The tolerance of 1000 possibilities

Interview by Michael Scheiner
due to the release of “Pata Java” Pata 16
published by JAZZZEITUNG

Saxophone with fingersNorbert Stein, the composer and saxophon player from Cologne, never actually met Dr. Faustroll, but has been a lifelong aficionado of his pata-physical principles. Hence the epithet “Pata” for sixteen years of artistic and mercantile output – starting with the “Pata” trio and “Pata” orchestra and culminating in the “Pata” label and It was in 1898 that Alfred Jarry, the French provocateur, created Dr. Faustroll, the very first pata-physicist. Since then, Pata physics has loomed large in dadaism and surrealism, and even errant situationists will acknowledge its potency. Pata creation no. 16 is “Pata Java”, a joint production by Pata Masters and the Indonesian band “Kua Etnika”, which was recently released. In the following interview, Norbert Stein explains how Pata physics, like the “defeat of metaphysics” for Gille Deleuze, became a turning point in his hitherto tranquil existence and still influences him even today.

JZ: How significant is Pata physics to your music and everday life?
Stein: That´s immensely comprehensive. (Pause) I read “Roi Ubu” by Alfred Jarry as a young man and was fascinated by the spiritual world it opened up. Then came Beckett, Ionescu, Artaud, the theatre of the absurd, Heidegger’s “being-in-the-world” and existentialism. The essence of things was the recurring theme. Ubu was burlesque – the violence of a cowardly tyrant providing ironic comment on the theatre of life. All this was heady stuff which put me in touch with life and made me inquisitive. I started listening to jazz on the radio and found it deeply stirring. It was then that I recognized art as a medium in which you can create something palpable out of abstract philosophy.

JZ: Yet beat and rock was the music of the time .
Stein: Of course I listened to the hit parade too, but it didn’t move me. My father was a saxophone player in the local brass band and those were my beginnings too – music-making at carnival and Christmas, and all the hits. Jazz was completely new to me and pointed to something beyond the known world. I listened to Gato Barbieri’s intersection of European cultures in “Escalator over the Hill”, and to Bebop, which I found too fast. In Pata physics, I found something in which everything has a place. Pata physics allowed me to bring together even the most disparate perspectives.

JZ: Has anything changed since you created the “Pata” label
Stein: The constants have stayed the same. Obviously, life takes its course and the experiences you have colour your outlook and mark you out as an individual. Change is inevitable. “Die wilden Pferde”, which I made in 1990, belonged more to the romantic department and was a stock-take of the cultural landscape of the time and its aspirations. Looking back, I’d call it a youthful work. Today, society no longer delivers imperatives and one can sense an anxious probing for boundaries. But art has to be adventurous and move beyond the limits.

JZ: Taking your music from the early nineties and comparing it with your recent Indonesian project, one can detect a clear shift from melody to rhythm.
Stein: Three or four rhythm musicians can generate amazing power and complexity. One day, I’d like to make aleatory music with a big ensemble based entirely on graphic symbols. Braxton once said that his aim was to create options, whatever the main instrument, nd that’s what I’d call “the tolerance of a 1000 possibilities” Xennakis is similar to Ubu in his handling of elementary forces: on the one hand you can create something beautiful by following certain principles, on the other, there is a truth in chaos which follows a higher principle.

JZ: For years, the same names crop up on your projects and recordings. How important is continuity for you?
Stein: It’s always nice to have a history of shared experience and be switched on to the people you work with. But that isn’t a must for me. New people bring new colours and ideas. What I personally appreciate is being able to experience a mutual process of development with fellow-musicians. Collective departures into the new and unknown are always exciting.

Michael Scheiner ( / Jazzzeitung