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Industrial Revolutions

When the synth dust settles, Nine Inch Nails is the band left standing

The Fragile is a piece of music that is simultaneously grandiose and immediate, abstract yet tactile. Human emotions are exposed and examined, and, in the end, a journey of some sort is completed. Get on wherever you want, ride however long you want. The effect is never diminished. Like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Fragile is not in any literal sense a concept album, yet it is communicating something large. "We all listen to Pink Floyd every week," Clouser says. "And we all listen to The Wall virtually daily. Because that's an extremely rare moment in music where the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. If you break it down, it's just Roger Waters with a damn acoustic guitar and some of Dave Gilmour thrown in there. But it just transcends to some other level. And you're not quite sure why."

Programming, Clouser's forte, has as much to do with math and painting as it does with music: math, in that everything must be plotted precisely; painting, in that layers must be added one by one until a greater whole is accomplished. The ultimate goal, however, is making the machine sound natural. "There is also a conscious effort to try and make things so that they can't be reverse-engineered," says Clouser. "So that you can't figure out how the hell they did that. And it's not just to confound and confuse the listener, but rather to satisfy ourselves."

Clouser has been at this for so long -- he got his first synthesizer in 1978 -- that the challenge is now "creating a sound today that I've never heard before." "Or," he adds, "better yet, that nobody's ever heard before." And unlike any traditional air-vibrating instrument, you're not going to create that noise by accident. You've got to go in there and find it. "The focus in Nine Inch Nails is on some abstract whole, not on 'What do you mean there's no bass in this song?' Picture having a Rob Zombie song with no bass. It's not gonna happen. But in Nine Inch Nails, sometimes there're no drums. Sometimes there's no bass. Sometimes there're no vocals. The playing field is wide open."

The mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor has managed to run his band as tightly as a ship yet retain a devoted corps of outstanding musicians.
The mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor has managed to run his band as tightly as a ship yet retain a devoted corps of outstanding musicians.

Nine Inch Nails performs Monday, May 22, at Compaq Center. For more information, call (713)629-3700.

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