[Smt-talk] Inception chord progression

Stephen Taylor staylor7 at illinois.edu
Sun Aug 15 20:07:19 PDT 2010

Timothy Sullivan is right of course that the Bb forms a common tone  
through all four chords. I left it out on purpose because I was  
transcribing the uptempo version (#3 - Dream is collapsing), in which  
the Bb is an ostinato in the violins above the low chords, which are  
all triads, at least for awhile. In the slower version (#4 - Radical  
Notion), I noted in my original post that the last chord is B maj7.

But since there's almost always a major 7th somewhere in the musical  
texture for the last chord, I probably should have included it. (I was  
transcribing from memory, I didn't know about the YouTube until I was  
done.) And it makes Howard Cinnamon's voice-leading graphs work even  

All these comments are fascinating - I'm particularly taken by Scott  
Murphy's idea of "recombinant progressions" to invoke the fantastic in  
Hollywood film music.


On Aug 14, 2010, at 14:44, TIMOTHY SULLIVAN wrote:

> There is one critical flaw in your transcription which no one in the  
> thread has yet pointed
> out: the final chord is not a C flat major triad, but a Cb major  
> seventh chord. The tonic-seventh
> dissonance is actually enhanced through orchestration in the horns.  
> This means that
> the B flat remains the common-tone througout the  
> "progression" (chord cycle). The stepwise
> voice-leading which expands and contracts around this Bb is strongly  
> referential to Glass's
> common-tone chord cycles. Historically, it recalls Mussorgsky,  
> Sibelius and possibly Rimsky-Korsakov,
> just to name a few.
> Dr. Timothy Sullivan
> Composer, Artist, Educator
> Although we aren't in control of circumstances,
> We are in control of our reactions to them.
> Timothy Sullivan
> Composer, Artist, Educator
> 416-557-2838
> Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2010 10:49:21 -0500
> From: smurphy at ku.edu
> To: staylor7 at illinois.edu; smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Inception chord progression
> I don’t know of any exact instances of this 4-chord progression in  
> toto within art music or film music repertoires (assuming  
> transpositional and permutational equivalences (i.e. disposition of  
> notes within each chord)).  But it breaks down into contiguous chord  
> pairings that are more or less commonplace or at least well  
> precedented (assuming the same equivalences) when Hollywood wants to  
> invoke the fantastic sonically. In my experience with listening to  
> popular film music, it seems that many composers fashion new kinds  
> of such fantastic harmonic progressions through the use of what  
> might be called “recombinant progressions.” One could certainly hear  
> or propose an underlying logic for the whole (voice leading,  
> collectional, etc.), but I think it’s worth keeping in mind with  
> these progression-strings that the composer may be striving,  
> certainly among other things, for novelty within the constraints of  
> stitching together such triadic pairings that are well-worn yet  
> still immediately significant and surprisingly resilient.
> -Scott
> -- 
> Scott Murphy
> Associate Professor of Music Theory
> University of Kansas School of Music
> smurphy at ku.edu
> on 8/10/10 4:30 PM, Stephen Taylor at staylor7 at illinois.edu 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
> ...
> Steve
> _________________________________
> 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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