Experimental music has always been something of a risky venture. The general public is rarely ready for what the avant-garde has to offerand it often takes years, even decades for genius to be recognized and snatched from the jaws of obscurity. Luckily, New York has always had a place in its heart for the searching musician. The Downtown music scene was built on that affinity, and clubs like Barbès and the Stone, as well as the Downtown Music Gallery record store continue to open their doors and stages up to the kind of esoteric minds that yearn to explore new sonic worlds.
Philip Gayle is just such a musician. The Mommy Row
is a rich sonic offering that finds the guitarist applying Cageian preparations to his acoustic guitar, while conjuring hypnotic musical vistas using bells, drums and the haunting cry of the water-phone in a solo performance as rewarding as it is challenging.
Right off the bat, the listener is thrown off balance by "Gyo, Gyo, Gyo, Gyo. Furiously plucked passages overlap in oblong sequence as bent highs ring out over twanged bass notes. The guitar's two highest strings are drastically detuned to the point where they hang from the neck and Gayle forcibly manipulates them with his left hand while plucking with his right to produce distinctive bent quarter-tones.
"Zoomly Zoomly is Eastern-sounding in its meditative drone and gong punctuations, a strong foil to the frantic nature of the first track. The sound of the water-phone (used mostly in horror movie soundtracks and as a background on TV shows like Forensic Files) permeates the entire track, at times joined by wavering electronic sounds and grating metallic shrieks, contributing an eerie vibe.
Unlike most albums, where a uniform sound tends to bridge each track, The Mommy Row is best described as eleven self-contained sonic excursions; Gayle gives listeners a few seconds of rest before starting again with an entirely new palette. The ringing bell tones of "Kanojo No Pan bear little resemblance to the melodic snippets and schizophrenic phrases of "The Payphone or the quasi-chordal, electronic phase of "April Warp, but therein lies the album's beauty. It takes artistic vision to find beauty in unconventional formsand courage to share that vision.
Gayle shared his vision in a solo performance last month at Downtown Music Gallery. There, before a modest crowd, the Houston guitarist delivered a completely improvised performance, utilizing many of the techniques from the album in drawn-out performances that ranged from reflective to frantic. He established and painstakingly maintined sonic landscapes before the hushed audience, which showed Gayle its appreciation.
Personnel: Philip Gayle: all instruments.