I stumbled across this video the other day. Morten Lauridsen, a great composer – go listen to the King’s Singers’ version of ‘O Nata Lux’ if you’ve got a few minutes – and straight-up pretty cool guy, talks about how he wrote his piece ‘Dirait-on’. It’s a really great video, because quite apart from how interesting it is to see how he put this thing together, it’s just wonderful to see somebody so enthralled by music, by single chords. Seriously, his expression when he hears a note is just the best thing.
‘Dirait-on’ is written around a single chord, specifically a major triad with an added second. It’s a bit like what might be referred to as Dbsus2 (D flat major with the suspended second) except that it also keeps the major third in there, so the notes end up being D flat, E flat, F and A flat. From that one chord, Lauridsen talks about how he derived all the material he needed to write the song.
I thought I’d do a similar sort of thing, since I have a particular chord that I really like and wanted to build something around. The result is a track I’m calling ‘This Moment’s A Big One, Probably’. It’s in the key of E flat major, but the chord that forms most of the basis for its structure is… well, I’m not actually sure what it’s called. I think the most accurate name for it would be Ebsus2/Ab, possibly, switching back and forth between that and Ebsus2/C every couple of bars. Alternatively it might be called Ab6sus2. Heck, I don’t know. I’m bad at chords. Its root note is A flat, and then it has E flat, F and B. I’ve always quite liked this sort of chord, making use of the first and fifth notes of the perfect fifth chord but using the major fourth as the root. It’s a sort of dreamy, suspended sound, I think.
Anyway, I imagine this piece as playing during the calm moments in which the protagonists collect themselves and restore their health before a major conflict or event. They might be about to make their entry into some forbidden dungeon or other, or finally come face-to-face with the demonically possessed body of Alan the rogue’s mum. I haven’t thought too carefully about it, as is clear. But still, I think this is very much a ‘calm before the storm’ sort of piece, as hinted at by the bass occasionally dropping in with the staccato C minor triad. There’s something big coming up, even if nobody’s quite sure what.
The track spends most of its time flipping between A flat and C in the root note, but occasionally delves into F, D flat or B. The D flat is the fun one, because it doesn’t really belong in this key. If the piece were in A flat, then D flat would be right at home – and maybe it starts to believe that it is, in fact, in A flat, because that’s the primary chord, but no! D flat is a stealthy intruder, one who appears somewhere it’s not supposed to be but to all appearances seems as if it couldn’t be in a more appropriate place.
We end with another little bass jaunt on C minor, just to clarify that something dramatic is about to go down. Perhaps ‘Your First Real Test’ is what comes next?