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Johnny's Mystery Chords


Sharkissimo
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Great thread, Sharky! I agree with every single word you wrote. As usual you're spot on.

Now onto chord #2...

Right at the start.

7zxrgFh.png

It's actually two constructions that are layered together. The overall sound mass seems to have a dominant function for the Pre-Crime Motif that follows (in D Phygrian).

That's all I'm saying for now. Will try not to answer my own question this time round.

Edit: Just listening to the recording again. It sounds like Williams transposed the Ab-C#-D of the three oboes down an octave, so it now forms a conjunct chromatic cluster with the muted horns' E-C-Eb.

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How about the gnarly passage when the Emperor comes to Anakin on Mustafar? You've got a few weird chords there.

Synth, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, and contrabassoon on planing quartal structures (E-A-D, F-Bb-Eb, Ab-Db-Gb, G-C-F, F#-B-E) and then a pattern breaking (C-A-D).

Now on the third and fourth of those, you have three trombones superimposed playing second-inversion F#minor and Fminor chords, which aren't too funky when paired with the quartal stuff below - only resulting in some minor triads with added ninths in the bass - but the trombone chords hang on by an eighth note while the woodwinds and synths move so you have momentary clashes. First (G-C-C#-F-F#-A) and then (F#-B-C-E-F-G#). You can interpret those a few ways, I guess.

Then over the last two synth/woodwind chords, divisi celli and basses enter playing (B-C#-G) and (A-B-D-F), resulting in a summed harmony of (F#-B-C#-E-G) and (C-A-B-D-F). That first one is even weirded if you include the trombones.

And then over all this you've got unmetered stuff for chimes which are almost genuine twelve-tone rows.

Really neat stuff - although in the actual recording I'm not sure that synth doubling was kept, and the trombones don't seem to hang on for those two eighth notes.

What do you make of the opening chords of Heartwood btw?

One of those instances of muddy orchestration that keeps me from being sure about inner voices. There's a pedal D obviously, and the first two chords seem to be FMaj7 and Aadd#5. Beyond that I can't be confident about some of the added tones in there. Really need that score.

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How about the gnarly passage when the Emperor comes to Anakin on Mustafar? You've got a few weird chords there.

Synth, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, and contrabassoon on planing quartal structures (E-A-D, F-Bb-Eb, Ab-Db-Gb, G-C-F, F#-B-E) and then a pattern breaking (C-A-D).

Now on the third and fourth of those, you have three trombones superimposed playing second-inversion F#minor and Fminor chords, which aren't too funky when paired with the quartal stuff below - only resulting in some minor triads with added ninths in the bass - but the trombone chords hang on by an eighth note while the woodwinds and synths move so you have momentary clashes. First (G-C-C#-F-F#-A) and then (F#-B-C-E-F-G#). You can interpret those a few ways, I guess.

Then over the last two synth/woodwind chords, divisi celli and basses enter playing (B-C#-G) and (A-B-D-F), resulting in a summed harmony of (F#-B-C#-E-G) and (C-A-B-D-F). That first one is even weirded if you include the trombones.

That's a great moment, with the quartal triads combining with the minor 6th chords to become minor 6/9s. Very Alex North.

I also like the trippy planing augmented polychords for when the Emperor's shuttle lands, i.e. GM7+/F+. Nasty secundal clash between the F# and G in the upper chord and the F in the lower.

Similar to the WTF bit when Yoda's cape falls in the senate--a sustained BbM7+ (a pedal chord?) in the low strings and winds, plus an F in octaves from the brass, over which the high strings, keys and winds plane with descending M7+s, followed by Fm/A+ to Em/A+. The later features William's favoured (0145) set.

For some other really eerie chords have a look at the first two measures of 3M1 Council Meeting. Essentially a verticalisation of the Vader Tarnhelm (i-bvi) progression.

And then over all this you've got unmetered stuff for chimes which are almost genuine twelve-tone rows.

What's interesting about these aleatoric sequences is that with Williams, they tend to start off within some kind of tonal space, then veer off into chromaticism. For example the chimes start off with a collection corresponding to G double harmonic minor, then an augmented scale and so on.

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How about the first two chords of this track:

It starts around 0:20 because there is a pedal E before the chords.


How about the first two chords of this track:

It starts around 0:20 because there is a pedal E before the chords.

Great question, karelm!

The first one seems to be oscillating between a piercing B and B flat and A with a E pedal. The second is Gb, A, A flat, and D with the pedal. Pretty cool and ominous tension I think. Do you hear these as clusters or polytones? This one sort of reminds me of Close Encounters Penderecki music like a dialed down and less traumatic version of this classic:

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How about the first two chords of this track:

It starts around 0:20 because there is a pedal E before the chords.

How about the first two chords of this track:

It starts around 0:20 because there is a pedal E before the chords.

Great question, karelm!

The first one seems to be oscillating between a piercing B and B flat and A with a E pedal. The second is Gb, A, A flat, and D with the pedal. Pretty cool and ominous tension I think. Do you hear these as clusters or polytones?

Going by the sketches, there's a Bb5 played by two trumpets (1 metal mute, 2 fibre mute) doubled by divisi violins. One half sustains the Bb while the other plays an aleatoric Bb-A-A-Bb-Cb-Bb oscillating pattern. Then the violas, flute (marked 'dead tone') and third trumpet (muted) play an A4 - with the violas creating a 1/4 tone vibrato. Following this 2 stopped horns and 1 muted horn (or 1 stopped and 1 muted, it's hard to read) and clarinet enter on a G#3. Meanwhile, cellos are on C2 and D2, and contrabasses on F1 and G1.

Very unsettling sound. I'd call it an open or multi-level cluster.

There's another really characteristic creepy JW chord (or rather pitch set) in that cue. At 0:57 we have Ab3, C#4, A4, C5 and D5. It's got an open chromatic cluster (C#4, C5, D5) plus a (0145) tetrachord. So the the component sets are (012), (015), (016), (0145) and (0156), with the overall superset being (01256) or Forte set-class 5-6. 5-6 is a common occurrence with WIlliams, because it naturally occurs in his much used double harmonic minor scale. i.e. in C minor (F#-G-Ab-B-C).

Anton Webern was a fan of it too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SH4s0jb76JQ

While that 5-6 is being sustained, tremolo first violins play a series of 16th notes outlining three of the subsets - (014), (0156) and (0145). So, C5, C#4, C4, A3, to Bb4, A4, Eb4, D4, and in the next bar after an 8th rest: Db5, C5, to Eb4, D4, F#4 to G3.

Johnny is one clever geezer.

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What's interesting about these aleatoric sequences is that with Williams, they tend to start off within some kind of tonal space, then veer off into chromaticism. For example the chimes start off with a collection corresponding to G double harmonic minor, then an augmented scale and so on.

Yeah that is interesting. Maybe a comprehensive look at his aleatoric moments is worthwhile.

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Great thread, Sharky! I agree with every single word you wrote. As usual you're spot on.

I want to add a few points about the chord in your first post from EOTS.

First, the chord is placed a good two octaves above the bass note, allowing the F to reign supreme as an unchallenged tonic.

Second, I agree that this is a mixed polychord as you say, and I would further note that the lower of the two chords is the tonal one: together with the bass, creating the FmM7 you point out.

Third, none of the notes in the top chord (from B up) duplicate the notes of the F minor triad. This allows the grittiness of the chord to remain at a distance from its tonal underpinning of the Fm chord.

These three points give a clear example of what I have before called the "tonalization" of atonal techniques in Williams. In a sense, it rationalizes the irrationality of atonality and makes it more accessible, especially when paired with terrifying moments in film like this one is.

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Good points Ludwig. It is also interesting how JW allows space for the separate harmonies to be heard in his polychord. Herrmannesque. Basically, we hear tonal centers though clusters with pedals. It would be very cool to be a fly on the wall to hear how he arrives at these.

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Do you think he plays these kind of chords at the piano, or does he construct them in his head? There's clearly something systematic going on here. It can't totally be a case of 'I'll hit a few keys and see how it sounds!'

dogsplayingpiano.jpg

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Do you think he plays these kind of chords at the piano, or does he construct them in his head?

Good question, megalodon. I think they are one and the same for him. Sort of like how Yo-yo ma's cello is a physical extension of him. You know that the brain of a highly proficient musician is extremely well wired between motor activity, memory, ideas, feelings, etc. Did you ever see the Ted talk where they put pro musicians under MRI to read how the brain works when thinking music?

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Favorite harmonic moment in all Williams' music at 2:44

3942525236_303e70ce13.jpg

LOL. Also like the bit of Shosty's 7th at 3:05.

Offtopic, but has anyone edited the first half of that cue back in the mothersip scene on Youtube?

Did you ever see the Ted talk where they put pro musicians under MRI to read how the brain works when thinking music?

This one?

http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_your_brain_on_improv?language=en

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Favorite harmonic moment in all Williams' music at 2:44

3942525236_303e70ce13.jpg

One can't deny the Legiti influence. But I think CEOTTK is basically debussy + pendericki+legiti+williams+disney=masterpiece. I think it is such an inventive score and truly stands on its own. I believe it was scored same year as Star Wars but was polar opposite, no? Another example of JW saving Spielberg.

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Do you think he plays these kind of chords at the piano, or does he construct them in his head? There's clearly something systematic going on here. It can't totally be a case of 'I'll hit a few keys and see how it sounds!'

dogsplayingpiano.jpg

Remember the poster who waved off the need for musical invention by telling you to hit some notes, write it down as a cluster, and call it a day?

I imagine he works through it at the piano, to this day. Some of his more favored structures he probably is familiar with enough to know what to expect. Other times, I believe he's following where each layer leads him and letting the overall result be whatever it ends up being. In the way that North talked about writing countrapuntally and not necessarily worrying about the resultant harmony, I think Williams (and many others of course, including myself) write in the same way, but sometimes treating entire harmonic sections as independent linear structures, and pitting them against each other, without truly knowing what it'll end up sounding like. That's how you get to new sonorities.

But who knows. This whole process is so individual and idiosyncratic, even if he gave us a full description of his thought process, it wouldn't really tell us much at all. It's such an internal thing, tough to talk about. That's why you can get screwed if you can't find the way yourself, or get stuck with a poor teacher.

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I think you're onto something thee. I remember when Williams was describing in an interview how difficult it can be coming up with simple, memorable themes, while layering or obfuscating is relatively easy. Or that incredibly lucid NIXON video interview where he describes the nature of the score.

Was he high?

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Of course, there is always a sense of line and contrapuntal processes in Williams' writing, but remember he came into composition through being a pianist, and not just any kind of pianist, but a jazz pianist. The many pianists I have known have always had greater interest in harmony than counterpoint. Playing chords is just what pianists do, and jazz pianists in particular are expected to be fluent in a very large vocabulary of chords. I really can't help but think Williams writes with a chords-first mentality and voice-leading second. I think that's why we can have a thread like this, where we pick apart fairly clear chordal constructions. You'll notice, too, that the voice-leading in a lot of his chords do unusual things, even when it's in a very tonal style. Look at what happens in the main theme to Schindler's List. The inner voices are sometimes quite unorthodox. The overall sound, though, does not suffer since the melody and bass are completely normative, so smooth out all the inner-voice wrinkles.

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Did you ever see the Ted talk where they put pro musicians under MRI to read how the brain works when thinking music?

This one?

http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_your_brain_on_improv?language=en

Yes, that and this one too by the same doctor: http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_building_the_musical_muscle

There was a very interesting thing he mentioned about someone who was born deaf but through ocular implants they restored her hearing as an adult, she could not hear harmony. The brain was unable to translate the multiple frequencies at the same time because that needed to happen within a developmental window of time. Someone else who was not born deaf but lost and then regained hearing through the implant was not able to understand harmonies. Basically, the brain could understand language but not beauty in sound. He even demonstrated a mockup of Rachmaninoff prelude where each pitch could be off by as much as two octaves so even something consonant would not be listenable to those with these implants were hearing it. It was very interesting and cutting edge science on what is going on with music in the head when it is getting heard or played.

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I don't hear anything i'd label 'unorthodox' in SL. Not at all...

Yes, I know. It ends up not sounding strange because inner parts generally have the function of filling out the harmony. Even so, in traditional classical writing, inner voices still have an integrity and follow the rules of voice leading. That's what's a bit unorthodox about it. Not the whole, but its parts.

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I don't hear anything i'd label 'unorthodox' in SL. Not at all...

Yes, I know. It ends up not sounding strange because inner parts generally have the function of filling out the harmony. Even so, in traditional classical writing, inner voices still have an integrity and follow the rules of voice leading. That's what's a bit unorthodox about it. Not the whole, but its parts.

So where in particular in 'Theme from SL' can one hear it?

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It mainly has to do with a lack of leading-tone resolutions.

@1:53-2:01, the violas and accompanying violins have a suspension D that falls normally to the leading tone, C#, but this C# doesn't resolve to the tonic D as expected. The violins leap up to the E to produce a jazzy 9th chord, and the violas leap even further to F, giving the 3rd of the chord.

@2:07-2:13, the accompanying violins again have a suspension D-C#, but the C# this time leaps up to F, doubling the solo violin line (you can hear it ringing a split second after the solo strikes the note). This F is part of the chord but it hasn't gotten there through a smooth line. In the score, this 7th doesn't resolve smoothly either - it just leaps up to D (!) - but I have trouble hearing that one.

@2:15-2:18, the accompanying violins once more have a C# that sounds as though it should go to D, but it again leads to the E to give the same 9th chord as before.

This kind of thing is common in jazz because dissonance is incorporated into chords, so it's more about the color of the chord rather than resolving tones in a traditional way, which is why I cite his jazz training as a big influence for it.

Maybe I make too much of it, but that's what I was getting at, anyway.

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One of things that one realizes in traversing the mystery chords is how well JW utilized longer forms. Structure is very important to me and I love how he transforms mystery into awe over time. Who does this better? CEOTTK is probably the most representative but it is in so many of his scores. E.T. does it too. Jaws, many others as well.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0M-OTunDio

This chord is mysterious, too!!

It's an Em7/9/#11/13, isn't it?

That one's a classic!

I think we discussed it before here, with me and Ludwig disagreeing on its classification. Like you here veered towards to seeing it as a compound chord, whereas I took it for a polychord of F#7 in second inversion over Em7.

Here's my reduction of the complex, along with the rogue C7 in viola harmonics that appears in measure 3.

koL8LO0.png

I still stand by my bitonal assessment, but I'll add that the two sub-chords are 'blended' by a Bm diatonic cluster or pentachord stretching from B3-F#4. This is what confounds the ear, creating the vague tonal mist, which is further distorted by the high C.

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@4:55

Zsmv27R.png

This one's fairly simple. A 9 note chromatic cluster stretching from B to G arranged as octave displaced whole tone dyads. The exception to this is the mid-range collection of D4-G4. Here the trombones and trumpets overlap to create an almost conjunct chromatic cluster, which is then saturated by the addition of the F# in the second measure, becoming a chromatic hexachord.

Anyone want to take up the torch and do the other two? :)

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@3:54

sGboY3X.png

The "Miracle of the Ark" chords are essentially a number of octatonic scales put together into a compound polychord - that is, a series of polychords, most of which are arranged as combinations of tonal harmonies ("OCT" means "octatonic scale"' and the subscript letters indicate where the semitone around C or D is in the scale. I've also added (+x) notation to show bristling notes, or notes added to regular tonal harmonies. The spacing of the diagram reflects that of the score above. Also note that the Eb notated in the second OCT cluster is actually an Fb in the cue - but an otherwise impeccable transcription by Sharky):

OCTD,Eb + OCTC#,D =

Ab7 + mainly secundal dyads

OCTC,C# Cluster = OCTC,C# Cluster =

Db-(+b5) + Gadd6(+b3) Closed cluster

(almost) OCTC#,D Cluster = OCTC,C# Cluster =

F#- + G- Eb7 + A7 + Gbadd9(+#1)

E Bass (part of OCTC,C#)

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Cheers mate.

A few points

- I like the designation of the three octatonic collections as C,Db; C#,D; and D,Eb. Dodges the potential confusion from just calling them collection 1, 2 and 3.

- The first cluster (strings - I really should've named the orchestral groups) isn't from any octatonic scale. It conforms closest to the D Harmonic Major scale. Either counting it as that; breaking it down into a hexachord ([0,1,3,4,7,8] or 6-z19), further divided into two interlocking [0,1,3,4] and [0,1,4,5] tetrachords; or as two interlocking T1/11 related minor triads; seems to be the way to go.

- The combined brass superset is [0,1,2,3,5,6,8,9] or 8-18, and is built from a chromatic tetramirror [0,1,2,3] plus an alternating tetramirror [0,1,3,4], a major second apart. What it's interesting is the G,Ab,Bb,B [0,1,3,4] subset is a transposition of the strings' F#,G,A,Bb. When both sets are mapped against each other we have two chromatic clusters, are are only two pitches way from a totally chromatic chord.

o1ziZZ3.png

- I think it's worth pointing out the prevalent [0,2,6] whole tone set, from the Db-Eb-G embedded in the trombone trichord, to the Bb-D-E in the horns' pentachord.

The woodwind chord also appears to me based exclusive on these trichords, inverted and transposed. I've omitted the duplicated high G6 to make it clearer.

UKeSwTo.png

- I agree on the final two chords in the strings and the brass being octatonic compound constructions, based on the C-Db collection. It seems to me what Williams is doing is pitting atonal elements against either octatonic or non-diatonic but tonal elements.

I love that we're deconstructing 5 seconds of music depicting Nazis being lasered by a fucking gold-plated chest. Just shows how much thought Williams puts into these relatively insignificant moments.

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Yes, of course the first chord is not exactly octatonic (my bad for doing this too late and too fast!). But I think it's important that it's extremely close to that. All that's off is the D, which should be Db. It's like those "fuzzy" relationships we've discussed before where something almost but not exactly fits some concept - surely the product of doing these things intuitively rather than systematically. Though in this case, the combination of those two minor chords I cited (F#- + G-) is, as you agree, the way I would describe them, especially since minor chords are one of Williams' bread-and-butter techniques in writing underscoring. I've updated the post to reflect the "almost" quality of the octatonic here.

And I agree with hearing a combined (0123) and (0134) in the brass. We might even think of these as another fuzzy relation. (0134) is also an octatonic subset.

The wind chord works well as several manipulations of (026) and that's probably the best way to understand it. And again, it's another subset of the octatonic scale.

I suppose what I'm starting to see here is a compositional pattern of what could be called "linked eclectic" writing. In other words, the use of several different but related techniques in the same segment. Here, we have:

- tonal polychord (F#- + G-)

- polychord of fuzzy-related sets

- single-set manipulation

- octatonic polychords

- octatonic clusters

And all of these chords have strong elements of the octatonic. This ensures a sense of cohesion among the disparate techniques.

So what I'm starting to see are layers of composition: the smallest building blocks are the trichords, tetrachords, and tonal chords, the mid-size blocks are the near-consistent use of one technique with these blocks to produce the larger chords in each orchestral family, and the largest layer is the resulting compound polychord that creates an enormously frightening sound, perfect for this moment in the film.

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I love that we're deconstructing 5 seconds of music depicting Nazis being lasered by a fucking gold-plated chest. Just shows how much thought Williams puts into these relatively insignificant moments.

Well... it's beautiful!

hqdefault.jpg

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Yes, of course the first chord is not exactly octatonic (my bad for doing this too late and too fast!). But I think it's important that it's extremely close to that. All that's off is the D, which should be Db. It's like those "fuzzy" relationships we've discussed before where something almost but not exactly fits some concept - surely the product of doing these things intuitively rather than systematically.

Perhaps another way of looking at these various harmonic minor scales is a combinations of octatonic [0134] and hexatonic [0145] tetrachords? For example, the double harmonic minor using the fifth degree as the point of reflection, consists of two mirrored [0145]s and one central [0134]. So in G starting on D: D-Eb-F#-G and A-Bb-C#-D, which converge and overlap on F#-G-A-Bb. Likewise, the octatonic scale does the same just with [0134]s minor thirds apart.

Thinking about Williams's recurring pitch sets in this mypopic way got me to revisit those gnarly chords in 'System Ready' from JP. The third of these being the mysterious chord from the opening titles.

Mm8vu0M.png

Now, I collapsed the first chord (discounting the E as a pedal tone) and discovered this:

Q8ZJY61.png

It's those pesky tetrachord twins again - [0134] and [0145], fused together at F#, to create a superset of [0134589] (7-21B or the Gypsy heptatonic scale).

Next I inverted this same heptachord:

7UiZWlO.png

Transposed by T1, and got this:

7N1IiZN.png

Generating this same pitches as the second chord.

Then by transposing the upper [0134] tetrachord down by T11...

7UiZWlO.png

You now have the third chord!

Incredible.

My guess is that Williams took the T11 derived polychords from this cue, and deconstructed them.

So G#m/Am would become [0,1,3,4,7,8]

[0,1,3,4]

[0,1,4,5]

Simply 'shifting' up the [0145] like a tile in a mosaic creates the more dissonant chords mentioned above.

[0,1,3,4,7,8,] [0,1,3,4,5,8,9]

[0,1,3,4] ==> [0,1,3,4]

[0,1,4,5] [0,1,4,5]

It's almost like a contrapuntal procedure, though using harmonic 'blocks' rather than single voices.

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Cheers! Gotta pay respects to Papa Smurf Koechlin.

What are the notes of the jumping into the trash compactor chords?
(starting at 1:48)

Those chords are so cool.


The first chord is Am over a G# pedal, second is C#+ over an F#m pedal (or F#mM7), but the last one I have no idea about. It sounds whole tone-y. I can hear a G3-A3-B3-C#4 in there, but the the bass is hard to determine. I'll wager that it's C#, if only because that's the leading tone of D, which is what we next hear in tutti octaves. Before a dramatic octave unison note like, Williams tends to surround it by all of its adjacent tones in the preceding crescendo.

There's a similar moment from ROTJ, which also contracts onto D. Here the bass is on the dominant, and the strings sustain an (014) set containing both the leading tone and fifth of an A Major triad. The Eb clarinet/piccolo and solo horn then play an eerie alarm call, spelling out an (0134) which surrounds the D.

You could say it's another case of Williams 'tonalising' atonal materials.


@1:36

PWcUV9l.png
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<p>

What are the notes of the jumping into the trash compactor chords?

(starting at 1:48)

Those chords are so cool.

First chord is Dm/G#, second chord moves the bass note to F#, third chord is essentially an Eb9#11.

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<p>

What are the notes of the jumping into the trash compactor chords?

(starting at 1:48)

Those chords are so cool.

First chord is Dm/G#, second chord moves the bass note to F#, third chord is essentially an Eb9#11.

I swear I hear E and C# notes mixed into that first chord as well.

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Yes, there is absolutely a C# in the second chord (one may elect to hear it as a Dmin/F#min polychord), and there's also a passing E natural blending in with the third chord.

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