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Introduction

After having fully transcribed the song An Eagle In Your Mind by Boards of Canada, I've been trying to figure out how to interpret some of the harmonies in it in order to understand how it works or why it is the way that it is. Though I've had some ideas, this is the first time I've tried to analyze an harmonically ambiguous song such as this one. I understand that no interpretation is necessarily correct, but I would like to see what other people think so that I may perhaps comprehend the song better and strengthen my analysis skills.

Specifically, I would like to know whether my own ideas about the harmonies in the song make sense or not, and other interesting ways to interpret the harmonic content of the song that I might not have thought of which could also enrich my understanding of how the song works.

Noteworthy Passages

The first chord progression, and the one that plays throughout most of the song, is the one below. Until about the 3 minute mark, the bass is absent and the dyads in the organ part are the only tonal material. Then a flute-like instrument joins in playing a melody.

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Later the bass joins in and a new melody is heard.

First chord progression with second melody

With about one and a half minutes left, the previous chord progression disappears and a much weirder one fades in its place accompanied by two melodic figures. The second melody is heard again but, now, within this new context:

Second chord progression with second melody

Ideas

Chord 1 of the first harmonic progression is clearly a B major chord. Chord 3 looks like a F#m/A but feels more like an A6 chord without the 5th. Chord 2, though, I'm not sure. It looks like an F5 chord, so it's impossible to tell whether it's major or minor. One clue about what the character of this chord might be is the presence of a B played above it in the second melody and again in chord 1 of the second chord progression. Maybe it's a diminished chord? Whatever it is it doesn't seem to belong to the same key of the other chords.

To me, the most resolved and stable chord in the first harmonic progression is chord 3, though I don't think it's the tonic chord. Chord 1 feels like it wants to go somewhere, and chord 2 appears to intensify that directionality. Could this have something to do with the fact that chords 1 and 2 are separated by a tritone?

Trying to figure out what the key of this song is while assuming that everything can be derived from a single scale does not seem to be fruitful. So let's focus, for a moment, only on the two melodies and chords 1 and 3 of the first harmonic progression. If we pay attention only to these components, some options come to mind:

  • A major. I don't think this one is probable but I've included it here because of how relatively stable chord 3 of the first harmonic progression feels. This would make chord 3 the tonic chord, though, and I don't think that is the case. Also we would have to explain where D# comes from.
  • B major. The B major scale includes all notes we care about with the exception of A which shows up in the second melody and in the bass. If we assume chord 3 is A6, then it would be the VIIb chord. Otherwise, if we say chord 3 is F#m/A it would be the v chord.
  • E major. Similar to B major but here the missing note is A#. If chord 3 = A6, then it is the IV chord. Else if chord 3 = F#m/A, then it's the ii chord. I like this because it makes chord 3 a subdominant chord. That would explain why it doesn't have as much a sense of direction as the other chords of the progression do, and why it doesn't feel as resolved as a tonic chord would.

Lastly, I've noticed those two ascending melodic patterns which play along with the second harmonic progression match the C# whole tone scale. I wonder whether this song could be described to be mostly in one of the aforementioned keys but somehow have been "poisoned" through integration with this scale. Are things like this possible? How would I even go about accurately describing situations like these?

Most of these ideas I've had are probably wrong, but that's okay. Please let me know what you think.

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    You say in your question that it’s harmonically ambiguous. That’s basically your answer. The same set of notes can often be interpreted in multiple ways. I’d you want to understand it, figure out all the possible interpretations and see how they interact. Regarding key, I suggest allowing for the possibilities of no key, multiple keys, and C# minor. Regarding your question, it’s either a bit broad or it’s subjective. Perhaps you can narrow it down to one section of the song and remove things like “what do you think?” and instead ask a question with a clear answer. Jan 29, 2022 at 1:50
  • Having listened to it; I’d back away from thinking about keys or chord progressions for this piece. It doesn’t have to have a tonal center, and the notes and chords don’t have to make any sense in typical harmonic analysis. There are other harmonic systems in the world. And there’s music that doesn’t fit in any harmonic system, or maybe creates its own harmonic system. Jan 29, 2022 at 1:59
  • The question was broad on purpose since any analysis of a piece like this is going to have a great degree of subjectivity. I still feel like it's a question worth answering, though. Are open-ended questions like this disavowed here?
    – bzrr
    Jan 29, 2022 at 2:02
  • Yes. Have you not yet read the help center? Jan 29, 2022 at 2:25
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    It also says questions like “What are your thoughts?” are not a good fit, and your last sentence is “Please let me know what you think.” Jan 29, 2022 at 2:34

1 Answer 1

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After listening to the song - some portions multiple times - I have a different interpretation from yours:

Until the last chord progression change, the piece is in a rather chromatic F sharp major, with Chord 3 as the tonic chord. The first notes you hear in this song, even before the organ chords kick in, are actually a pulsation between C♯ and A♯. These two notes form a fairly consistent double pedal for the first 3 minutes or so. Along with a G♯ played every so often in those first 3+ minutes, these upper notes fix the chord progression into F sharp major. Chord 3 being consistently played for as long as Chords 1 and 2 combined also help fix Chord 3 as the tonic and F sharp major as the key.

However, until the bass kicks in, Chord 1 of the first harmonic progression is NOT clearly a B major chord - I found it to sound more like a D♯ minor chord until the bass starts playing.

Chord 2 definitely sounds like an F power chord to me - even F major in context - but it contains the enharmonic equivalent of the leading tone of F sharp major - E♯ - so I treat it as a substitute dominant chord. I find this use of the power chord on the leading tone, especially when immediately followed by a tonic chord, more often in heavy metal.

Thus, I end up treating the first chord progression as vi-(♯)VII="V"-I in F sharp major.

I thus agree that Chord 1 feels like it wants to go somewhere, Chord 2 appears to intensify that directionality, and their fairly extreme difference between implied keys when isolated helps explain why both chords behave that way.

Even when the bass kicks in and tries turning Chord 3 into a F♯m/A chord (and Chord 1 into a B major chord), the C♯-A♯ pedal still plays often enough, leaving me with the impression that the song is still in F sharp major at this point and has not switched to F sharp minor. When the new melody begins, A naturals and all, it gives off a polytonal impression as if both F sharp major and F sharp minor are playing at the same time.

The last chord progression change sounds like a key change to me. Even though the new Chords 1 and 2 still sound like flavours of B major and F major chords (regardless of what other notes are in them), the new Chord 3 now sounds like an A minor chord of some sort (whatever crazy extensions and all). Trying to get every note in them is hard, but I advise redoing your last transcription excerpt to see how many organ chord tones you can catch. I'm personally hearing C♯ in the 1st half of the new Chord 1 resolving up to D♯ in the 2nd half of the new Chord 1 and C♯ and F♯ in the 2nd half of the new Chord 3, as two examples.

When you say "I wonder whether this song could be described to be mostly in one of the aforementioned keys but somehow have been 'poisoned' through integration with this scale", that reminds me of modal mixture and borrowing of chords from the tonic major/minor. Music theorists will therefore discuss music in somewhat similar "poisoned" terms. However, I hesitate to say that the C sharp whole tone scale - or the F whole tone scale - has major impact on this song because the F power-F♯ power chord progression does not fit into any whole tone scale, let alone any more fleshed-out version of that chord progression.

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  • The pulsation you're referring to: is it the sound that swings left and right in the stereo field? To me it sounds like it's already gone about 40 seconds in.
    – bzrr
    Jan 29, 2022 at 16:04
  • @bzrr - No, I hear it still playing at around the 1-minute mark, among other later parts of the piece.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 29, 2022 at 16:06
  • You're right about it being the first notes in the song, but it's hard to hear it past the very beginning. I should have mentioned it, though. Here is a picture of the sound's spectrum. Besides the C# and A#, it seems like D# and a low A (it might be played in the organ) are also present.
    – bzrr
    Jan 29, 2022 at 16:55

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