Pata Masters & Kua Etnika

A love story between Jazz and Gamelan

It starts very softly with a Javanese song, similar to the sort that would be chanted mantra-like by a dalang (puppet master). The song is mixed with little cries, reminiscent of animal noises in the background and the sounds of gamelan instruments. It reminds one of a wayang (leather puppet) performance.

Then suddenly comes a reply from the other side: saxophone, percussion and electronic sounds abruptly breaking the meditative atmosphere.
A medley of Ska-like tones sweeps over the platform, before the music goes back to the gamelan -- only to be superseded again by another jazzy sound.

Pata Java is the latest project by the German music group Pata Masters, one of the most famous contemporary Jazz Ensembles of Germany. It was after their first tour through Indonesia in 2001 that they got the idea of exploring a new sound mix: Javanese and Balinese gamelans playing together with modern electronic sounds, percussion, saxophone and flutes.

They previously pioneered similar projects with musicians in Brazil and Morocco with amazing results.

The five musicians from Cologne have been playing together for almost 10 years. Pure Jazz is not the only element in their music, they like to explore the roots of traditional and ethnic music from all over the world: Pata Music, what they call their own, special sound.

The right partner for this ambitious project in Indonesia -- organized by the Goethe-Institut Jakarta and sponsored by Daimler-Chrysler -- was found in Djaduk Ferianto and his group, Kua Etnika, famous for its new interpretations of traditional Indonesian music.

After considering the CDs of a number of Indonesian groups, Pata Masters found that Kua Etnika was the most suitable for collaboration on a joint project.

"Their gamelan music is not orthodox or traditional, but really lively and open to everything that can happen in the future", said Norbert Stein, the founder and director of the Pata Masters.

The artists from Yogyakarta started to listen to the music from Germany and they also found something very promising that they could work on together.

"They perform something new and very interesting in their music, almost cheeky. It seemed to me that they have the same spirit and imagination of what music can mean as we do," Djaduk said.

Not surprisingly, from the first day of collaboration between the two music groups, everything went smoothly. When the Germans arrived in Yogyakarta, Norbert Stein brought five composition sketches with him and Djaduk four compositions of his own. Then they work together Kua Etnika studio.

"Neither of us tries to play a dominant role over the other. We accept and respect the experience and cultural background of each other," says Djaduk.

Both groups obviously enjoy the challenge of the new sound. Even in the breaks between their long rehearsals, the musicians share experiences and try out each other's instruments.

"I have several gamelan instruments at home that I bought at an auction many years ago," says Matthias van Welck, who traveled through Java for the first time 15 years ago.

"So these sounds are still exotic, but not strange any more to us. Still, there is always something new."

The Indonesian musicians also enjoy trying out the African slit drums and deep mallets van Welck brought with him. The biggest attraction, though, is probably the huge sub-contra-bassfluite of Michael Heupel -- one of the few ever built in the world. Children from the neighborhood stand curiously beside the open-air studio and stare at the white strangers playing these strange instruments.

Two worlds of tones with their different traditions and tonalities meet in this very exciting experiment. "It is something really new," says Marla Stukenberg, head of the cultural program department at the Goethe Institute.

"Although we still cannot fluently communicate in our languages, we perfectly understand each other via music," Djaduk says.

Pata Java will stage three concerts: Oct. 23, 8 pm, Gedung Sositet Militer, Taman Budaya Yogyakarta, Jl. Sriwedari 1, Yogyakarta; Oct. 26, 3.30 pm, Aula Barat ITB, Jl. Ganesha 10, Bandung; Oct. 29, 8 pm, Graha Bhakti Budaya, Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jl.Cikini Raya 73, Jakarta Pusat.

 Christina Schott, Contributor, Yogyakarta ejazznews