La Mer
Oscar Wilde

A white mist drifts across the shrouds,
A wild moon in this wintry sky
Gleams like an angry lion's eye
Out of a mane of tawny clouds.

The muffled steersman at the wheel
Is but a shadow in the gloom; -
And in the throbbing engine-room
Leap the long rods of polished steel.

The shattered storm has left its trace
Upon this huge and heaving dome,
For the thin threads of yellow foam
Float on the waves like ravelled lace.

When most people think of Nine Inch Nails, they think of hard-edged industrial music, they think of violence and hate, they think of the phrase "I wanna fuck you like an animal". Well, there's a softer side to Trent Reznor, my friends. Reznor, a piano prodigy at a young age, has composed some amazing piano pieces. One of them is the song La Mer.

La Mer was the result of a test suggested to Reznor by famed producer Rick Rubin. Reznor was having writer's block working on his latest album, and Rubin suggested he take a hiatus from the rigors of studio work. Reznor took a tape recorder, a piano, and some musical ideas with himself to Big Sur, California. He hoped to be inspired by the lush scenery of a forested, mountainous, oceanside environment. The ocean particularly moved him, inspiring him to pen La Mer, which translates to "The Sea."

Reznor stated that he wrote La Mer as a nod to composer Claude Debussy. Reznor had a lot of respect for Debussy, and the famous composer, whose most well known piece is the piano solo Claire de Lune, influenced his piano work. The tribute to Debussy not only evident in the music, but the name itself, La Mer, is borrowed from one of Debussy's works.

The song begins with a simple four hit pattern on the piano. Providing a background is an eight note acoustic bassline, each note played as the four hit pattern cycles through. As the duet performs, the song gives you a very mellow and relaxing feel.

After one cycle of the acoustic bass, a high octave harpsichord-sounding instrument kicks in, playing to its own beat as the base of the song continues. The harpsichord continues on through the two of the few lines of lyrics of in the song. The lyrics, going along with the name, are sung in French by a woman, Denise Milfort.

As soon as the lyrics are complete, the excitement begins. A booming drumbeat, kick and snare, interrupts the ambient feel of the song, soon followed by a louder bass guitar playing a separate riff than the first. The piano seems to get loss in the mix, but a closer listen reveals the different patterns playing together in perfect harmony.

After these sounds perform together for a little while, a droning analog synth pad kicks in, almost overpowering the rest of the instruments. It's hard to explain, other than being a drone sound. Later a stronger drone comes in, followed by yet another. This builds to a triumphant climax and the sounds slowly fade away.

What are we left with is the same piano loop, taken an octave higher and the strings deadened, with the eight note guitar riff. Also, a very faint, strange type of drum plays. The song slowly fades away into oblivion.

I think this is a very emotional song, for me anyways. As the drones build and we approach climax, I feel butterflies in my stomach and the weight of my responsibilities lifted off my back. The song is happiness in a can to me, and it ends perfectly gently with the words spoken in French, "nothing can stop me now... nothing can stop me now".

This truly is an incredible song, and has opened my mind to accept other forms of classical music. It melds the old and the new, and the translation is perfect.


This is a report I did on the song La Mer for my community college Music Appreciation class. I don't know how accurate it is, because it's all based on my fuzzy memories of magazine articles I read over a year ago. Oh well, I think it's relatively accurate, about 60%..... give or take. And I got an A- on it! Foolish teacher.

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