Tape Loop A
Tape Loop B I
Tape Loop B II
Tape Loop B III
Tape Loop C I
Tape Loop C II
Tape Loop C III
Tape Loop D
BlankFor.ms: electronics, tape loops, processing
Jason Moran: piano
Marcus Gilmore: drums
Digital meets analogue on Refract - the remarkable new trio album by electronic musician and tape loop specialist BlankFor.ms, MacArthur fellow pianist Jason Moran and innovative drummer Marcus Gilmore. Refract is an uninhibited sonic marvel that combines electronics, piano and drums in real time. By spontaneously recording loops grabbed on the fly and re-infusing the sonic planes with various effects, the results borne on Refract are sounds and energies rarely heard before.
Tyler Gilmore, aka BlankFor.ms, is a highly respected and unique artist known for richly textured, emotive music created from his rare collection of degraded tapes, analog synthesizers and an old spinet piano. In a way, his whole artistic life - thus far - has led up to this moment. “I’ve lived a few musical lives at this point,” reflects Tyler. He began his career as a large ensemble jazz composer, attending New England Conversatory and studying with Moran, while concurrently fostering an interest in electronic music. “I had always loved electronic music and found myself trying to mimic electric textures in orchestrations. Eventually I decided to simply go to the source and work with electronic tools, first improvising with people using DAW-based delays, harmonizers, reverbs, and feedback. But it was really the discovery of cassette tape as a creative medium that spurred my electronic creations into something more.” This analog electric aesthetic captivated the interest of producer Sun Chung, who upon hearing Tyler’s work, proposed the idea of an album pairing him with improvisers - an idea Tyler called both “thrilling” and “terrifying”.
From the onset, Jason Moran seemed to be the most natural fit. “In the time I’ve spent with Jason, first as a student and then arranging and orchestrating for a few of his projects, I was always in awe of his receptiveness to the present moment… he has an almost aggressive ability to listen and take everything in, and a faith that were was more to find if he were to listen even further,” says Tyler. “The idea of combining my electronic vocabulary with [Jason’s] playing was terribly inspiring. I had no idea, literally no idea, how he would play when confronted with tape loops, or feedback resonances, or harmonized and twisted loops of what he’s just played.” With Marcus Gilmore, it was even more mysterious. Tyler and Sun agreed that a percussive presence was necessary for the album to work and again, Marcus was the ideal candidate.
Sun and Tyler went through a significant pre-production period before recording. Tyler prepped a few different pathways for the trio and tried to remain unattached to whichever branch might bear the most fruit. He prepared composed pieces (with melodies and chords), musical sketches with lots of runway, and various tape loops that could serve as a jumpoff point for improvisation. “Each composition served as a starting point,” Jason Moran reflects. “Tyler’s ability to mine the song as it was being made created another dimension. It felt more like part of our music reality was being refracted back to us. In that way, intentionality was especially important, because any moment could come flooding back exponentially bigger.” Refract marks the first time Jason has ever worked with an electronic musician and fulfills a long-held desire for the Grammy nominated artist. “I have always longed for an outside force to manipulate my piano song and drag the sound into a cistern filled with soft clay.”
Album highlights “Affectionate, Painful” and “Inward, Curve” came from more composed ideas, while the album opener “Onset I”, “Onset II” and “Stir” were the result of an open-ended framework. On the various tape loop improvisations, the trio really takes flight. Tyler left all of his prepared tape loops unlabeled so that they wouldn’t know which was which when they began. “The improvisations resulting from this process were some of the best moments of the session,” says Tyler. “Jason and Marcus were sublime in their ability to instantly compose in, out, and around the loops. I was improvising using effects pedals, modular devices, and tape machines, and I had a feed of the piano and drums flowing into my effects. I was creating textures, gestures, motifs out of what they played. I often found myself trying to grab the interesting moments and silently hold them (bent, reversed, granulated, delayed) waiting and listening for a natural pivot moment to reintroduce them.”
Spontaneity was a major tenant of the session and instilled in every take. In fact, the mystery of “what would come out” was the driving creative force behind the entire project. “One of the aspects I love about this album is how interactive all the sonic elements are,” Sun Chung says. “A lot of it was recorded in real time, so there is a real sense of immediacy in the music’s energy that one can sense while listening.” Paired with some more of the through composed tracks, this 16-track program is an incredibly balanced and dynamic work.
“When Tyler was a student of mine at New England Conservatory, we would listen to a lot of electronic music and I recall asking how he would transpose these ideas to analog instruments,” Jason reflects. “In this way, this is his answer.”
Refract is the latest release from the adventurous Red Hook Records, which was founded in 2020 by Sun Chung after a decade-long tenure at ECM. “I love combining sonic worlds and genres - especially mixing electronics and acoustic.” Refract follows in the footsteps of Two Centuries, a daring collaboration between Wadada Leo Smith, Qasim Naqvi and Andrew Cyrille, released last year, which also combined electronic and acoustic instruments in a similarly magnificent way.
Recorded: May 26-27, 2022
The Bridge Studio, Brooklyn NY
Engineers: Amon Drum
Mix: Rick Kwan
Mastering: Taylor Deupree
Cover Art: Laura Arteaga Charlton
Photos: Arianna Tae Cimarosti
Videos: Ingo J. Biermann
Design: Matthew Appleton
Produced by Sun Chung
"They move from rumination to chaos and back with grace and an air of mystery."
Larry Blumenfeld - Tidal
"It is an impressive team for a first foray."
Giovanni Russonello - The New York Times
"The electronica is on point and Moran is in imperious form. A thrilling mix of improvised electronica and contemporary modern jazz."
Mike Hobart - Financial Times
"That music is at times excitable and other times deeply contemplative, but even at the extreme ends of that spectrum, motion and stillness bleed across the divide."
Dave Sumner - Bandcamp
"This three-way studio collaboration between pianist Jason Moran, electronic musician Blankfor.ms, and drummer Marcus Gilmore is a fascinating experiment... Blankfor.ms is always at work disrupting and sidetracking the music, letting shimmering waves of electronic tone waft through."
Phil Freeman - Stereogum
"A fuzzy, warm world, as if seen through frosted eyes, the analogue pulling delaying, microsecond intervals of decomposition away from digital decay, the drums (of Marcus Gilmore) coated with particle layers as if once trapped in sandstorm, duststorm, firestorm."
"...there are vertiginous stretches that startle with their hard-to-place newness. Hopefully, Refract points toward future releases from this more-than-interesting trio."
Fred Cisterna - Qobuz
"The electronics are like deep exhalations spreading out over solidly icy piano chords to attain the grandeur of a classical composer making do without horns or strings."
Kevin Le Gendre - Jazzwise
"If you are looking for music that is fresh, and jazz that is breaking through walls that once defined it, this is an album that will cause the senses to tickle, the mind to reflect, and the universe to open widely like a smile across your sky and lift you into passages and places never before explored."
Dee Dee McNeil - Musical Memoirs
"At this point, it's self-evident how well these two genres mesh. And pianist Jason Moran and drummer Marcus Gilmore offer another fascinating twist: tape loops. — partnered with the tape loop visionary Tyler Gilmore, a.k.a. BlankFor.ms."
Morgan Enos - Recording Academy / Grammys
"Throughout, the variety of sounds – digital and analogue – is inspiring, the combination of electronics, piano and drums in real time hugely impressive. For this is a set that constantly surprises in its sheer inventiveness and excels in its delivery."
Simon Adams - Jazz Journal
"Refract's largely improvised fabric makes for one of the year's most adventurous and intriguing listens."
Pat Youngspiel - All About Jazz
"Existing in a genre of its own there's a panoramic wash to the track that gives it almost an orchestral feeling and a slowly unfurling large scale feel to the piece remarkable given how small the ensemble is."
Stephen Graham - Marlbank
"...one of the most unique recordings that you have ever
heard. The musicianship is guaranteed with Jason Moran and Marcus Gilmore involved, but it is everyone’s sense of exploration that makes this a distinctive recording. It isn’t jazz or rock, it’s not hip-hop or electronica, and it’s not classical, so what is it? A mind-bending exploration and experimentation of sound."
"...tumble into spiralling disorder then subside into hushed serenity."
"It’s modern, and excellent, but is it “jazz”? It will be when jazz catches up to it."
George Grella - New York City Jazz Record
"The whole record makes for an exhilarating piece that keeps your ears guessing right until the last moment."
Barney Whittaker - Prestomusic
"The talent involved means the trio never quite sounds like anyone before."
Michael Toland - The Big Takeover
"As inviting as the projection of water you know is there, flowing and never stopping, so is the music you will hear; they sway with a rare delicacy. If you are ready for a true cross-genre journey, check it out."
Dark Blue Notes