Free Form Evolution
Speaking to managers and promoters, they agree that free form should attract a far wider audience, given the fact it is peopled by musicians of great talent but there are some hangovers from the past which put some people off experiencing a free form gig. When they speak to customers, some consider it exclusive and too many have experienced gigs where "arses" of players have treated them to a workshop-like experience, completely forgetting about communication and playing in such an experimental and introverted way, the audience feels forgotten and completely outside the experience. There is a discernible difference between sitting in a bar listening to free players communicating with the audience and trying new ways of playing and sitting listening to players playing purely for themselves.
"Sometimes," Wilkinson says, "there is a problem with improvised music when it becomes a series of 'noises.' The problem with most 'noise' music is it doesn't tend to involve a lot of listening. I feel the music is of secondary importance to the activity. With the improv side of things the sound is still trying to be appropriate to the situation, to develop it in some way. It's very difficult to describe without sounding exclusive."
That sense of exclusivity is another factor which alienates some from free form. Many people feel the musicians are part of a separate philosophy, involved in a spiritualism which is hard for some to understand. Yet, whilst many players are interested in spiritual things and certainly early on, free from attracted players who were into different philosophies, it is only because this way of playing is about expression, seeking a greater sense of where we are in the cosmos and communication. The players are not out to create separatism but simply seeking understanding themselves.
Davey Payne, free form instrumentalist and People Band member comments, ''I don't believe that it is necessarily true that you have to learn the rules before you break them. Rules can and often restrict. An abstract painter scumbles and explores, takes chances and begins to learn how these more radical techniques work. Then, you could focus in and explore a more conventional way: another color to your palette, if you feel the need to. Obviously if you want to play like Stan Getz or Kenny G, or paint a Constable, you would need to, like, paint by numbers. Turner had a good balance. I think it's probably best to do both, stretch out, blast away, move your fingers fast, scream, growl, have fun, be angry, or sad, think about things that you know and express them with your playing, talk through your instrument, then maybe play a scale, but don't be a parrot; move on and let the subconscious rule. If people say that's not music, say that you are expressing and communicating through sound. All music as we know it was just made up. Mozart improvised at parties, and Liszt: 'wow!' And the Indian sitar, that's another story, not to mention the sound of the real cosmos. Was Pythagoras' music of the spheres any more valid that the Eastern harmonies? Both sides are guilty of 'crimes to humanity.'" There is a strong sense of communication and talking through the instrument.
Views like this are the essence of free form playing. It is the most humanist form of music there is, because of the communication element; the sense of linking with something greater than players or audiences.
A free form gig also requires input from the listener, which is new for many. A gig is on a different level than simply going to be entertained. It is not background, cocktail music. It requires involvement from the listener because it is about communication, the language and expression of music. Musicians take a feeling and make it a shared experience. It is possible to misunderstand free form musicians and mistake their humanist approach for one of self-absorption and introverted spiritual dictums.
Despite everything, however, it is an interesting scene at the moment. In some places, there is a resurgence of interest in free form and, in Europe, there are again venues in which to play. Musicians remain confident that free form will continue to gain audiences, to evolve and capture new listeners and players. Some managers have supported free music over the years, anyhow. Venues like Oto's, 660 and The New Vortex in London have continued to support free form players and now they are enjoying an influx of new listeners, and a younger and more mixed audience. Whether due to the influx of Europeans or that our own young people are finally realizing the best music has been right in front of them all along, it is not clear but it is a positive thing.