[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Stephen Taylor staylor7 at illinois.edu
Tue Aug 10 14:30:24 PDT 2010

I've seen Inception twice and there's a chord progression I just can't  
get out of my head - the entire score is by far the best I've heard  
from Hans Zimmer & co. (and the slowed-down Edith Piaf is excellent).  
The progression's clearest instance is the scene in Paris where the  
streets and buildings start folding over themselves.

G min  Gb Maj/Bb   Eb Maj	  B Maj

The soundtrack on YouTube - folding streets
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1PvjIiM5qk&feature=related   (3:44 -  
in this example the last chord is B Maj7)

- or -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_QEBeTa37M&feature=related  (2:25,  

Here it is with the voice-leading - I really like the alternating half- 
steps in the top voice, which divide the progression in two; the  
progression also wraps around itself, so it can repeat ad infinitum.

The four chords very nearly fit into the "Western" hexatonic system  
from Rick Cohn's 1996 article in Music Analysis, except for the Gb  
major chord (which belongs to the Southern system). The Gb major is  
the kicker, it seems, partly because it's farther away from the Eb  
major in terms of voice-leading. And the Db in this chord is the only  
non-hexatonic note.

Does anyone know of any other instances of this particular  
progression, or ones like it? Are there other ways to look at it  
besides hexatonic (cubic lattices, etc.)? It feels "modern" to me,  
like I wouldn't hear this in Wolf or Strauss - but I wouldn't hear it  
in Shostakovich, Phil Glass or John Adams either. Very intriguing!

Stephen Taylor
Associate Professor of Composition-Theory
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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