Music

Soft Machine: Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971

An expertly assembled live release of one of prog's best and most experimental groups.


Soft Machine

Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971

Label: Reel Recordings
US Release Date: 2009-11-10
UK Release Date: 2010-01-11
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

Yes, Soft Machine was the band most responsible for transforming late '60s psychedelia into that critically maligned beast known as progressive rock. If your conception of prog is restricted to silly images of pretentious 20-minute suites with flute solos, Live at Henie Onstad Art Centre 1971 serves as a revelatory display of the avant garde experimentalism and exquisite jazz-influenced instrumentation that made Soft Machine one of the genre's exemplary acts.

This latest Soft Machine live release documents two sets performed at Norway's Henie Onstad Art Centre, featuring the band's classic lineup of Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge, Elton Dean, and Hugh Hopper in top form. Contained on individual discs, each set is an assemblage of assorted Soft Machine compositions combined into seamless wholes, performed using only the group's stage amplification. The first disc is characterized by a driving intensity, dominated by insistent drumming, squealing saxophone, and keyboards verging on the atonal, that often rocks quite hard. Compared to the first installment's relative consistency, the second disc is more of a journey that hews closer to the group's jazz inclinations. Beginning with the claustrophobic free jazz cacophony of “Neo Caliban Grides”, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” opens the second disc's set up via a winding groove that gives way to a broader spaciousness for the group to play around in through several songs. The album concludes superbly with the caterwauling sax and thrusting rhythms of encore piece “Noisette”. Throughout, the sound quality of this release is simply stunning, the result of ambient recording techniques and the Art Centre's own studio setup.

Just as rewarding as the performance itself is the bonus CD-ROM. Included in lieu of traditional liner notes, the multimedia CD-ROM contains the expansive essay The Soft Machine Sound: An Electronic Acoustic Experience Examined, which ties together elements ranging from a history of electronic instruments to a complete transcript of a 1970 Soft Machine appearance on BBC Radio 3 into a detailed analysis of the group's relationship with sound in both live and studio contexts. The total multi-disc package is a feast for audiophiles and an engrossing document of Soft Machine as prime purveyors of heady, experimental rock music.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image