BlankFor.ms, Jason Moran, Marcus Gilmore: Refract

Jazz pianist Moran, along with drummer Marcus Gilmore, makes his debut as an improviser responding to electronic compositions and impulses

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Tyler Gilmore, aka BlankFor.ms, is known for richly textured music created from his large collection of degraded tapes, analogue synthesizers and an old spinet piano. He began his career as a large-ensemble jazz composer at the New England Conservatory, where he first met Jason Moran and where he developed an interest in electronic music.

Gilmore said: “I found myself trying to mimic electric textures in orchestrations. Eventually I decided to simply go to the source and work with electronic tools, improvising using 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 analogue–electric aesthetic captivated the interest of producer Sun Chung, who founded Red Hook Records in 2020, having worked for a decade as an assistant producer at ECM. What he learned there obviously influenced what he produces now, for having heard Tyler’s work, he proposed the idea of an album pairing him with improvisers, an idea Tyler thought both thrilling and terrifying.

Jason Moran seemed to be a natural fit for the project, but this would be the first time the pianist had ever worked with an electronic musician. “In the time I’ve spent with Jason, I was always in awe of his receptiveness to the present moment . . . but I had 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, Tyler and Sun agreed that a percussive presence was necessary for the album to work and again, Marcus was the ideal candidate. 

Tyler went through a significant pre-production period before recording, preparing composed pieces (with melodies and chords), musical sketches and various tape loops that could serve as a jump-off point for improvisation. Each composition served as a starting point, with spontaneity crucial in every take. In fact, the mystery of “what would come out” was the driving creative force behind the entire project. Since a lot of the music was recorded in real time, that real sense of immediacy gives the album much of its energy.

The two Onsets that open the set invite interest for their disjointed and in places unfocused delivery, in comparison with the more composed Affectionate, Painful and Inward Curve, which are both considered and coherent. On the three Tape Loop improvisations, the trio really takes flight into unexpected, ethereal territories, Loop BII angry and aggressive, the final Loop D a fractured, romantic piano-led conclusion to the set.

Elsewhere, as on Eighth Pose, beeps, glitches and electronic sound washes predominate, while Stir and particularly Little Known both deliver an ominous intensity. 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.


Discography
Onset I, Onset II; Tape Loop A; Affectionate Painful; Inward Curve; Tape Loops BI–BIII; Eighth Pose; Stir; Release; Little Known; Tape Loops CI-III; Tape Loop D (61.58)
BlankFor.ms (elec, tape loops); Jason Moran (p); Marcus Gilmore (d). Brooklyn, NYC, 26–27 May 2022.
Red Hook Records RH1004