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The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine is a British rock band that emerged in the mid-1960s as a pioneering force in the experimental and progressive music scenes.
The band's history is marked by a series of lineup changes, musical innovations, and a significant influence on the development of psychedelic and progressive rock.
Formation and Early Years:
The Soft Machine was formed in 1966 in Canterbury, England. The original lineup consisted of Robert Wyatt (drums, vocals), Kevin Ayers (bass, vocals), and Daevid Allen (guitar). The band's name was derived from the title of a novel by William S. Burroughs. They initially played a mix of psychedelic and experimental rock, heavily influenced by the emerging counterculture of the 1960s.
Debut Album and Collaborations:
In 1967, they released their self-titled debut album, "The Soft Machine." The record, produced by Chas Chandler (former bassist of The Animals and manager of Jimi Hendrix), showcased their eclectic and avant-garde style, featuring intricate jazz and rock fusion. The Soft Machine gained attention and performed alongside notable acts like Pink Floyd and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Daevid Allen left the band during this period, and he was replaced by guitarist and composer, Mike Ratledge.
Expansion and Evolution:
Their second album, "Volume Two" (1969), further solidified their unique sound, incorporating elements of jazz, free improvisation, and classical music. The album included the first signs of the band's growing interest in instrumental compositions. In the same year, they released "Jet-Propelled Photographs," a live album recorded in France.
Third Album and Shift Towards Jazz:
Their third studio album, "Third" (1970), marked a significant turning point for the band. By this time, the Soft Machine's music had shifted considerably towards jazz and experimental fusion. It was a double album and featured epic compositions. Elton Dean (saxophone) and Hugh Hopper (bass) had also joined the band, adding to its sonic diversity. This period saw the band collaborating with other avant-garde musicians like Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera.
Later Lineup Changes:
In the early 1970s, Robert Wyatt left the band, and drummer Phil Howard briefly took his place. Wyatt's departure marked a change in the band's direction, with a heavier focus on instrumental compositions. Their 1971 album "Fourth" demonstrated this evolution, featuring complex, jazz-inspired instrumentals.
Further Albums and Disbandment:
Throughout the early 1970s, The Soft Machine released several more albums, including "Fifth" (1972) and "Six" (1973). The band's lineup continued to shift, and their music leaned more towards jazz-rock fusion. By the mid-1970s, the original Soft Machine had disbanded, and members pursued different musical projects. Robert Wyatt had a successful solo career, while Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper were involved in various musical endeavors.
The Soft Machine's influence on progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, and avant-garde music is profound. Their willingness to experiment with different musical styles and their complex compositions were ahead of their time and laid the groundwork for many subsequent bands and artists. They are often considered one of the founding bands of the Canterbury Scene, a subgenre of progressive rock.
In summary, The Soft Machine was a pioneering force in experimental and progressive music during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their constantly evolving lineup and innovative musical explorations left an indelible mark on the world of rock music, making them a significant and enduring influence on subsequent generations of musicians.