[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Arnie Cox arnie.cox at oberlin.edu
Sun Aug 15 06:51:55 PDT 2010

Thanks for the example and the transcription.  I'm not sure how  
salient this is, and I didn't happen to notice it in anyone else's  
comments, but the root progression of G-Gb-Eb-Cb is familiar as a  
melodic element in zero-gravity film scenes.  Precedents with a  
related "strange" aesthetic include the B section of Rachmaninov's F- 
minor Etude, the ostinato for Ravel's "Ondine", and the cadenza just  
before the imitative passage in Chopin's 4th Ballade (m. 134).

I like Charles Smith's tantalizing remark, "Quite a nice bit of  
musical accompaniment for a film about tangible familiar objects  
melting before your eyes...", and I wonder if we could theorize how  
this passage contributes to this cinematic experience.  In addition  
to any cultural associations, we might say that the top voice grabs  
part of our subjectivity, as something to identify with, while the  
context "around" us (or literally around us in the theater) changes  
in an abnormal and disorienting way.  But the same pitches on a  
harpsichord wouldn't have quite the same effect, which I find is  
something like being overwhelmed and terrified, so we'd have to  
consider the timbre and strength of the sound (the sound of something  
powerful enough to make this sound), including, especially for the  
slow cue, the tempo (something so large that it moves slowly), the  
crescendo/decrescendo (the looming and fading of this entity), and  
the luftpausen at the peak of looming (heightening expectation of  
something desired and dreaded?).  And then from a different angle  
there would be the part of one's subjectivity that identifies with  
the overwhelming entity (or whatever we might want to call it).  Plus  
other fundamental considerations?

Arnie Cox
Assoc. Prof. of Music Theory
Oberlin Conservatory of Music

On Aug 10, 2010, at 5:30 PM, Stephen Taylor wrote:

> 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,  
> uptempo)

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