My goal here is to break down, song by song, Radiohead’s Kid A (2000) when “synched” with The Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix (1999). To begin, I inserted the DVD into the player, pressed play, and turned the volume down to zero. Then I set up my iPhone with the album on a separate speaker and pressed play just before the Warner Brothers logo appeared.
The pairing of Thom Yorke’s voice with the aesthetic of The Matrix produce an inescapable hollow feeling. The music of the album is responding to and informing the feel of the film; it is an intuitive relationship.
Trinity is giving a slow motion kick to the chest of a police officer, which aligns with a slowing in the song Everything in Its Right Place to give the illusion of ultra-slow motion. Movement continues with Kid A as Trinity runs from the agents and they begin to shoot at her. Soft electronic beats match up with gunshots so that the stark vision of a shot is muffled by the soft electronic beat of the song.
Agent Smith speaking on-screen is heard through Thom’s distorted lyrics. The juxtaposition of Smith overlaid with Thom’s distorted voice makes him look monstrous. An interesting facet of Smith’s character is that he doesn’t exist in the real world, he only truly exists as part of a sentinel program within the Matrix, and yet his character development is real.
The music stops as Neo wakes up and sees Trinity’s message on his computer screen. Then he follows the white rabbit to the freaky underground club, and the song expresses the movement of the action. The National Anthem starts with a heavy baseline as Neo’s journey into the unknown begins. He meets Trinity in the club as a cacophony of trumpets begins to play and Thom says, “Everyone around here is so near.”
Neo is at his office job the next day when Morpheus calls him, and the song How to Disappear Completely begins to play; it is a soft and calming guitar strum. Neo begins to panic as the agents descend upon him while Thom croons sweetly, “I’m not here; this isn’t happening.” Neo is in the Matrix, and the Matrix isn’t real. But he refuses to leave the building by going out on the window ledge and he is captured by the agents.
In the interrogation room they close in on him once more, and his mouth disappears before they put a grotesque-looking tracker in his belly button.
He wakes up in his bed thinking that maybe it was all just a crazy dream, until he gets a phone call from Trinity to meet up. Treefingers chimes its way into my ears and it is like the music they play at spas. On-screen is a downpour of rain on a lonely city street as Neo gets into a car. Optimistic begins as Neo makes the decision to stay in the car after having a gun pointed at him. Then they suck out the thing that was in his bellybutton and he reveals that he didn’t think it was real.
The song builds in percussion as they ascend the stairs to meet Morpheus for the first time. Thom sings,” I’d really, really like to help you man.” as Morpheus lifts the veil from Neo’s eyes. “Trap doors that open, I spiral down.” Neo takes the red pill.
“You’re living in a fantasy world.” Neo is about to wake up from the Matrix. He looks over to the fractured mirror to see his reflection and he becomes consumed by it.
The song builds to crescendo and distortion takes over. Neo wakes up in the machine fields and is flushed down the drain to die.
The song Idioteque begins and Thom sings, “This is really happening.” Neo is rescued and brought back to life by Morpheus and his crew. Morning Bell begins after Morpheus tells Neo that his muscles have atrophied and that he’s never used his eyes before. Neo finally wakes up in the real world. Morpheus immediately plugs Neo into a program, which involves sticking a long metal rod into the back of his head.
Motion Picture Soundtrack begins as Morpheus tells Neo the story of how the Earth became controlled by machines and is now a nuclear wasteland on the surface where fields of humans are harvested as an energy source. They liquefy humans to feed new humans in a never-ending cycle of death, all the while keeping their brains locked into a computer program which has them believing that they live in the real world.
Neo says it isn’t real, to which Morpheus replies, “What is real? How do you define real?” Thom’s beautiful voice and the plucking of harp strings contrast sharply with the vision of Neo freaking out and throwing up because he can’t believe what Morpheus told him.
I had watched the rest of the movie with the album on repeat, however this would have been a much longer post, so I’ve only included information from up to the end of the first listen of Kid A.
Although the album was the non-diegetic score of the movie, I felt that they informed each other as if they were both conscious entities. In my mind’s eye, Radiohead saw The Matrix when it came out in 1999 and were inspired by Neo to come up with Kid A, which was released a year later. The album is filled with electronic sounds that were digitally produced; just as the movie had a digitally produced world. When the two entities are overlaid with each other they both reveal their true nature. The marriage of The Matrix and Kid A is a holy union which we should all experience at least once in our lives.
Radiohead. Kid A. EMI Records, 2007. CD.
Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. The Matrix. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999. DVD.
By Kayla Peters