Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross Enter “Unfamiliar Waters” to Score ‘Patriots Day,’ Ken Burns’ Vietnam Doc

Atticus Ross (l) and Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross know they may not be the first names that come to mind when imagining composers for Patriots Day, director Peter Berg’s docudrama about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. But it was the chance to delve into something new that made the Oscar-winning composers of The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo say yes to the film, which opens wide Friday.

“We [consider] things that are interesting to us and might put us in unfamiliar waters. The idea of a Hollywood picture about current events with Pete, who is an experiential filmmaker, and was a different kind of film than we’d been involved in, was a challenge,” Reznor said during a recent Q&A with the pair after a screening presented by The Society of Composers & Lyricists.

The Nine Inch Nails bandmates wrote the atmospheric, largely electronic, often-droning score face-to-face. “We’re always in the same room when we’re composing,” Ross said. “If you were spying on us, it would look like I’m playing most of the stuff,” Reznor added, “but the arrangement is all [Atticus], and the combination works in a way where we can play off each other. [We] grind our way through one frame at a time.”

While bits of piano and strings are decipherable at times, for much of the score, the instruments were deliberately distorted through a device of their own creation. “We had a friend of ours build this machine that is two tape machines hooked to a computer, where it just endlessly locks something in and copies from one to…