Time Turns Elastic

Originally Performed ByTrey Anastasio & Don Hart
Original AlbumTime Turns Elastic (2009)
Appears On
Also Known AsTTE
Music/LyricsAnastasio, Hart
Phish Debut2009-05-31
Last Played2021-12-31
Current Gap106
HistorianPhillip Zerbo (pzerbo), Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2018-09-20


To many physicists and philosophers, the passage of time is an illusion. The past, present, and future cannot be differentiated through reason or formula. For a geologist or naturalist, however, the concept of time is something that can be experienced objectively through simple observation. We can see the seasons change. We watch as mountains are formed, weather, erode, and disappear. Geologic change can be sudden and catastrophic or inexorably slow. But the change does happen. Succession of change is the measure of time as it passes. Despite this knowledge, the sheer beauty of a moment can occasionally cause time to be lost from our perception. These are the moments when time dilation occurs. To quote Henry David Thoreau upon his reaching the top of Mount Wachusett in 1842, "We have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon."

As originally conceived "Time Turns Elastic" was an orchestral piece for vocals, electric guitar and orchestra, with music and lyrics by Trey, co-arranged by Trey and Don Hart. The promotional materials for the album presented the work as the "centerpiece of Trey's writing during his time off from the road," (a charitable summary of his time engaged in drug court in upstate New York) and "written in the same vein as 'Divided Sky', 'Guyute' and 'You Enjoy Myself'." The full orchestral Time Turns Elastic album version features Trey and Northwest Sinfonia, runs a little over 29 minutes, and contains three movements in nine parts: 

Movement 1: "Song at Dawn" and "Ruby Shaded Sea"
Movement 2: "Submarine," "Landslide" and "Rays of Blue Light"
Movement 3: "Silver Sound Shower," "Hailstorm," "Funnels" and "Carousel"

While there is a clear thematic whole to the suite, each part makes its own distinctive mark. In an interview Don Hart compared "TTE" as "sort of being a Disney ride. From a compositional standpoint it will be a lot of different things. The analogy being a Disney ride where you don’t know what’s going to come around the corner next, it just takes you through all these unexpected places." The orchestral version has been performed live three times to date: the world premiere with Orchestra Nashville at Ryman Auditorium on 9/27/08 (Paul Gambill, conducting); with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on 5/21/09 (Marin Alsop, conducting); and with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall on 9/12/09 (Asher Fisch, conducting). 

The Phish studio version – which runs "only" 13:29 – omits the entire first movement as well as the intro to "Submarine" but contains most of all the other original sections. The timings are as follows, with sections also noted in the lyrics below:

"Submarine" – 00:00 - 02:05
"Landslide" – 02:06 - 05:40
"Rays of Blue Light" – 05:41 - 08:06
"Silver Sound Shower" – 08:07 - 09:06
"Hailstorm" – 09:07 - 10:17
"Funnels" – 10:18 - 11:15
"Carousel" – 11:16 - 13:29

"Time Turns Elastic" was released as a single on iTunes on 5/26/09, a few weeks in advance of the official release of Joy, along with a promotional video featuring Phish and another video of Trey performing the song's demo solo on acoustic guitar.

”Time Turns Elastic" official promotional video

After its first two orchestral performances in pristine musical settings, "Time Turns Elastic" made its Phish debut in the rather dubious acoustic confines of Boston's Fenway Park on 5/31/09. After the 17+ minute debut Trey jokingly offered: "that's our single." "TTE" immediately became a Phish staple, making a full dozen appearances in 2009 including at high-profile gigs such as 7/31/09 Red Rocks, 10/30/09 Festival 8, and 12/3/09 MSG

”Time Turns Elastic” – 7/31/09, Morrison, CO, Part 1

”Time Turns Elastic” – 7/31/09, Morrison, CO, Part 2

Fan reaction to the tune has been decidedly mixed. Many fans enthusiastically embraced the return to a focus on complex multi-part instrumentals, something that was one of the hallmarks of early Phish but that had been de-emphasized in recent years. Yet other fans – seemingly never satisfied – took a less kind view that generally bemoaned the extensive lyrics and lack of improvisational elasticity, so to speak; their less-than-endearing characterization was that a set including the song was "TTE'd." Whether based on the mixed fan reaction or some other reason, after a mid-set performance emerging out of “Fee” on 10/24/10 in Amherst, MA, “TTE” was seemingly mothballed.

The value of being "TTE'd" ultimately depends on the observer. Whether we are avidly riding the rail in prog-rock ecstasy or taking advantage of the elasticity of time and recycling and restocking fluids at the beer stand, we are wise to heed the words of Thoreau who concluded in the final chapter of Walden: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." For better or for worse, "Time Turns Elastic" is Trey's Walden.

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