[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Nick Reyland n.w.reyland at mus.keele.ac.uk
Wed Aug 11 01:11:24 PDT 2010

Dear Stephen, and all
The score is impressive: Zimmer and team up their game considerably when
working with Christopher Nolan (as he has done in the past when working,
say, with Terence Malick).  And I found that progression haunting my
thoughts too (I'm tempted to say "haunting my dreams"...).
That's partly, however, because of its similarity to the cue at the
metaphysical heart of Thomas Newman's score for _The Shawshank Redemption_.
When I was driving home from watching _Inception_, wondering if the street
might wrap up around me, I was also wondering whether Newman's lawyers would
be getting in touch with Zimmer's sometime soon.  Listen, for instance, to
I suspect there may also be similarities to other tracks from the Remote
Control empire, but I'd need to check on that (an excellent former student
of mine, Adam Dutch, wrote a Zimmer Masters thesis when he studied at Keele,
and I need to ask him for a read on this progression and the score).
Similarities aside, thanks, Stephen, for putting the _Inception_ progression
in a productive theoretical context.  Progressions like those in _Inception_
are also important in Newman's music, which has long interested me.  There's
a rock heritage to these sounds (both composers have a varied musical
background) alongside a recent art music influence (I wonder if some of
these chordal mixtures feel so strange if played on a guitar, say, or by a
rock keyboardist).  In Newman's case at least, there's also the requirement
(in some movies) to suggest, through folk-ish modal tinges and false
relations, an Irish-American accent (read "authenticity").  Anyway, I'm
going to muse on the Cohn and how it might help one analyse the structure
and meanings of these sounds more precisely.
Nick Reyland
Dr Nicholas Reyland
Music : Film Studies : Media, Culture and Communications
Keele University
n.w.reyland at keele.ac.uk


From: smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org
[mailto:smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Stephen Taylor
Sent: 10 August 2010 22:30
To: smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

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
&feature=related   (3:44 - in this example the last chord is B Maj7) 

- or -

&feature=related  (2:25, uptempo)

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
http://www.stephenandrewtaylor.net <http://www.stephenandrewtaylor.net/> 

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