Tuesday 09/29/2015 by phishnet


[Editor's Note: We welcome back contributor and musicologist Mike Hamad, who shares his thoughts on the "Modulating Jams of Summer 2015." Below is the last of three parts. Part 1; Part 2. -PZ]

Compound MODs: My Double Wants to Pull Me Down
Four jams this summer modulated twice before calling it quits. I’ve been referring to these jams as double – or compound – MODs. They function by simply combining two of any of the four MODs (III, IV, V and flat-VII) discussed previously. These also happen to be monster jams; technically, they are the four most harmonically adventurous jams of summer 2015.

Table 7 lists the four Compound MOD jams Phish played this summer:

Pathways: the 8/1Tweezer” jam was the only compound MOD III-III of the summer, moving from A min (5:52-9:51) > C maj (9:51-23:46) > min > E-flat maj (2:47), which led right into “Waiting All Night” (also in E-flat). Also notable: two simple MOD IIIs stuck together takes you a tritone distance (i.e. A > E-flat) from where you started.

After a long tonicization of F# (vi), the 8/8Disease” jam turns into a compound MOD IV-III jam, moving from A maj (4:44-10:46) > D maj (10:46-12:35) > min > F maj (12:35-14:27). This MOD IV is more the blissful type – more like a MOD III in spirit than a “gear-shifter,” as in the 8/22Caspian.”

The harmonic trajectory of the 8/12Twist” – a compound MOD IV-V jam – is from G min (2:27-6:03) > C maj (6:03-13:06) > G maj (13:06-22:42). It returns, in other words, to its starting key (G), but in a different mode. Several times during the jam, you can hear Mike try to return to the “Twist” motive, with little support from the others. The first MOD IV comes after an aborted tonicization of III; there’s often some searching that goes on before travel plans stick.

Finally, the Magnaball “Chalk Dust” (8/22) is a compound MOD IV-IV jam, one that keeps moving toward the flat-side of the circle of fifths: E min (6:08-7:34) > A maj (7:34-15:14) > D maj (15:14-18:55).

"Tweezer" – 8/1/15, Atlanta, GA

Honorable Mentions
Eight additional jams contain modulations that don’t hit the two-minute mark, usually to set up segues. Table 8 shows how long these MODs stayed there, and where they went. You’ll notice the subsequent songs (“segues into”) are all in the exact keys of these brief MODs. When I examined this group, it became clear that these weren’t true MODs; they’re more like ways of patching set segments together.

You may notice that the famous Nashville “Mike’s Song,” which marked the return of the second jam, didn’t even make it to Table 8. Each of the two separate jams, the first in F# minor and the second in F minor, as structural components; each begins and ends in the same key, without modulation. If one jam began in F# and moved to F, without being segmented by the band, it would be a different story.

Putting it all together
“Tweezer” -> “Caspian” nicely demonstrates two different approaches to the key of C major: the first, a sort of blissful settling-in (the MOD III in “Tweezer”) and the second, a ramping up toward an eventual peak (the MOD IV in “Caspian”). Yet, through it all, C major is C major is C major.

For many, the high point of the summer came at Magnaball during Saturday’s second set, with the 30-minute pairing of “Tweezer” and “Prince Caspian.” Taken as a single entity, “Tweezer” -> “Caspian” could be considered one monster compound MOD jam (III-V-IV, moving from A > C > G > C).

At 7:52 of “Tweezer” – a moment where the jam dips and blisses out (Page’s Rhodes is prominent, along with Trey’s ambient effects) – they modulate from A min > C maj (MOD III). Plenty of dissonance follows, up to around the nine-minute mark. Then, when fully committed to C major, the rest of the jam is all about introducing new chord progressions and staying on an upward dynamic slope. In the final minute Fishman all but drops out, and Trey tonicizes (“makes home”) G major (V in C), and that leads the way to “Caspian.”

4:48 into “Caspian,” Trey and Page start flipping the mode from G maj > min, leading to what many hear as return to “Tweezer” (Charlie Dirksen called this “a ‘Tweezer’ jam in the key of ‘Fuckerpants’”). They jam in G minor for another nearly eight more minutes (4:48-12:20) before a scorching MOD IV into C major–the same C major we heard in “Tweezer,” only different, more fully alive, shifting into high gear the high gear of your soul.

"Tweezer" > "Prince Caspian" – 8/22/15, Watkins Glen, NY

Where do they go?
The reason I started looking into this stuff in the first place: while listening to the 9/6Carini” in real-time, I heard a move from E min > A maj (MOD IV) only seventeen seconds into the jam. That’s unusual.

Like others on Twitter at the time, I called “Tweezer” (A min). But that would have been too easy; six minutes (of A major) later, I realized: they aren’t going into “Tweezer.” That’s too much time in A (major or minor), assuming a long “Tweezer” jam would likely follow the song-part.

Which led to a general principle I’ve stumbled onto when segueing out of modulating jams. I call this the “non-jam-song exception”:

  • if they’ve jammed for a long time in a certain key (i.e. A major in the example above), they generally are not going to segue into a jam song in the same key.
  • they can (and often do), however, segue into a non-jam song (“Joy,” “Shade,” “My Friend,” “Waiting All Night,” “The Line,” “Bug,” “Dirt,” “Wading,” “Waste,” “Lizards” etc.). The modulating part of the jam, in these cases, is a sort of pre-jam, tacked on before a non-jam song.

Table 9 shows how modulating jams segue into non-jam songs in the same key:

Naturally, there are other exceptions – long, modulating jams that do segue into other jam songs in the same key.

  • After a MOD flat-VII from G minor to F major, the 7/31 “Twist” gives us six long minutes in F major before a segue into “Back on the Train” – arguably a jam song – in the same key.
  • As noted earlier, the 8/7 “Chalk Dust” serves up seven whole minutes in A maj before the subsequent (excellent) segue into “Tweezer,” a jam song that’s also in A. (I feel confident the E > A > E sandwich created by the two songs makes up for it.)
  • The 8/21Ghost,” which moves from A min > C maj (MOD III) leads to a jam song – “Rock and Roll” – that’s also in C major. (Many people online expressed their displeasure with this segue.)
  • Similarly, the 8/22Blaze On,” after modulating from C# > E maj, stays there for six-and-a-half minutes before segueing into “Possum,” (arguably) a jam song that’s also in E.
  • The final set at Magnaball served up a whole lot of time in the same key: the 8/23 “Disease” moved from A maj > D maj (MOD III) and remained there for more than six minutes before segueing into “Scents and Subtle Sounds” (also in D, and arguably a jam song).
  • The 9/6 “Chalk Dust” spent 8.5 minutes spent in G maj before segueing into “Twist” (in G minor).

Before we go touting the harmonic adventurousness of the summer 2015 tour, it’s important to remember the 7/13/14 “Chalk Dust,” which went all over the place: E min > D maj > F# min > E-flat > F > D-flat, before landing in B major (for “Light”). If you squish it all together within the space of an octave (and switch every flat to sharp), that’s C#-D-D#-E-F-F#, or the entire chromatic set between C#-F#. They spent time, in other words, in every tonal area in the span of a perfect fourth. That’s craziness. Nothing in 2015 even comes close.

You can – and should – enjoy Phish jams without thinking about or hearing modulations. For me, new keys and modes are like colors changing in front of my eyes. I can’t ignore them. They’re as real as anything else I experience at a show. It’s not something I can shut off.

But I’m happy knowing that very few other bands change keys and modes spontaneously during jams the way Phish does. (The Grateful Dead didn’t.) You can take the methodology I’ve outlined in this article and back it up through 3.0, to 2.0 and 1.0, as a way of measuring how truly exploratory this band was during a given era or tour. It’s a ton of work, but it’s totally worth it.

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