levels down.
  • There are no chord tracks in In Motion (unless you count the bassline which has +4 and +7 tuned oscillators). This aligns it strongly with sequencer-based music such as early new wave and 90s techno that the track is inspired by.
  • There’s also no snare, the drum beat is just a 909 kick, offbeat 909 hi-hat, some modular synth hi-hats and sub-bass hits towards the end. This makes the track more suitable to play in the background of a film scene; although the melodic layers are interesting, the beat never gets distracting.
  • Modulated sequences are a big part of the sound of In Motion, and shows how thoughtful modulation can bring otherwise stale sequences to life.
  • If you’re a fan of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ film scores, check out my Reverb.com article on their Gone Girl soundtrack.
  • And if you’re a music theory nerd, be sure to give my Trent Reznor Chord Theory article a read.

Download

Thanks for reading! The following download link contains the presets for Arturia Jup-8 V4, Mini V and GForce Oddity 2 that were used in this remake.

The presets from this article are also included in the Synth Sounds Collection, a free preset pack collecting the synth presets from all of my articles in one download.

If you want to explore the sounds of In Motion even further then consider supporting the site by becoming a Patreon supporter, which gives you access to the Ableton Projects, MIDI files and multitrack stems from this remake, as well as Patreon-exclusive remakes.

Header artwork by Makarxart

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Comments on Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ The Social Network Synth Sounds

1 thought on “Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ <em>The Social Network</em> Synth Sounds”

  1. This is awesome. I’m pretty new to synths, but always enjoy reading your posts. Super impressive and a great resource for learning from the greats.

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