In college, Anastasio studied composition under composer and arranger Ernie Stires. "Guelah Papyrus", featured on Phish's major label debut A Picture of Nectar, features a Stires-influenced fugue instrumental section called "The Asse Festival" as a bridge between verses. In the early years of Phish, many of Anastasio's compositions were through-composed, intricate and detailed in conception (for example, "The Divided Sky", "You Enjoy Myself", "The Asse Festival", "Reba", "Fluff's Travels"). Particularly in the music he has written for his touring and recording projects apart from Phish, Anastasio has used improvisation as the driving force behind simplified songwriting.
Tom Marshall, a New Jersey computer systems professional and friend of Anastasio since his Princeton childhood, has been his primary songwriting collaborator, acting as lyricist. Anastasio has often pulled lyrics for his music from large notebooks of poems and prose kept by Marshall, and the pair have also taken working retreats during which they wrote and/or recorded demos of new material. One such demo, Trampled By Lambs and Pecked by the Dove, has been commercially released, and many of the songs included on this release were reincarnated into Phish's 1998 album The Story of the Ghost. Anastasio also writes a number of his own lyrics, including all of the lyrics on his first release with Columbia Records, 2005's Shine.
One of Anastasio’s signature compositional techniques is the use of episodic (or organic) form. “Fluff’s Travels” and “You Enjoy Myself” are good examples of through-composed pieces which evolve from one musical idea to the other, never returning to a previous musical statement. This technique had been used in a rock music setting by relatively few before Phish (Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead are two such examples).
Anastasio employs modal improvisation, first made popular by Miles Davis in the late 50’s/early 60’s.
Anastasio has also demonstrated skill at composing chamber music and music for orchestra, most notably on Seis De Mayo, his second solo album, and in his collaborations with the Vermont Youth Orchestra.
On September 27, 2008, Anastasio and Orchestra Nashville premiered a new work titled Time Turns Elastic, an original long-form piece that was orchestrated by composer and arranger Don Hart, and featured Anastasio on lead guitar and vocals. Anastasio previously collaborated with Hart and Orchestra Nashville in his orchestral performance of "Guyute" at Bonnaroo 2004. He performed the same composition at Carnegie Hall with the Vermont Youth Orchestra on September 14, 2004 and with the New York Philharmonic on September 12, 2009. Trey played the Walt Disney Concert Hall accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on March 10, 2012.
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