Friday, December 9, 2022

"Dark Crystal" Mystics' Chord

My friend Eddy reminded me that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the dark fantasy cult classic, "Dark Crystal" (released December 13, 1982). 

The animatronic film (animatronic refers to mechanical puppets, a style deeply associated with Jim Henson & Frank Oz, who directed the film, as well as other productions like "The Muppet Show" and "The Labyrinth") was scored by none other than famed composer Trevor Jones, who is known for his work on movies like "Time Bandits", "Angel Heart", "GI Jane", "Dark City", and more, including BAFTA & Golden Globe nominations for "Mississippi Burning", "Last of the Mohicans", and "The Mighty".

Of interest today, however, is not the entire score or a critique of the film (though I'd rate both a solid "A"), but to briefly examine a particular scene with characters known as "The Mystics" (formally, the urRu).

There are at least 2 scenes where The Mystics sing a chord - a chord that seems to have magical properties (as they approach the palace, for example, they use voice to control the guards, which later reminded me of the character Ludo in "The Labyrinth" when he used solo voice - that sounds as multiple voice - to move rocks in 2 scenes).

In the early scene, The Mystics, using monk-like deep voice, sing (in close succession, sustained until they all stop in unison) a chord. The first starts with the note B...the next sings D...the next F#....then A#....then C...then B....then G#....then D#...and then the last mystic rings in with a final G#.


What kind of chord is that?

Let's remove repetitions, which gives us B-D-F#-A#-C-G#-D#. Well, that hardly helps.

So there are several ways to view this chord, but I think it might best be analyzed as a polychord. The first part is a simple Bm (B-D-F#). Add to that the A# and what we hear is a not uncommon chord called a Bm(mj7).

The next portion of the chord (C-B-G#-D#), which could be heard as a G#mj(add #9). Note the sharp-9 is very bluesy (very near the dom7 sharp-9 chord, also known as "The Hendrix Chord", which you can read about in the article "Signature Chords").

This doesn't make any sensible chord in any "normal" (diatonic) sense....but it opens the door to a discussion of what are called "poly-chords".

A polychord is a complex chord made of 2 seemingly unrelated chords. This is different from a "slash chord" (aka - compound chord) where the name on the left is the chord and the name on the right is a bass note, like the G/F# or the C/B (the first is a G chord with an F# note in the bass, which is typically a walk from the G chord down to the Em chord by hitting an F# note in transit....or the C/B where the C chord is intact except the root note walks down to B en route to an Am chord).

By contrast, a polychord is written with  - (with chord name on top and bottom) or | (with chord name left and right) rather than / (like G|F# instead of G/F#). In the previous example, we'd play a full G chord against an F# chord. G = G-B-D and F# = F#-A#-C#, so clearly these chords are diatonically unrelated (as opposed to G|F, because G = G-B-D and F = F-A-C, so the chord, with G in the bass, would simply be a G7 chord with the extensions 9 and 11 on top, which is simply a G11 chord).

Polychords strongly imply 2 different tonalities (playing in 2 different keys simultaneously) and examples can be heard in classical pieces like "Rite of Spring" (Stravinsky) or in Strauss' "Elecktra" chord (from his opera of the same name) or the so-called "Bridge Chord" (named after composer Frank Bridge), as well as in the work of certain jazz players/composers like Woody Shaw, Thelonius Monk, and the Miles Davis/Bill Evans version of "On Green Dolphin Street".

At any rate....In the case above, our Mystics' Chord is a Bm(mj7) | G#(add9).

Crazy chord, and massively dissonant if played abruptly on a keyboard. But when stretched over time with the notes running up and then down, a beautiful chord, indeed...and, one might say, quite magical. Check out the clip below and see (hear) for yourself!

Post script: One might argue the sound is NOT that of a polychord, as the original tones fade and perhaps a fleeting melody? Of a Bm taken over by a few notes followed by a G#5 chord? Hmm..perhaps. But I prefer the notion of a full-fledged complex chord moving mountains.

That said, I will make every attempt to contact composer Trevor Jones to get his input. If I am successful, I will amend this piece with a post-post script!

Thanx, y'all!


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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! Let me know any other article ideas you'd like to read!