The solo in “In That Quiet Earth” by Genesis: a study in exotic modal scales

“In That Quiet Earth”, from the Genesis album “Wind And Wuthering” (the last studio album Steve Hackett played on), is an instrumental that starts of as a kind-of fusion jazz waltz (drummer Phil Collins was moonlighting with fusion band Brand X) — then a sudden change of feel occurs and, over heavy, chugging rhythms that remind one a bit of King Crimson’s darker songs, Tony Banks plays a snarling synthesizer solo that evokes exotic, even extraterrestrial scenes.

Tony was my first keyboard hero. Unlike Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman (or even Jon Lord), he saw himself not as a virtuoso but as a songwriter first — his solos are not the most demanding to play (though “Riding The Scree” is a bit of a finger-buster) but invariably are there to serve the song, set a mood. His solos were composed rather than improvised (though they might originate in a collage of ideas from improvisation sessions), and played note-perfect live.

“ElektrikHob” just posted a transcription of the solo. He indicates the scales underneath the notes. The audio has “ElektrikHob” doubling the solo on top of the original audio to show his transcription is correct.

Here is the original in the context of the whole track (solo starts at 2:42)

Aside from a melody fragment that’s effectively based on a “line cliché” (chord progression in which one voice follows a descending chromatic scale) the solo uses three modes:

  • E Dorian (the 2nd mode of the D major scale): this is nothing unusual, as the Dorian mode often substitutes for minor in all sorts of nonclassical music, from Miles Davis to “What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor” to lots of funk tunes
  • G mixolydian b6, also known as “Aeolian dominant” (G aeolian #3). This is an unusual one. It’s actually the same as one specific Indian raga mode, and hence is sometimes referred to as “the Hindu scale”. It can also be seen as the 5th mode of C melodic minor — in plain English, take the C [ascending] melodic minor scale C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C but starting from its 5th note, G.
    Here, that scale is used for recapping the opening theme of the album.
  • D Dorian #4 — this is actually the 4th mode of A harmonic minor, A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A. [*] This one is quite intriguing: for one, it has a diminished 7th chord on the tonic [“home note”], which several of Tony’s licks exploit. In fact, the ending section of the song sees four successive downward modulations in minor thirds, from B down to Ab to F and finally to D, after which the band segues into the album closer, the ballad “Afterglow”. [**]

Tony also uses rhythmic variation (syncopated melodies, triplet figures, sixteenth note runs,…) to great effect. I suspect the solo was played on an ARP 2600 — version 4 and later had a duophonic keyboard[**] — which would be needed for the descending parallel thirds pattern in the first D dorian #4 passage.

Not the flashiest solo, but one of the most effective in context. When I first heard it almost 40 years ago, I had an image of a battle in a desert on a distant planet, or on Earth in a distant future…

[*] Better known is the 5th mode, E phrygian #3, or “E phrygian dominant”, is also known as “the flamenco scale” of Spanish folk music, the “fraigische steiger” of klezmer music, or the “Ahava Rabba” mode of synagogue melodies. Tool’s “Forty-Six and Two” is possibly my favorite metal song using that mode.

[**] Modulations in successive minor or major thirds were one of Franz Liszt’s beloved tricks. Like other progressive rock keyboardists, Tony had classical training (first with his mother, a piano teacher by trade, then with another private teacher), and his repeatedly expressed his appreciation for late-Romantic and Impressionist composers in interviews.

[***] Duophonic means you could play two notes at a time, rather than just one as with most synthesizers then — which is why keyboardists relied on Mellotrons, organs, or string machines for chords).

While the Polymoog offered a kind of limited polyphony, analog polyphonic instruments in the sense we understand it now followed shortly later with the Yamaha CS-80 (temperamental and heavy but a _beast_ of an instrument), Dave Smith’s legendary Prophet-5, and various Oberheim models.

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