Colloque Soft Machine - 03 - The System of Concentric Circles: a Methodology for Defining the Canterbury Music Scene (Alberto Popolla)


Colloque « Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt et la scène de Canterbury : un regard différent sur le rock dans les années 1960 et 1970 »

Organisation : Jacopo COSTA (docteur de l'université de Strasbourg, percussionniste), Elsa GRASSY (maître de conférences en études amériainces à l’université de Strasbourg) et Pierre MICHEL (professeur en musicologie à l'université de Strasbourg, saxophoniste)

Soutiens : LabEx GREAM (université de Strasbourg), UR 3402 ACCRA (université de Strasbourg) et Faculté des Arts de l'université de Strasbourg.

Comité scientifique : Jacopo Costa, Philippe Lalitte, Pierre Michel, Nicolò Palazzetti

Support technique et montage des vidéos : Vincent Kuster, Ruben Marzà, Arnaud Zeller

Résumé :
The definition of the “Canterbury scene” has always been a source of discussion both among musicians, critics and devotees of the genre. The extreme heterogeneity of the music usually defined as Canterbury caused a sense of indeterminacy and ambiguity
in trying to clarify its characteristics or even just to affirm its existence.
For this new systematization, it was necessary to adopt an analytical grid within which to recognize and insert the various musics that really make up the Canterbury scene. Even though, despite this grid, both the musical vicissitudes ad the musicians themselves
often leads us away from a definitive identification of the genre. Some sort of clouding that makes our research even more complicated and still partially undetermined.
So, once the analytical grid was established, we decided to stick to the official recordings as the only available means for an objective reading and analysis. Only by referring almost exclusively to them, we can try to define the boundaries and peculiar characteristics of the Canterbury scene. In a few words, instead of listing the bands and musicians we will list their fundamental recordings. In order to reduce as much as possible the indeterminacy of this work, we’ll place the records in a concentric circles system that will help us to identify both the center, the foundations, and the offshoots of this music.
The characteristics of the so-called sound of Canterbury can be enclosed in a series of sound elements and adjectives: harmonic intertwining, instrumental passages, pop song form, a certain approach to improvisation close to jazz but not completely adhering to it, long forms, odd rhythms, pastoral atmospheres of British folk heritage and ironic lyrics, all elements of a generally soft, elegant sound, basically rich in keyboards. Again: seventh chords, chromatic passages and unexpected instrumental solutions, limited extensions in experimental territories and collective improvisations as integral parts of compositions.
Thanks to this grid we can easily fix the first ring of the system on the ideal axis of Caravan / Hatfield And The North / National Health recordings. That’s the ring that should mostly determine the Canterbury sound aesthetic along with its coordinates and main characteristics. The second ring consists largely of a series of works related to the Soft Machine / Matching Mole axis, while the third is made up of more heterogeneous material, including Kevin Ayers’s solo works, Daevid Allen's Gongs and other records.

Biographie :
Clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger and composer, Alberto Popolla has played in New York, London, Berlin, Brussels, Algiers, Lisboa, Chicago and in many Italian and European festivals. He has explored the different sounds and the infinite resources of timbre of his clarinets, crossing experimentation and improvisation, writing and conductions, situations more strictly jazz and Balkan music and klezmer. He graduated Conservatory of Frosinone with a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Music with a thesis on the so-called Canterbury scene and La Sapienza University in Rome with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature, with a plan of historical political studies of modern and contemporary age. He writes for several web magazines and music magazines (,, Prog Italia) and has his own blog ( In recent years he has dedicated himself passionately to the arrangement and composition taking inspiration from the great blues heritage with the band Roots Magic.




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