Pro File: Nailing a New Look

Q&A with Trent Reznor

By Mathew Honan for Macworld on February 1, 2002

Trent Reznor ushered in a new era of digital audio production with the 1989 release of Pretty Hate Machine, an album that helped launch an entirely new genre of music. Reznor's band, Nine Inch Nails, continued to break new sonic ground and push the limits of what can be done with music on a computer throughout the 1990s. And he's still breaking ground, with the December 2001 release of the Nine Inch Nails tour film And All That Could Have Been and its accompanying CD. Reznor and Nine Inch Nails Webmaster Rob Sheridan shot the entire film on mini-DV, edited the video in Final Cut Pro, mixed all of the audio in Digidesign Pro Tools, and assembled the DVD rough cut in DVD Studio Pro.

Q: Why did you decide to shoot And All That Could Have Been on mini-DV?

Reznor: Cost-wise, it made sense. We bought a few XL1 cameras, and we could film every night of the tour from eight different positions. It seemed like it was something we could manage and make it what we wanted it to be. From our perspective, we weren't video editors. The cool thing about this process was finding out that, yeah, you can do this. The ease of use of the hardware and software made it possible to get the tedious crap out of the way and just get down to what we wanted to do.

Q: What did you use to edit the footage?

Sheridan: When the tour was over, the whole thing was edited in Final Cut from beginning to end. We had something like 200 mini-DV tapes. We lined up all that footage and all the different takes of one song in Final Cut. So we would have professionally recorded audio synced up to 30 different instances of a song--like five angles from Chicago, and three from San Diego. You can then flip between them and start cutting. It takes a long time to set up, but once you have, it's a great way to cut.

Q: The audio was assembled on a Mac too, correct?

Reznor: Normally when you film or record a tour, on our level, you get maybe two nights to record. Invariably those are the nights that aren't very good. We took some of the budget we were saving from having massive multicamera shoots, put some into the audio, and recorded four or five different nights to digital multitrack. Got back to the studio afterwards, picked the best version of the songs, loaded everything into Pro Tools on a Mac, and mixed in surround, then remixed everything again in stereo.

Q: What was the experience of using DVD Studio Pro like?

Reznor: It had literally just come out, and it was timely because we had figured out digital-video editing, and we wanted to [figure out] what we could do the medium of DVD. What are the limitations? We had a very rudimentary knowledge of what you can do. DVD Studio Pro, we used with the intention of mocking up something. We knew we were taking it to an authoring place, and we could beta test it at home. This was a way for us to get a feel for things in very easy-to-deal-with terms. It puts a lot of power in something that doesn't have a thick manual.

Q: What are some of the extras you have on the DVD?

Sheridan: At one point during the set, there are these three giant video screens that come down behind the band and project these incredible videos that Bill Viola [did for us]. During that portion of the set on the DVD, it's cutting between wide and tight shots and shots of Trent singing. But because these screens were so amazing looking, we thought it would be great to be able to switch between an angle where you could just watch the screen and then back to the cut showing the band playing.

Reznor: There some extra things in there that we shouldn't get into too much because over time they'll be revealed. But there are a lot of little hacks into the OS of the DVD, menus that you think pop up differently than they did the last time, to try and make the whole experience immersive. It was fun to be able to see what you could do with the medium and actually do it.

Q: Didn't you record Pretty Hate Machine on a Mac?

Reznor: Yeah, I've had a Mac since the very first one. I was also using a Commodore 64 for MIDI. At the time of Pretty Hate Machine, I had a Mac Plus. I did all the sequencing of that record on that. With Broken, Studio Vision had come out. That was the first marriage of MIDI and digital audio, and that forever changed the way I was going to record. Now that it's gone from recording everything on tape with a few things on the computer to recording everything on the computer, it's really changed the roles of a lot of people in the studio. The programmer's job is much more the engineer now. All the engineers now have to know Pro Tools.

Q: After providing the music for Quake, are you scoring any more games?

Reznor: I've been discussing things with Id Software for Doom III. It's not formalized at this point, but it's something I really want to do. When I did Quake, we were still questioning if the audio was going to be streamed off of CD, which if it wasn't was incredibly limiting. But with as interactive as things are now, and as immersive as the engine they've been working on is graphically, and some of the program is so moody; it's like scoring a film. Yet it's much more intense than a film because it doesn't always go the same way, it has to be interactive. Plus the mood of the game is so dark and evil, it's interesting to me.

Q: What kind of rig do you have in your studio?

Reznor: I set this up several years ago to Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar. It's an SSL analog big console, and we've moved away from two 48-track analog tape to everything being recorded on hard disk. We have 72 tracks of in-and-out ProTools hardware. The main computer in there right now is an 867MHz G4 with 1GB of RAM and several fast SCSI cards. We still use SCSI drives. We have a few of them laying around to always have at least two 36GBs online at all times, and we have a big tape backup system that backs us up every night. We have a secondary Mac in the control room as well that we use for software synthesis and running through plug-ins in real time. I think the coolest thing that's happened in the last few years is with synthesizers going virtual. That's why we have another Mac that's just up to run things in real time, running Reason or Reactor, or a number of software samplers like Battery or Absynth. Reason is from Propellerhead--it's spectacular. There's a lot of gear just being reduced to a PowerBook.

Q: Do you have a Titanium PowerBook?

Reznor: I'm about to as soon as I can get Apple to give me one. In the meantime I've got a gasoline-powered 500MHz G3.

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