Ultimate Guitar

December 1999

Solidifying The Fragile

Trent Reznor's Nothing Studios looks more like a NASA control room than a rock 'n' roll haven. The place is filled with computer and digital tape recording equipment, mammoth mixing boards, high-tech effects racks, dozens of low-tech effects pedals. And that doesn't even include the three other adjacent studios all linked to the mainframe. Each "mini-studio" is manned by Reznor's four-man production team: programmers Charlie Clouser and Keith Hillebrandt, coproducer/ engineer Alan Moulder, and guitarist/programmer Danny Lohner.

"Through our network," says Clouser, "I'll be making use of our little mini-studios --maybe experimenting with some droney sounds for an intro, creating rhythm tracks, drum programs, bass lines. This is the one situation I've ever been involved in where you don't know what the end result is gonna be. If you're doing a remix for a band with heavy guitars that wants bad-ass beats, you can predict what they're gonna want. I can just go, ‘How can I make that sound rugged and tough and cool?' There's a million tricks in studio wizardry and I'm super-good at what I do in that, but it still isn't the same with Trent. "his is like a whole different category of art."

Lohner's role requires a little less independence. "Mostly here I just work under Trent's direction -- taking song parts, tweaking them, then sending them downstairs. How this differs from other projects I've been involved in is just the grandeur of the concepts behind it. It's not like, "Dude, turn the amp on and let's go!" It's like trying to wrap your brain around where Trent's head is at, and he never ceases to amaze, like, ‘What -- you turned it into that!!!?'

Moulder's job in the nothing studio is to mostly act as a sounding board for the other members and to guide the various tones and textures. "I'm mainly doing engineering -- recording things and mixing," he says."I question what we're doing, and encourage what we're doing as well. [I'm also there to help see] whether Trent's making the right move or the wrong one -- it's usually the right one. Keith [Hillebrandt] and I will be doing rhythms or something and Trent will lay on loads of ideas, then leave us alone to chop it together or put in some arrangement. Then he'll come back and listen to it fresh and make comments."

"We filter out a lot of the things that aren't necessary for the particular track," adds Hillebrandt "On a guitar track, for instance, Trent'll go around maybe 10 to 15 times before actually getting the part that he wants -- and he doesn't wanna have to listen through all the attempts. So we find the part that we like as far as character goes, then build it out. All the studios are networked together, so we can easily get things from, say, Danny's studio upstairs. Danny could play a guitar part and we can pick that up from his computer off the network and load it downstairs, then place it right in the song. It's a complex process, but it's quick."

by John Pecorellis

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Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails
This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.