[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Stephen Taylor staylor7 at illinois.edu
Thu Aug 12 08:00:42 PDT 2010

Thanks to all for your fascinating ideas - much of the music you  
suggested I hadn't heard before, and there is a lot of literature I  
haven't read. The rock connection Alex Reed, Nick Reyland, Darryl  
White and others have pointed out makes a lot of sense.

I also like Dmitri's point #2 (in his first post).

> 	2) The G-F# alternation in the melody suggests Gb and B as altered  
> dominants of G, with Eb a deceptive resolution or tonic substitute.   
> As Charles Smith said, Bmaj->Gmin dominant is reasonably common in  
> twentieth-century tonal music. Gb->G is not quite as common, but can  
> be made to work as a dominant.

I'd say, especially since the Gb chord is in first inversion, the bass  
Bb makes it sound like a variant of the final B major chord. And the  
Eb chord works well as a deceptive resolution or tonic substitute -  
the preceding bass Bb makes a "V-I" illusion.
> 	3) It's also worth taking a step backward and asking what kind of  
> explanation we're looking for.  Perhaps this progression is supposed  
> to be "weird" -- that is, to juxtapose a bunch of chromatic chords  
> which don't belong to the same major scale.  From this point of  
> view, the expressive force comes from negation -- the way it thwarts  
> diatonic expectation -- rather than from some alternative positive  
> structure.
> 	This is a more general issue when thinking about music (like early  
> twentieth-century atonality) that thwarts established convention: to  
> what extent do we want to emphasize the rule breaking, and to what  
> extent to we want to emphasize the presence of alternative laws?

This is a fascinating question - it strikes me as two sides of the  
same coin. What outwardly seems to be negation, or rule-breaking,  
often has a hidden, higher order that it belongs to, like the  
Petrushka Cmaj/F#maj. I felt the same thrill of discovery when I  
realized that Petrushka fits into the octatonic scale, that I felt  
when I read Rick Cohn's analyses of Brahms and Mahler fitting into the  
hexatonic system.

Whether or not these are byproducts or motivating elements is a  
different question - it reminds me metaphorically of the particle/wave  
duality of light, it's not necessarily either/or. (Which might be a  
non-answer to Dmitri's question in his follow up post: "What can we  
say to bridge the gap between people whose intuitions differ from  
ours?") But I do recognize Dmitri's points in his follow-up message  
expressing skepticism on the hexatonic. The hexatonic scale is just a  
lot weirder than the octatonic - almost not a scale at all, with all  
of those augmented seconds.

Anyway - I poked around at a little more Hans Zimmer and Remote  
Control, and heard very similar rhythms, textures, and synth patches  
in The Dark Knight - but the Inception chord progression is still much  
cooler than his other harmonies!

Thanks again,
Stephen Taylor
Associate Professor of Composition-Theory
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
> 	4) Another interesting issue, which I've never been clear about: in  
> invoking the "hyper-hexatonic system," is one committing oneself to  
> the claim that these chords all have some sort of harmonic  
> affinity?  Or that the hexatonic scale plays some kind of motivating  
> force in the music?  Is the claim that it is harmonically natural to  
> use chords belonging to the same hyper-hexatonic system or that  
> these chords have the same musical function?
> 	My inclination is to say that the hexatonic typically appears as  
> the *byproduct* of efficient voice leading: what is really important  
> is the efficient voice leading between, say, B and Gmin, and this  
> efficient voice leading *just happens* to produce hexatonic  
> subsets.  (Just as, with dominant seventh chords, it just happens to  
> produce octatonic subsets.)  So the scales and the "hyper hexatonic  
> systems" are really byproducts, rather than syntactical or  
> motivating elements.
> 	On the other hand, I do think that the shared Bb is potentially a  
> motivating harmonic element in the passage.
> I guess I actually think we could have a long discussion about the  
> methodology of analyzing chromatic tonality -- there are some deep  
> issues here that haven't been discussed that much, and that come up  
> even with respect to a simple passage like this.
> DT
> Dmitri Tymoczko
> Associate Professor of Music
> 310 Woolworth Center
> Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
> (609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)
> http://music.princeton.edu/~dmitri
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