Soft Machine

(Copyright © 1999-2022 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
1 (1968), 6.5/10
2 (1969), 7/10
Spaced (1969), 6.5/10
3 (1970), 9/10
4 (1971), 7/10
5 (1972), 6/10
6 (1972), 7.5/10
7 (1973), 5/10
Bundles (1975), 6/10
Softs (1976), 5/10
Rubber Riff (1978), 5/10
Land of Cockayne (1981), 5/10

The Canterbury school of British progressive-rock (one of the most significant movements in the history of rock music) was born in 1962 when Hugh Hopper, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Richard Sinclair and others formed the Wilde Flowers. Wyatt, Ayers, Hopper and their new friends Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge formed the Soft Machine (1966), whereas Sinclair and the others went on to form Caravan. Soft Machine, one of the greatest rock bands of all time, started out with albums such as Volume Two (1969) that were inspired by psychedelic-rock with a touch of Dadaistic (i.e., nonsensical) aesthetics; but, after losing Allen and Ayers, they veered towards a personal interpretation of Miles Davis' jazz-rock on Three (1970), their masterpiece and one of the essential jazz, rock and classical albums of the 1970s. Minimalistic keyboards a` la Terry Riley and jazz horns highlight three of the four jams (particularly, Hopper's Facelift). The other one, The Moon In June, is Wyatt's first monumental achievement, blending a delicate melody, a melancholy atmosphere and deep humanity. The Moon In June will remain in the essential canon of music well after rock music has disappeared. A vastly revised line-up, heavily influenced by Ian Carr's and Keith Tippett's jazz ensembles, that in october 1969 added a four-piece jazz horn section (notably Elton Dean), continued the experiment in a colder, brainy, austere manner, for example with the four-movement suite Virtually (1971), on their fourth album, and the futuristic 1983 (1972), on their sixth album.

Members such as Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt went on to carve some of the most influential and creative solo careers in the entire history of rock music.

Full bio.
(Translated from the Italian by Troy Sherman)

The legend of the Canterbury scene began in a cellar. Robert Wyatt, born in 1945 in Bristol, emigrated to Dulwich (a suburb of London) and settled down in 1956 in Canterbury. At the beginning of the 1960s, he spent his days attending the local "Simon Langston School," while his evenings were spent with classmates Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan; with them, he played music in the basement of his house. Born from these basement jams were the Wilde Flowers, an amateur group whose sound reflected the leader’s passion for rhythm and blues and jazz.


The Wilde Flower’s lineup would stabilize in 1962 with Wyatt on drums, brothers Brian and Hugh Hopper, and Richard Sinclair. Meanwhile, Daevid Allen (born 1938), already a poet and playwright in Melbourne, arrived in England from Australia. He was an art student that wandered aimlessly for a year around the country. He was fresh with Parisian experience as well; he had played jazz and composed music for William Burroughs in France. He found a room to rent with Wyatt and his “Canterbury College of Art” roommate Kevin Ayers. Misled by the experienced and astute Allen, still teenaged Robert Wyatt decided to follow him on one of his episodes in Paris, leaving the Wilde Flowers in the hands of Ayers.


1963 dates at the “Marquee” by the Daevid Allen Trio (which was comprised of Allen, Hopper, and Wyatt) would eventually surface on Live (Voiceprint, 1993).


The members of the Wilde Flowers at this point were: Ayers, Sinclair (bass), his cousin David (keyboards), Hastings (guitar) and Coughlan (drums). Ayers, born in 1944 in a small village around the area, had grown up in Malaysia, and at sixteen years of age returned to his native Kent, England.


Meanwhile in Paris, Wyatt and Allen were haunting the underground expatriated beatniks. The enterprising Allen, during this time, organized multi-media performances, played piano in bars with Terry Riley, performed with jazz big bands, and eventually fell in love with a poet and journalist named Gilly Smith. It was not long before they reached Hugh Hopper in France. When the three Parisians did return, they were readmitted into the Wilde Flowers, bringing to the band a refined, intellectual style of improvisation and dada-rock. Allen in 1964 also published his first book of poems.


The Wilde Flowers (Voiceprint, 1993) would collect recordings of this group (compositions mainly by the two Hoppers).


In 1965 Ayers migrated to Oxford, where he attended school. Mike Ratledge, at the time, was his classmate there. Ayers would eventually be what divided the group: on one side was Soft Machine (their name derived from the title of a book by Burroughs), with Ratledge (keyboards), Wyatt (drums), Allen (guitar), and Ayers (bass). The other was Caravan, comprised of Hastings, Sinclair and Coughlan.


Soft Machine began quietly, with a formation that resembled that of Nice. In 1966, they came into the UFO Club in London, together with Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. In this place they discovered the then unknown American record producer Kim Fowley. He introduced the band to the music industry and (in February 1967) produced their first 45 rpm single: Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'/ Love Makes Sweet Music (which, incidentally, was recorded in the same studio that Jimi Hendrix was training with his rhythm guitar).


Jet Propelled Photographs (Charly, 1989) is a 1967 recording by the original line-up of Allen, Ratledge, Wyatt and Ayers.


The quartet would soon find themselves in France, where they gained some success with audiences and critics.


After their stay in France, their return to England was disappointing: Daevid Allen had no valid passport, and was forced to remain in France. There, he gave life to Gong. The three survivors (fresh from the triumph of their aforementioned first single) were brought into the presence of Jimi Hendrix through mutual management. They would end up following him, opening for his American tour dates in 1968.


With the help of producer Tom Wilson (who had also worked with Bob Dylan and the Byrds), Soft Machine recorded their first album, The Soft Machine (Probe, 1968), on foreign American soil. Without the presence of Allen, Ayers is the dominant force while Wyatt remains timid. The songs obviously have influence from the Beat Generation, but also draw from psychedelia, the Orient, rosewater jazz, and, underneath the surface, there transpires an earnest irony that owes something to Dada in Paris. This album, in reality, is the embryo of the looming revolutionary music: in it lies the geometrical keyboard lines of Ratledge; the quiet, high register singing of Wyatt; Ayers’ Jazz; psychedelic counterpoints; goggled chants; a forest of endless and percussive drum solos; and intoxicating parts of cocktail style. The first side of the record, which is much more unified, contains two suites: The first is the jazz-psychedelic Hope for Happiness, where Wyatt sings a mantra above a sarabande-driven electric organ. This opening track contains fast passages with changes in pace on the drums performed as if by extraterrestrials. Ayers fits in a long bass solo reminiscent of Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun. The second of side one’s suites is the classical So Boot If At All. This track is pointillist, given to free improvisation. Ratledge takes the role of dissonance while Wyatt runs away in a sparkling solo. Already in this first album, they are proving to be one of the most brilliant duets and creative musical improvisers of all time. The song ends in a final hallucinogenic thrill. Side two of the record, which is more fragmented than the first, consists of mostly instrumental songs that take their melodies from the Beats, soul music, and exotic folk; however, they always degenerate into impromptu parties where the trio unleashes their joyful and caustic fantasies. In the second side, Ratledge plays openly, and Wyatt goes wild on drumming sprees, unleashing various levels of speed, acrobatics, and variety. Never before had a drummer changed and mangled rhythms to such an insane extent. This facade is still conceived as a single continuum, where the songs of Ayers (the memorable We Did It Again, the lyric of which is the title repeated ad infinitum, and the psychedelic Why Are We Sleeping, which is spoken by Ayers with an alternating mystic chorus) serve as a return to organic music.


Before the release of the album at the very end of 1968, the members of Soft Machine had time to relax. Ayers deserted to Mallorca with Allen, Ratledge got homesick and headed for England, and Wyatt became fascinated by America’s West-coast. When they recovered, they had switched bass players from Ayers over to Hugh Hopper.


The second album, Volume Two (Probe, 1969), is the prerogative of the two surviving founding members. Wyatt’s touch on this album is pataphysical and impalpable. Ratledge brings to the table a pleasant collage of tricks and imitations. As of 1969, they had forgotten the Beats and Psychedelia in the name of rock, and began preparing for their great leap into the 1970s. As with the first record, this one was created with some artistic immaturity. There is an almost goliardic insipidity, which acts as a warning against taking the creators too seriously. In this record, Wyatt proves that he is still built on the style of the long melodic fantasy (such as A Concise British Alphabet Part 2, which is his first practice in melancholy nonsense). The refrains of the melodies are separated by instrumental sections, which are more or less improvised. The record seems to be influenced more by Zappa than by Dadaism, which can be seen on Pataphysical Introduction, and especially on the shooting festival of Hopper’s winds, side one’s finale, the hallucinogenic Out Of Tunes. Side two is owned by a score of Ratledge’s ideas: the realistic special effects of Fire Engine Passing With Bells, the first hints of their forthcoming excited instrumental jams (Hibou, Anemone and Bear), and the first applications of the minimalism of Terry Riley (the alto sax and organ of Orange Skin Food and the solo organ and bass on A Door Opens And Closes). On this second record, the great variety of solo and collective improvisations already places Soft Machine in the Olympus of the rock world, even if they themselves had not at that point come to know it.


In 1970, with Allen and Ayers roaming in their own musical endeavors, Wyatt and Ratledge were still struggling with Soft Machine: the promising sound of the first two discs had not yet earned them money or fame. Even so, the live performances from this era, with a cast of six or seven performers each, were beginning to attract both public and critical attention. Despite the lack of recorded credibility, Soft Machine were granted the opportunity to record a double album. This album would be a document of the great creative period of the three core members, assisted, as on tour since October of 1969, by saxophonist Elton Dean, clarinetist Jimmy Hastings, and trombonist Nick Evans, who were all members of Keith Tippett’s pseudo-jazz orchestras. With these live performances, woodwind and keyboards took the dominant role, which before were the drums and rhythm. The songs would stretch and shake off of surreal trappings, and the injection of some seriousness into the music foreshadowed the assimilation of certain techniques of the improvised and avant-garde.


Facelift - France & Holland (2022) documents live performances of 1970.

Third (CBS, 1970) is organized, such as the contemporary Ummagumma by Pink Floyd, into four long tracks, each taking up one side of the double album. Ratledge’s signatures are Slightly All The Time, a nice jazz theme played with a mad gallop from gasping keyboards and bloody sax progressions, and Out-Bloody-Rageous, a song inspired by minimalism and structured as a series of variations on a theme. This track consists of an impeccable, driving change between keyboards and winds, a manifesto of cold rationality by an electronic organist. Hopper’s contribution is Facelift, a theme that melts in clouds of orientalism. It is enlivened by horn players’ interludes: in the first part a disjointed soprano sax, alto sax, and trombone are interjected in between sleepy mews. In the second part, a conjuror’s swing flute raves through a lurking bass, and culminates with a jumble of alto sax at the end. These three pieces keep the complexities of the earlier music created by Soft Machine and add a technical leap. The organ of Ratledge is lively, and the music of Hendrix is transformed into a cool jazz-rock. With this record, the drums no longer experience fits of pataphysical madness, and an almost aesthetic use of the wind section is utilized. A sense of maturity hangs over the professional technique now displayed by the musicians on this record. The new sound pioneered on Third is rooted in two major musicians of the avant-garde American era: Riley’s minimalism and the jazz-rock of Miles Davis.

Wyatt is the composer and main performer (he plays all the keyboards) of the beautiful Moon in June, one of the greatest masterpieces of English rock. This song reveals in Wyatt a great composer and arranger as well as brilliant drummer and inimitable singer; in short, he is a very complete musician. His inspiration is unlike Ratledge’s modern influences. In his major composition there is little jazz, and in some cases it is even less musically advanced. But, Wyatt is equipped with an imagination and a humanity that more than makes up for any other deficiencies. The idea of Moon in June is melodic and close to the soul. It is a mantra of undulating psychedelia, but with a languid and resigned tone that suggests mantras and songs undulating psychedelia, but with a languid tone and resigned that suggests an anemic or dreamy chansonnier. The sudden changes of rhythm and ecstatic crescendos of keyboards, faint whispers, and solemn spikes give the music an almost epic tone, but also desperately sad. Here and there, there is a resurgence of entertaining dada, exemplified by a soft humming nonsense and a breakup of the pattern with an irregular rhythm. Moon In June is a free song that keyboards and drums strive to follow in its magical musical evolution. The end comes after an excited instrumental intermezzo through keyboard-noise, insistent bass lines, and minimal notes of a piano on the last dying phonemes of a stentorian falsetto. This long instrumental finale returns to the seductive grace of the early pataphysicists, with a surreal and humorous tone that would always be the fundamental tone of the music of Wyatt.

With this record, Soft Machine built upon the history of every genre of music to achieve that final peak. Upon filtering the music in this record, to be found are traces of abused musical styles, but as with all great works, everything is broken down into a personal vision of art.

Elton Dean, who with this record became a permanent member, greatly influenced the style of the Soft Machine. All tracks, except perhaps Wyatt’s, are inspired more by jazz than any of the previous albums. Following this record, Ratledge took the lead completely, in part due to Wyatt’s exhaustion. The drummer was about to leave Soft Machine soon.

La leggenda di Canterbury ha inizio in una cantina. Robert Wyatt, nato nel 1945 a Bristol, emigrato a Dulwich (un quartiere di Londra) e stabilitosi nel 1956 a Canterbury, al principio dei '60 passa le giornate frequentando la locale "Simon Langston School" e le serate con i compagni di scuola Pye Hastings e Richard Coughlan a suonare nello scantinato di casa. Nascono cosi` i Wilde Flowers, gruppo dilettantistico che riflette la passione del leader per il rhythm and blues e il jazz.

La formazione si stabilizza nel 1962 con Wyatt, i fratelli Brian e Hugh Hopper e Richard Sinclair. Dall'Australia intanto e` arrivato Daevid Allen (classe 1938), gia` poeta e autore teatrale a Melbourn, nonche' studente d'arte, un folletto che vagabonda da un anno senza meta, fresco reduce da un'esperienza parigina in cui ha suonato jazz e ha composto musiche per William Burroughs. Trova una camera in affitto a casa dei Wyatt e al "Canterbury College of Art" e` compagno di camera di Ayers. Traviato dal piu` esperto e smaliziato Allen, l'adolescente Robert Wyatt decide di seguirlo in una delle sue puntate su Parigi, abbandonando i Wilde Flowers nelle mani di Ayers.

A 1963 date at the "Marquee" by the Daevid Allen Trio, i.e. Allen, Hopper and Wyatt, will surface on Live (Voiceprint, 1993).

I componenti del gruppo sono ora: Ayers, Sinclair (basso), suo cugino David (tastiere), Hastings (chitarra) e Coughlan (batteria). Ayers, nato nel 1944 in un paesino della zona, e` cresciuto in Malesia e soltanto a sedici anni ha fatto ritorno nel nativo Kent.

A Parigi nel frattempo Wyatt e Allen bazzicano l'underground degli espatriati beatniks. Allen e` il piu` intraprendente: organizza spettacoli multi-media, suona piano-bar con Terry Riley, si esibisce con big band di jazz, si innamora di una poetessa e giornalista di nome Gilly Smith. Non passa molto tempo prima che li raggiunga Hugh Hopper. Quando i tre parigini fanno ritorno in patria, travasano la loro esperienza nei Wilde Flowers, improntando lo stile verso l'improvvisazione e il dada-rock per intellettuali raffinati. Allen nel 1964 pubblica anche il suo primo libro di poesie.

The Wilde Flowers (Voiceprint, 1993) raccogliera` le registrazioni di questo gruppo (le composizioni sono prevalentemente dei due Hopper).

Nel 1965 torna da Oxford, dove ha frequentato la celeberrima universita`, Mike Ratledge, anch' egli compagno di scuola ai tempi della "Langston". La sua personalita` riesce a dividere il gruppo in due: da una parte i Soft Machine (nome derivato dal titolo di un libro di Burroughs), con Ratledge (tastiere), Wyatt (batteria), Allen (chitarra), Ayers (basso), e dall'altra i Caravan, con Hastings, Coughlan e i Sinclair.

I Soft Machine cominciano in sordina, con una formazione che somiglia a quella dei Nice. Nel 1966 vengono scritturati dall'UFO Club di Londra, insieme con gli imberbi Pink Floyd di Syd Barett. In questo locale li scopre lo sconosciuto (allora come oggi) pirata americano Kim Fowley, un eclettico dai mille travestimenti, qui nei panni della Provvidenza, che introduce i Soft Machine nell'industria discografica e (nel febbraio del 1967) produce il loro primo 45 giri: Feelin' Reeelin' Squeelin'/ Love Makes Sweet Music (registrato nello stesso studio dove un giovane di colore, certo Jimi Hendrix, sta allenandosi con la chitarra ritmica).

Jet Propelled Photographs (Charly, 1989) is a 1967 recording by the original line-up of Allen, Ratledge, Ayers and Wyatt.

Il quartetto torna presto in Francia, dove miete un discreto successo di pubblico e di critica.

Il rientro si tinge pero` di giallo: Daevid Allen non ha il passaporto in regola e deve rimanere in Francia, dove dara` vita ai Gong. I tre superstiti si aggregano a Jimi Hendrix (reduce dal trionfo del primo singolo) e ne seguono l'avventura in terra americana.

Apprezzati dal produttore Tom Wilson (lo stesso che aveva lavorato con Dylan e i Byrds), i Soft Machine registrano su suolo straniero il loro primo album, Soft Machine 1 (Probe, 1968). Di Allen non c'e` piu` nulla, domina Ayers e il piu` timido e` Wyatt. Le canzoni profumano di beat, ma anche di psichedelia, di Oriente, di jazz all'acqua di rose, e sotto sotto trapela un'ironia seriosa che deve qualcosa ai dada parigini. In embrione e` gia` una musica rivoluzionaria: le geometrie tastieristiche di Ratledge, il canto in sordina (sui registri alti) di Wyatt, il basso jazz di Ayers, i contrappunti psichedelici, le cantilene stralunate, la foresta percussiva con sterminati assoli di batteria e parti sturmentali che sono ubriacanti cocktail stilistici.
La prima facciata, piu` unitaria, contiene due suite: quella jazz-psichedelica di Hope For Happiness, con il canto quasi mantrico di Wyatt in apertura, una sarabanda elettrica guidata dai passaggi velocissimi di organo e dai cambi di ritmo marziani della batteria, con un lungo assolo di Ayers al basso elettrico che ricorda la hendrixiana Third Stone From The Sun; e quella classicheggiante di So Boot If At All (i Nice del Duemila, puntillisti, free e improvvisatori, con Ratledge nei panni di un Emerson tutto dissonante e Wyatt imbizzarrito in un assolo effervescente: uno dei duetti piu` geniali e creativi della musica improvvisata di sempre, con un finale cosmico- allucinogeno da brivido).
La seconda facciata, piu` frammentata, e` fatta di canzoni prevalentemente strumentali che prendono le melodie dal beat, e dal soul e dal folk esotico, ma degenerano sempre in parti improvvisate in cui il trio sfoga la propria gioiosa e caustica fantasia. Ratledge si comporta ormai apertamente come un Hendrix dell'organo e Wyatt si scatena alla batteria dando diversi numeri di velocita`, acrobazia e varieta` (mai batteria aveva cambiato e storpiato ritmi cosi` a catinelle).
Anche questa facciata e` comunque concepita come un continuum unico, dove le canzoni di Ayers (memorabili We Did It Again, il cui testo e` il titolo ripetuto all'infinito, e la psichedelica Why Are We Sleeping, parlata da Ayers e alternata a un coro mistico) fungono da ritorni di organicita'.

Prima che l'album esca, nel 1969, i Soft Machine hanno fatto in tempo a sciogliersi (Ayers disertando per Maiorca con Allen; Ratledge preso da nostalgia per l'Inghilterra; Wyatt affascinato dalla West-coast) e a ricostituirsi, senza Ayers e con Hugh Hopper al basso.

Il secondo album, 2 (Probe, 1969), e` appannaggio dei due membri fondatori superstiti, una facciata ciascuno: a Wyatt la prima, patafisicamente impalpabile, a Ratledge la seconda, ameno collage di trucchi e imitazioni. Il tutto nel nome di un rock, quello del 1969, che ha dimenticato beat e psichedelia, e si sta preparando al gran balzo (con relativo gran tonfo) degli anni '70. Come nella prima prova c'e` un fondo di immaturita`, quasi di goliardica scipitezza, che mette in guardia dal prendere troppo sul serio gli autori.
Quella di Wyatt e` ancora costruita sullo stile della lunga fantasia melodica, in cui i ritornelli delle melodie (come A Concise British Alphabet part 2, primo saggio di malinconia nonsense) sono separati da parti strumentali (anche un assolo di piatti) piu` o meno improvvisate ("Zappiana" piu` che dadaista la Pataphysical Introduction, soprattutto la ripresa, festival dei fiati di Hopper, con il finale allucinogeno di Out Of Tunes).
Quella di Ratledge e` uno spartito di idee a seguire: il realismo effettistico di Fire Engine Passing With Bells, e le prime concitate jam strumentali (Hibou Anemone and Bear), le prime applicazioni del minimalismo di Terry Riley (l'alto sax sull'assolo d'organo di Orange Skin Food e l'organo sull'assolo di basso di A Door Opens And Closes).
La grande varieta` di assoli e di improvvisazioni collettive pone gia' i Soft Machine nell'olimpo del rock mondiale, anche se loro stessi non lo sanno ancora.

Nel 1970, mentre Allen e Ayers scorazzano gia` per conto proprio, Wyatt e Ratledge sono ancora alle prese con la Soft Machine: il suono promettente dei dischi d'esordio non ha fruttato ne` soldi ne` fama, ma le esibizioni dal vivo dell'epoca, con un cast di sei-sette elementi, attirano l'attenzione del pubblico piu` emancipato e della critica. Nonostante la scarsa credibilita` presso i discografici, i Soft Machine riescono a registrare un album doppio, documento fedele della grande stagione creativa dei tre, a cui si sono aggiunti in tournee (a partire dall'ottobre 1969) personaggi come il sassofonista Elton Dean, il clarinettista Jimmy Hastings e il trombonista Nick Evans, membri dell'orchestra pseudo-jazz di Keith Tippett.
Fiati e tastiere prendono il ruolo dominante che era stato della batteria. I brani si allungano e si scrollano di dosso gli orpelli surreali. L'iniezione di serieta` s'intravede anche nell'assimilazione di certe tecniche ripetitive e improvvisate dell'avanguardia.

Third (CBS, 1970) e` organizzato, come il coevo Ummagumma (parte in studio) dei compagni di gavetta Pink Floyd, in quattro lunghi brani. Ratledge firma Slightly All The Time, bel tema jazz svolto con scalmanate galoppate e adagi boccheggianti di tastiere e cortei di sax sanguigni; e Out Bloody Rageous, brano di ispirazione minimalista strutturato come una serie di variazioni sul tema, con impeccabili cambi di guida fra tastiere e fiati, manifesto della fredda razionalita` elettronica dell'organista.
Hopper firma Facelift, un tema fortemente ritmato che si scioglie in nuvole di orientalismi, vivacizzato dagli intermezzi fiatistici: nella prima parte un disarticolato incrocio di sax soprano, sax alto e trombone, assonnati e miagolanti, nella seconda un flauto swing incantatore che vaneggia sul rombo in agguato del basso, una baraonda di sax alto alla fine.
Questi tre brani danno la misura del balzo tecnico compiuto dal complesso. L'organo vivace ed hendrixiano di Ratledge si e` trasformato in un freddo strumento jazz-rock, la batteria non ha piu` quegli accessi di follia patafisica, e un uso quasi estetico dei fiati li integra con classe nelle lunghe improvvisazioni collettive. Un grigio senso di maturita` aleggia sulla tecnica professionale messa in mostra in ogni solco dai musicisti. Il nuovo sound e` radicato nelle due grandi novita` dell'avanguardia americana dell'epoca: il minimalismo di Riley e il jazz-rock di Davis.
Wyatt e` autore ed esecutore (suona tutte le tastiere) della splendida Moon In June, uno dei massimi capolavori del rock inglese, il brano che lo rivela grande compositore e arrangiatore oltre che geniale batterista e cantante inimitabile, insomma musicista completo. La sua ispirazione non e` cosi` moderna come quella di Ratledge, poco jazz e meno ancora avanguardia; ma Wyatt e` dotato di una fantasia e una umanita' che suppliscono abbondantemente alle deficienze scolastiche. Lo spunto di Moon In June e` strettamente melodico, vicino al soul, ai mantra e alle canzoni ondeggianti della psichedelia, ma con un tono languido e dimesso che fa pensare a uno chansonnier anemico o trasognato. I cambi repentini di ritmo e gli estatici crescendo delle tastiere, i deliqui in fil di voce, le impennate solenni, conferiscono alla musica un tono quasi epico, ma soprattutto perdutamente malinconico. Qua e la` riaffiorano i divertimenti dada, un canticchiare nonsense sommesso e uno spezzettare il motivo con un ritmo irregolare. Moon In June e` un canto libero che tastiere e batteria si sforzano di seguire nelle sue magiche evoluzioni. La fine arriva dopo il concitato intermezzo strumentale, attraverso rumori tastieristici, linee di basso incalzanti, le note minimali di un piano stentoreo sugli ultimi agonizzanti fonemi in falsetto. Questo lungo finale strumentale riporta alla grazia seducente dei primi giorni patafisici, col tono surreale e umoristico che sara` sempre il tono fondamentale della musica di Wyatt.
Con questo brano i Soft Machine escono dalla storia dei generi per entrare in quello della musica totale. A filtrare il suono si possono trovare tracce di stili e modi fra i piu` abusati, ma, come nelle migliori opere della transavanguardia, tutto viene assimilato in una visione personale dell'arte.
Elton Dean, che diventa membro stabile, ha influenzato molto lo stile di questi Soft Machine. Tutti i brani, meno forse quello di Wyatt, risentono di un' ispirazione jazzistica piu` marcata rispetto ai dischi precedenti. Ratledge intanto ha preso il comando, esautorando in parte Wyatt. D'altronde il batterista e` in procinto di lasciare la "morbida macchina" in balia del freddo cerebro del tastierista e del sax invadente dell'ultimo arrivato.

The seven-movement Spaced (Cuneiform, 1996) was composed as the soundtrack to a 1969 multi-media event. Ratledge, Hopper and Wyatt (and guesting saxophonist Brian Hopper) re-designed and re-arranged music from the third album using tape loops and other studio devices. The less ambitious pieces (such as Spaced Two) are merely "remixes" of Soft Machine jams, but the music gets as abstract as musique concrete in the watery vibrations of Spaced One, devastated after seven minutes by an excoriating distortion, and especially in the 32-minute of Spaced Four, a colossal fresco of disjointed instrumental sounds bordering on pure cacophony but slowly revealing the perfectly organic jam from which it originated. More mayhem follows, but this time driven by frenzied drums, until it is again obliterated by electronic noise. Few albums of 1969 dared this much.

Noisette (Cuneiform, 2000) documents a 1970 performance by Ratledge, Hopper, Wyatt, Dean and temporary fifth member Lyn Dobson (soprano saxophone and flute) and includes a 12-minute version of Ratledge's Eamonn Andrews, a 14-minute version of Esther's Nose Job and an eleven-minute version of Hopper's 12/8 Theme that rank among the slickest jazz-rock jams of the era.

Soft Machine's Fourth (1971) was their first fully instrumental album. Collaborators included Mark Charig (cornet), Roy Babbington (double bass), Nick Evans (trombone), Jimmy Hastings (flute and clarinet), Alan Skidmore (tenor sax). Wyatt's contribution to the compositions was minimal. Needless to say, the jazz-rock elements were even stronger than on the third album. Ratledge's nine-minute Teeth displayed the dense, flawless amalgam of the instruments, that blended the jubilant reeds, Ratledge's alienated keyboards, Hopper's singing bass and Wyatt's unusually frantic and noisy drumming, and then launched into a shimmering melodic theme. The centerpiece is Hopper's four-movement suite Virtually: a subdued trombone-heavy first part, a vibrant Dean-driven second part, a dissonant free-form third part and a brief abstract keyboards-dominated fourth part.

Wyatt, last remaining of the founding members, left to form Matching Mole and was replaced by Nucleau' drummer, John Marshall. Thus Soft Machine's line-up for 5 (CBS, 1972) was a quartet with Ratledge on keyboards, Hopper on bass, Dean on reeds and (mostly) Marshall on drums. The compositions are mostly by Ratledge e di Dean. They reflect the fact that the psychedelic masters had left one by one, and their place had been taken by practitioners of jazz-rock. Ratledge's All White is the younger brother of the previous album's Teeth: a sprightly theme sustained by playful interplay. The atmospheric music of the Third album is, instead, evoked in Ratledge's Drop, divided between an overture of swirling oneiric keyboards notes upset by dripping electronic sounds and a vibrant alto-sax improvisation over a swinging rhythm section. Textures become even more important in the longer As If, still dominated for four minutes by Dean and then for four minutes by the cello-sounding bass, and lacking a precise leitmotiv. Dean's closing Bone would be the most experimental (or, at least, unreal) track, but it lasts only three minutes. As a conventional jazz-rock outfit, Soft Machine was far less engaging than as a progressive-rock project, but still maintained a high degree of musicianship.

Spaced (Cuneiform, 1996) è una suite in 7 movimenti composta come colonna sonora di un evento multimediale che si tenne nel 1969. Ratledge, Hopper e Wyatt (con la collaborazione del sassofonista Brian Hopper) ridisegnano e riarrangiano la musica del loro terzo album utilizzando loop a nastro e altri effetti di studio. I pezzi meno ambiziosi (come Spaced Two) sono semplici “remix” delle session dei Soft Machine. In altri pezzi, invece, la musica diviene astratta, quasi musica concreta come nelle vibrazioni acquatiche di Spaced One, devastate da sette minuti di urtanti distorsioni, e come soprattutto nei 32 minuti di Spaced Four, un colossale affresco di sconnessi suoni strumentali che rasentano la pura cacofonia ma che rivelano lentamente la session perfettamente organica dalla quale sono stati generati. Segue altro caos ma stavolta guidato da una batteria frenetica, fino a quando tutto viene di nuovo oscurato dal rumore elettronico. Pochi album nel 1969 si sono spinti fino a questo punto.

Noisette (Cuneiform, 2000) documenta una performance del 1970 di Ratledge, Hopper, Wyatt, Dean e del quinto membro temporaneo Lyn Dobson (soprano saxophone and flute) e contiene una versione di 12 minuti di Eamonn Andrews di Ratledge, una versione di 14 minuti di Esther's Nose Job e una versione di 11 minuti del brano di Hopper  12/8 Theme che costituiscono una delle migliori jam session Jazz-Rock dell’epoca.

Tra i collaboratori del Fourth (1971) album, che e` completamente strumentale, ci sono Mark Charig (tromba), Roy Babbington (basso), Nick Evans (trombone) e Jimmy Hastings (flauto). La fusione tra jazz e rock si e` compiuta in maniera indolore (soprattutto nella suite in quattro movimenti Virtually) e il sound che ne scaturisce, un po' spigoloso, e` certamente importante. Wyatt pero`, che ha appena inciso il primo disco in proprio, ha esaurito la propria missione in seno ai Soft Machine, e decide quindi di fondare un proprio complesso, i Matching Mole.

I Soft Machine, orfani dei tre geni fondatori, precipitano rapidamente nella routine di un jazz-rock di retroguardia, e poco a poco perdono completamente la voglia di far musica.

Wyatt viene sostituito con il batterista dei Nucleus, John Marshall, e la formazione si stabilizza con Ratledge, Hopper, Dean, Marshall. Il quinto disco, Soft Machine 5 (CBS, 1972), e` opera di Ratledge e di Dean, e segue senza molta fantasia le tracce del precedente (As If, All White, Drop).

Nel 1972 se ne va anche Dean, lasciando il posto al tastierista Karl Jenkins (ex-Nucleus), cosicche' il Sixth Album, (CBS, 1972) e` in gran parte di Ratledge, anche se le cose migliori le fa Hopper. L'album e` doppio, meta` dal vivo (Gesolreut , 37 1/2 ) e meta` in studio (The Soft Weed Factor di Jenkins, Chloe And The Pirates di Ratledge, 1983 di Hopper). Ratledge, Hopper, Jenkins, e Marshall si alternano a molti strumenti, alla ricerca del timbro trascendentale. Lo stile e` ormai evaso dal jazz-rock: assimilando un po' di avanguardia elettronica si e` trasformato in un virtuoso esercizio di freddo estetismo. Hugh Hopper ha pero` pronto il suo primo album solista e lascia i Soft Machine.

Non e` un caso che su Seven (CBS, 1973), con l'ingresso di Roy Babbington al basso, il complesso arrivi ad ospitare tre ex-Nucleus. Bundles (Harvest, 1975), con l'aggiunta del chitarrista Allan Holdsworth, contiene se non altro la suite in cinque parti Hazard Profile, ma il sound non e` piu` neppure parente dei vecchi Soft Machine.

In 1976 even Ratledge left Soft Machine. The line-up of Jenkins, Babbington, Marshall, guitarist John Etheridge and saxophonist Alan Wakeman that plays on Softs (Harvest, 1976) did not feature any of the original members. Jenkins leads the band through the austere scores of the seven-minute The Tale Of Taliesin and the nine-minute Ban-Ban Caliban.

Jenkins, Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall and keyboardist Carol Barratt released Rubber Riff (Music DeWolfe, 1978 - Voiceprint, 1995), that was not originally credited to the Soft Machine. Unusually for Soft Machine, it contains 14 brief compositions.

Jenkins and Marshall are the only full-time members on Land of Cockayne (EMI, 1981), which employs a revolving cast of friends (Allan Holdsworth, Jack Bruce, Dick Morrissey, etc). Jenkins signs all the pieces and his keyboards "are" the sound of the longer ones (Over 'n' Above, Panoramania, Hot-Biscuit Slim).

Triple Echo (Harvest, 1977) is a three-album box-set anthology. Several live albums (and especially rare ones from the early period) came out during the 1970s.

BBC Radio (HUx, 2003) is a terrible collection of rarities from the early days.

Out Bloody Rageous is a double-CD career retrospective.

The last studio album with Dean, Softworks (Abracadabra, 2003), was recorded by a quartet with Allan Holdsworth on guitar, Hopper and Marshall.

Grides (Cuneiform, 2006) documents a 1970 live performance.

Hugh Hopper died in 2009.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Gianluca Mantovan)

Nel 1976 pure Ratledge abbandono' i Soft Machine. La line-up di Softs (Harvest, 1976), con Jenkins, Babbington, Marshall, il chitarrista John Etheridge e il sassofonista Alan Wakeman, non contiene alcun membro fondatore. Jenkins guida la band negli austeri sette minuti di The Tale Of Taliesin e nei nove minuti di Ban-Ban Caliban. Jenkins, Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall e il tastierista Carol Barratt pubblicarono Rubber Riff (Music DeWolfe, 1978 - Voiceprint, 1995), in origine non accreditata ai Soft Machine. Contiene 14 brevi composizioni, fatto per loro insolito. Jenkins e Marshall sono gli unici membri a tempo pieno su Land of Cockayne (EMI, 1981), che sfodera vari amici (Allan Holdsworth, Jack Bruce, Dick Morrissey, ecc). Jenkins firma ogni pezzo e le sue tastiere sono il suono di quelli piu' lunghi (Over 'n' Above, Panoramania, Hot-Biscuit Slim). Triple Echo (Harvest, 1977) e' un'antologia composta da un box-set di tre album. Vari live (e specialmente rarita' degli esordi) uscirono negli anni settanta.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Gianluca Mantovan)

Nel 1976 pure Ratledge abbandono' i Soft Machine. La line-up di Softs (Harvest, 1976), con Jenkins, Babbington, Marshall, il chitarrista John Etheridge e il sassofonista Alan Wakeman, non contiene alcun membro fondatore. Jenkins guida la band negli austeri sette minuti di The Tale Of Taliesin e nei nove minuti di Ban-Ban Caliban.

Jenkins, Etheridge, Babbington, Marshall e il tastierista Carol Barratt pubblicarono Rubber Riff (Music DeWolfe, 1978 - Voiceprint, 1995), in origine non accreditata ai Soft Machine. Contiene 14 brevi composizioni, fatto per loro insolito.

Jenkins e Marshall sono gli unici membri a tempo pieno su Land of Cockayne (EMI, 1981), che sfodera vari amici (Allan Holdsworth, Jack Bruce, Dick Morrissey, ecc). Jenkins firma ogni pezzo e le sue tastiere sono il suono di quelli piu' lunghi (Over 'n' Above, Panoramania, Hot-Biscuit Slim).

Triple Echo (Harvest, 1977) e' un'antologia composta da un box-set di tre album. Vari live (e specialmente rarita' degli esordi) uscirono negli anni settanta.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Antonio Saluzzi)

BBC Radio (HUx, 2003) è una terribile raccolta di rarità del primo periodo.

Out Bloody Rageous è una retrospettiva in doppio CD della carriera dei Soft Machine.

L’ultimo album in studio con Dean, Softworks (Abracadabra, 2003), è stato registrato da un quartetto con Allan Holdsworth alla chitarra, Hopper and Marshall.

Grides (Cuneiform, 2006) documenta una performance live del 1970.

Hugh Hopper è morto nel 2009 dopo che l’anno precedente gli era stata diagnosticata una leucemia.

The Soft Machine Legacy that debuted with Steam (2007) comprised only Marshall and Hopper from the old guard. It was followed by Burden Of Proof (2013), featuring Roy Babbington (bass), John Etheridge (electric guitar), John Marshall (drums) and Theo Travis (tenor sax, flute and organ). The Legacy is also documented on Live At The New Morning (december 2005) and Live Adventures (october 2009).

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