PL voice leading and the uncanny in pop music

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Chromatic, major-third root movement comprises a special class of triadic progression. The contrary motion of half steps, described as PL voice leading, produces a perceptual paradox that simultaneously destroys any sense of background diatonic collection and forces irreconcilable interpretations of consonance and dissonance. Richard Cohn, Richard Taruskin, Mahew Bribi;erStull, and Sco&Murphy identify examples from 19th-century music and film scores that connect this type of progression with descriptions of uncanny or supernatural phenomena. This article explores the same association in contemporary pop music. Surveying a wide variety of songs from 1956-2016, I examine different tonal and formal contexts in which this phenomenon occurs and provide hermeneutic readings where the association between lyrics and harmony is less obvious. While not every PL/LP transformation evokes an uncanny experience, when the transformations are used conspicuously between adjacent or framing harmonies, the pervasive associations with the uncanny, across sub-genre and generational lines, are hard to ignore.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMusic Theory Online
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Hermeneutics
  • Neo-Riemannian transformations
  • Pearl Jam
  • Pop music
  • The Beatles
  • Tonal harmony
  • Uncanny
  • Voice leading


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