Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

A Pop Music Progression in Recent Popular Movies and Movie Trailers

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

A Pop Music Progression in Recent Popular Movies and Movie Trailers

Article excerpt


Musical progressions resembling that of Example l are sonic fixtures in innumerable English-language popular-media products from the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. Among the different types of these products, music resembling Example l within the genre of pop-rock music is arguably the best known, best documented and most frequent. Less well - - judging by a current dearth of published - - but still occurring with noteworthy frequency is music resembling Example l in the non-diegetic underscoring of Hollywood movie soundtracks since around 2000, and in that of movie trailers since around 2010. Tables l and 2 (as appendices to this text) offer evidence for the significance and distinctiveness of this presence in movies and movie trailers respectively. I will explain many details of these tables later, but even just skimming the information in Table l suggests that narrative context (rather more than the titles, and certainly more than the years) shows that the progression specifically indicates characters, events, and honours associated with heroism.

In addition to providing this evidence, I have three additional goals for this article: (l) to propose a category of musical progression that well represents what is typically heard during these movies and movie trailers, relative to other comparable categories; (2) to propose a category of genre or narrative situation during which this music is typically heard, relative to other comparable categories; and (3) with the aid of some music theory, to hypothesise a homology in structure between the proposed musical category and each proposed multimedia category, as a means to imply a certain non-arbitrariness in their association.

Categorising the Music

In my introduction, I used the word 'resemble' multiple times when making multiple claims: music 'resembling' Example l occurs throughout popular media products in general, and in pop-rock songs, popular movies, and movie trailers in particular. But before going any further, I should determine as precisely as I can what is meant by such resemblance, and, in so doing, settle upon the most well-defined category of musical progression that allows these claims to be both true and non-trivial. It is self-evident that the four chords of Example l could be transposed into another key without making the claims of resemblance in my introduction any less accurate. But what else can, and cannot, be changed about Example l without significantly diluting my claims?1

The features that pertain especially to an answer to this question are summarised in Example 2. Here, the space enclosed by the thick line depicts the universe of all possible harmonic progressions. The dashed-line enclosure acknowledges that progression categories theoretically apply equally to all transpositions - in the case of tonal progressions, equally in any key - so the universe can be narrowed to one representative for each kind of progression. The other enclosures each constrain the universe of progressions further by stipulating a feature that the set of all progressions contained within the enclosure exhibit, and the enclosures are nested into a hierarchy whose order is represented with a number in parentheses.2 Each musical example not only displays one progression that satisfies all pertinent features at a certain level in the hierarchy, but also, in relation to the other examples, shows one way in which a smaller set of progressions is distinct from the larger set in which it is embedded. (The spatial proportions of Example 2 are far from scale, as the number of progressions in each subset is a minority fraction of the number of progressions in the immediately larger set of progressions.)

Other scholars may put forth different clusters of features, or different ways to order them, that correspond to different stylistic perspectives or ways of hearing, describing, and classifying this music. …

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