He's Wired Up
Rock musican embraces technology in the studio and at home.
la times - jan. 31, 2002

Trent Reznor's original career plan was to build computers. Instead, he decided to use them--with guitars and drums--to build some of the most intense, searing music in the modern rock era.

The relentless gloom of Reznor's Nine Inch Nails wore down some critics over the years, despite his sonic inventiveness and the melodic hooks within his astringent industrial soundscapes. But he won plaudits for his 2000 U.S. tour, dubbed "Fragility v2.0," which mixed pounding hits from Nine Inch Nail's first two full-length CDs with moody but gentler work from its last studio album, "The Fragile."

This month, Nothing Records released a live video (in DVD and VHS) and CD from the tour, both produced by Reznor. The video was directed by Rob Sheridan, the band's Web master and designer, and shot by its crew using digital video cameras. The audio and video were edited entirely on Apple computers, reflecting Reznor's devotion to the brand. He has nearly 20 of them at work and at home, many of them effectively converted into synthesizers.

The 36-year-old Reznor lives in the Garden District of New Orleans, a few blocks from his studio.

DESKTOP: I've got [an Apple] G4 tower. It's about 6 months old. And I have a mini sort of writing rig [an Apple G4 with a DVD burner]. But I try to keep my house life separate.... Otherwise, I leave work to go home to do work, in a different room but with the same screen, same software.

Q: What do you have hooked up to the computer you use for songwriting at home?

A: I tried to creatively limit my options. There's one keyboard I use to play, and all the sounds are software-based. And sometimes interesting ideas come from only having that many tools to achieve them.

Q: Why did you start using computers?

A: The main purpose of having computers around was to record into, as a compositional tool.

In '93, '94, when I was working on "The Downward Spiral" out in L.A. ... that was when we first started getting sucked into the world of finding out what people were writing about our band [online]. But I still was not an e-mail person until some point after that.

I've got a little bit of that addictive behavior. I wonder if anybody e-mailed me in the last eight minutes.

Q: Are you the sort of person who'd rather have a conversation by e-mail than by phone?

A: [With e-mail] I can say what I want to say, in the terms that I want to say it. Having our Web site, a means to communicate with our public that usually doesn't have to go through other people editing, approving, publishing, is pretty interesting.

LAPTOP: I had a G3 powerbook for the longest time. I just got for Christmas a new [Titanium] G4 Powerbook with a CD burner.

Q: Have you gotten envious looks when you break out the Powerbook on an airplane?

A: There were some Luddites with some kind of PC-based, primitive [operating system], I think it's called Windows, who couldn't figure out how I got a TV on the plane.

HAND-HELD: I end up buying a bunch of [garbage]. I think the last one I bought was a color Palm. I don't think I've ever used it. I always have my laptop with me, and I always have my cell phone.

I wish I could use a PDA. I wish I was organized enough to be able to have an organizer.

CELL PHONE: I've just got a Motorola.... I had to have, of course, wireless network ability, e-mail, a browser.

Q: Have you ever browsed the Web through your phone?

A: I think I did that one time, when I got to a movie too early. [He used it to check the weather, and was not impressed.]

You get flooded with information.

BOOKMARKS: I was just working with [music producer] Dave Ogilvy. We'll exchange links that we have. I find myself needing to check ridiculous sites--Consumption Junction.

A computer's a good way to mirror what obsessive behavior you have in your own life. One of my needs is to have the newest, latest, un-beta-tested piece of gear.... VersionTracker.com.

STEREO: I just have a pair of silly, gimmicky clear speakers, two thin tubes. A Harman Kardon subwoofer that's clear and gimmicky-looking.

HOME THEATER: I have a house in the Garden District of New Orleans. It pretty much dictates what your decor is going to be like because your house is an 1865 Greek Revival, a big house....

I have a great, big long front parlor where ladies would sit down and have tea. I soundproofed that room, because I have a neighbor fairly close to me. I have a projection screen that comes out of the ceiling. If I want to watch a movie at thunderous volume, I can do that without the cops coming.

Q: Where do you watch TV?

A: Upstairs in another room ... with an HDTV set.

Q: What kind?

A: An RCA, the biggest tube one they have, in the wide-screen format. It looked the best in the store, as far as the screen.... But it has just a terrible first-generation [operating system].

FAVORITE TECH TOY: I've got a whole studio full of them. Currently, it would be the iPod. I've never been good at walking around with headphones on. [But] after I got that iPod and loaded up so much on it ... it's an interesting new thing to have a soundtrack playing along while I do things.

HOW TECHNOLOGY HAS CHANGED YOUR LIFE: I've never feared computers. It's more like, I've embraced them as a tool. I've mainly had to think of that on the musical level. Is it cheating, is it hindering, is it improving songwriting? To me it's a scratchpad, it's an editor sometimes.

I often feel I'd be lost without it. It's my tape deck, it's my phone book, it's my dictionary, it's my thesaurus.

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As told to Jon Healey