Data Design Group

FEATURE STORY
Remembering Pip Pyle
By Enrique Jardines and Aislinn Quinn of Absolute Zero

I received the terrible news on a rainy Monday morning around 5:30 AM. The car had a flat tire and a tropical storm was expected to hit Miami in a couple of days.

Aislinn called, more than worried, telling me that Phil Miller had left a message on our machine saying he had something very important to tell us, and that we were to call him right away.

I remember a frozen stillness - it was raining - and during that peculiar moment, for a brief moment, I was consumed with a flash that something serious, something irreversible had happened to Pip. I told Aislinn to return Phil's call, where she was to receive the message that was to change our lives forever. The brutal fact of death had struck. The absurdity of it all. The finality of time had robbed us of our dear mate. I was left with only grief, rage -there are no words that can properly describe how I felt then.

There have been many times that I think back as to when I met Pip. It was around 1976 while living in London with Alan Gowen and his lovely family. In fact, I can say that I met Pip in my bedroom, as I had the privilege to sleep in the rehearsal room where National Health would often grace the air with their music. Pip's amazing playing certainly impressed me then. Little did I know our futures would entwine many years later.

Pip was always an intelligent and a generous sort. He and I exchanged the odd bit of pithy musical minutia  - I remember he would go on eruditely on the arcane subject of music biz hullabaloo. He would often impress with the odd sage bit of advice that either succeeded in thrusting us into the throes of the self-styled music cognoscenti (who often missed the point of our attempts at music making), or else would totally save our day. His wit kept our spirits up in spite of a world's insistent logic that never seem to apply to us. And, oh, did I mention - Pip was always right in the end. Really. (Pip, I hope you can hear this now.)

When I first called Pip to join our band he said yes without hesitation. I was dumbstruck. Of course, we shared a certain disdain for the tried and true. And yes, it was well documented that Pip was the "dangerman" type with ability to get on with it regardless of the difficulty of the challenge. But, to me, his taking on Absolute Zero just like that, without hesitation, was true duende!

Pip was always very enthusiastic and wanted to contribute his art and sense of danger into a sympathetic band environment. He would call us at all odd hours with a new idea or just to chat about life. I always enjoyed these chats even though both our phone bills would soar beyond reason - the truth was that our mission had little to do with reason or logic anyway.

I once called Benj trying to check up on our Pip to see how he was getting on with the music that we had recently mailed him. Benj reported that he had locked him up in a room and would not let him out till he knew his parts. Now I can tell you that those parts were difficult. And I can also tell you most assuredly that he learned them expertly, as well as added his own most creative ideas to the pot. Not only that, he pushed us in ways we had never imagined. He proved nothing short of inspiring!

Our first rehearsal with Pip involved Aislinn waiting at the airport with a sign saying "Dangerman" (he did not know what she looked like), which he immediately picked out as a reference to him. The very next day we drove into rehearsals and after a few hours of bashing about we came up for air. It was a difficult bit trying to put all of this musical madness together and, with an upcoming tour, the job had to be done in a hurry. But all went extremely well - we found we all got along terrifically, the notes made friends and the rhythms, with their mind numbing math, somehow sorted themselves out. The variedness of our musical approaches slowly melded into some semblance of a band sound and we found the music was the better for it.

We should mention that Pip "Dangerman" Pyle, true to his name, had a penchant of arriving on our shores with storms and hurricanes in tow (he even had to help put up boards on the windows before going to one gig, as a hurricane threatened to arrive while we were away).

We often did make our way to the kitchen where Pip created what was to be the band's fave libation - the Papaya Margarita. Three papaya seeds carefully chosen by Pip for their special quality and gourmand taste acted as the perfect final secret ingredients. I should mention that he was a fantastic cook and would grace our table with amazing culinary feats. More often than not, when we called him he was cooking, or eating his cooking. During his stay in Miami he developed a taste for Cuban coffee (Bustelo Supremo was his cup of choice). He also adored the fresh guava pastries that are so common here.

When we weren't practicing, he would sit in our backyard and have about two or three breakfasts. He would share with Mac the Wonder Dog and they were often heard fighting for the last morsels. (It was far too common to hear Pip saying "Fuck off Mackie " as Mac would make a play for his last bit of breakfast.) Pip actually loved Mac and would often feed her all sorts of things that would make her day. He would spend hours with her in the backyard reading and charging up on hi-octane Cuban fluid (at times causing him to suddenly climb up onto our roof and dive headfirst into our frog-and-snake-friendly pool).

There are many things that are memorable about Pip:

* His falling through the bathroom floor in the wee hours of the night while relieving himself at the Siesta Motel in New Orleans (a place where we all slept with our clothes on due to prostitute-friendly sanitary conditions)

* His "international incident" in Tijuana, which forced me to acquire an honorary degree in fast-talking life-or-death diplomacy while totally blotto, with no bribery currency with which to influence the authorities making the arrest

* His introduction of kazoos into the Absolute Zero repertoire, and his insistence on a heavily padded cumbersome ATA roadcase for them. (There is a bartender in Key West who was graced with a drunken rendition of the kazoo bit from "Paradigms" and, to his credit, still continued to serve us afterwards.)

* His sensible groundedness and defiant courage in the face of adversity when an amazing recording session of ours was lost forever. (This, of course, was preceded by a bacchanal of drinking and piss fights in bathrooms that landed all of us at 3:30 A.M. crawling on the ground looking for the keys to our sleeping establishment, which Pip inexplicably lost.)

* His personal fight with Hemingway's ghost in Key West, which ended up placing us all in the middle of a bloody street brawl.

Now here we are, without Pip.

Thinking back, one thing I can say is that I feel incredibly fortunate that Pip and Phil called us up last minute from New York to visit us in July, and that we made the time to be with them here in Miami, and that we took the final journey with them to Key West. Those were unforgettable times, and, I now realize, a precious gift from fate.

To end, the gathering tropical storm did indeed manage to hit Miami's urban sprawl two days after that fateful call from Phil.

I like to think that it was Pip crashing down in his inimitable way to let us know he's still around.

Enrique Jardines

*************
I never thought I would be writing this. In fact, I initially said that I would not, that writing about a Pip who was "post-mortem" was to accept that Pip was gone. And I categorically refuse to accept this.

I have read and re-read the eloquent, the simple, the bitter, the laudatory, the painful disbelief, the "wishing you well wherever you are", the "at least he left us his music" commentaries. They are truly lovely. I only hope I can add something of significance to the lot. So, here goes:

I saw Pip's ideal, always.

I picture it as a sort of brilliant white light shining from behind him, blinding you with his glee and humor, his strength of will, and his pure boundless loving spirit. I admit I was seriously mesmerized at times. His raw vulnerability broke my heart.  He felt life so intensely that it almost hurt to experience him.

Pip was fascinated with the stars. In Miami, we are gifted with huge open skies, which he loved, and an Everglades nearby where one could really lose oneself in the broad expanse of galaxy visible there. I'd often sit with him as he perused the heavens (both of us often having imbibed a wee bit of the liquid tropics). It seemed to me then that he was searching for something deeply outside of himself, something without boundaries, something so much more infinite than this life's suffocating cultural restraints.

There were times when I thought one could just leap into the spray of stars and burst into a paroxysm of lights and ridiculous laughter (strong probability that was due to the tropical liquids).Well, I guess Pip has his chance at the stars now - I hope he's finding this next adventure full of the unbounded freedom he longed for. And I hope it's filled with at least as much love as he graced us with.

Maybe a few stories about Pip the amazing musician.

He was brilliant in the studio. For the Crashing Icons mix sessions, he expressed the wish that he and I would play samples on my keyboards as a final touch to some of the tunes. Before he was to arrive in Miami to overdub and mix in the studio, I made the at-the-time-seemingly-reasonable suggestion that he bring some sounds with him that I could record on sampler to use in the recording. No problem. We get to the studio, where I find myself arguing with him to put my voice down in the mix as compared to the drums (I have reverse diva complex). The next bit coming up in the studio schedule was for us to play the samples.  Cleverly (I only realized the purposefulness of this later), he hands me a stack of cassettes and sends me to a back room where my samplers currently resided to record the kazillion sounds he had brought with him. This of course kept me busy for hours, and freed him up to put me wherever he wanted me in the mix without my being able to contest it. I sometimes suspect that these actions were payback for my putting him (in his own words) "in the worst motel he had ever been in" during the Crashing Icons tour. No matter - I now soar like a superdiva above the Crashing Icons ensemble's musical stratosphere on numerous cuts. And I cannot change this because the individual tracks of the last mix was forever lost by the studio. Cunning.

I got my revenge later by permanently blessing him on the Crashing Icons liner notes with the moniker "The King of Whinge" (he signed off this way in one letter to me) to celebrate his whining and complaining about Enrique's and my musical notation and cuing methodologies (written to drive "on-a-dime" feints and switches, tensions and releases in the music) and our tendency to counter rhythms (11 over 7), and our use in one tune of quintuplets (he hated quintuplets).  I remember well a look of stark amazement on his face when, upon asking each band member where he/she thought the "1" was in a particular tune, found that we all heard it on a different beat. I might add that he played the quintuplets beautifully, and came up with a much more swinging feel to replace the 11 over 7 section, patiently allowed us the luxury of multiple 1's, and ended up giving and taking or plethora of cues (this was no small feat for him since he had to relinquish closing his eyes when he played in order to give, or watch for, the 100 or so cues we had in the set). He also wrote out all new parts for himself as an interpretation of our unorthodox notations, which he then played with a vengeance and a driving gusto.

He loved to lecture me on how he did not like to use samplers or sequencers except to create specially recorded sound effects, and how acoustic sounds were much more to his preference. Yet, he managed to come to Miami, read a horribly flawed drum sampler manual, and programmed (in one night mind you!) all the parts we needed for the whole set (which were numerous!!). I tell this to counter anyone who suggests that Pip was intractable in his ways. He might put up a fight initially, and demand endless explanations and justifications to make absolutely sure you were not wasting his time on a whim, but when push came to shove, he always came through, dove right in, with flying psychedelic colors. 

What challenged me about Pip's playing is that he would always confound the expected.  Now as a band "pre-Pip", Absolute Zero always loved to confound expectations, but here was Pip constantly shaking up mine, foiling my counterrhythms with his polyrhythms, diving well below the surface of the frozen bits of music to explore how far we could all go in sending it all to hell. Needless to say I was forced to go to another level of playing. It was hard (really hard) for me to merge somehow with his dangerous spirit and his amazing sense of swinging mayhem.

Another thing - he got me to play kazoo. In public.

He also taught me the "cockney alphabet".

I found him simply brilliant, and deeply inspiring as a cohort in musical crime. It is no small thing that I get to carry this experience of Pip with me.

I will continue to refuse to accept he's gone for good - he simply can't be. He's running amok somewhere, trying to figure out how to connect to all of us so that we can get through the rest of this towering babble called "life". When he figures out the prestidigitation necessary for the two worlds to communicate, I figure he'll mindmeld me the skill to be able to play 7 over 11 over 56 using only my left pinky, as well as the ability to iron a shirt with the skill of a highly paid valet (I took much ribbing from him that I didn't have a proper iron - he actually ironed his t-shirts! "What kind of a proper wife are you anyway?" he would say, bellowing out a great belly laugh. I would always retort that I was a woman who could accurately program the wrinkles out of his midi setup - much more useful I say.)

So here we all are now, metaphysically shipwrecked, (more like metaphysical roadkill), without Pip. I guess we will have to pick ourselves up and plow on in an attempt to scrape this existence for a scrap of meaning and a few moments of art, music and laughter (Pip would expect nothing less of us than courage in the face of this storm). But I will glance up much more often to wonder at the mystery of the universe, in his name.

By the way, Pip, as you tap away in the stars, and charge wildly into this, your new kismet, if you could just send us some sort of sign?

Aislinn Quinn
 

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