Voyage through Times and Spaces

All about Norbert Stein is pata: music, scores, label, formations

Carve drawing of human society

All things have to flow, says Norbert Stein. This is his motto for life as well as for the music he writes, that is more a commonplace than a pearl of wisdom. Relating to music the flow-metaphor means: it should be in motion without being frantic but be steady even with changing tempos; it doesnít have to linger in idyllic landscapes, but rather should make the listener ready to be taken away in it; it should communicate tranquillity rather than allay you, and it should be far from suspending the listener´s self-perception. Also it should have stylistic limits that are not valuable until the end of time but be open and vague enough for changes and new influences.

Norbert Stein´s music suggests a special kind of letting time pass by. The flow-metaphor is above all ruled by the two parameters melody and rhythm You have to listen very well not to get caught in a trap suspecting only superficial anti-academic, anti-modernist new-age or the „back-to-c-major-and 4/4 beat“- affect. Both parameters are essential in Norbert Stein´s music: he sees melody and rhythm as a universal human basis for music. It should have something to sing along with, to hum along with, to recognise and to follow, and it should create a situation of unity for those who listen and those who play it. He is sure that even courageous listeners of contemporary avant-garde (Norbert Stein claims to be one of them) have this need. This shows the many requirements for encores in concerts. It all depends on how you see it: take it or leave it. Refusal, he says – and here another musical and vital principle comes up – doesn´t take you far, and some time or other you pretty mark time. Rhythm also must flow, not necessarily pulse, push or hammer, neither change permanently. It should be the centre of the music to which you like to return to, no bizarre component rebuilding the cutting rhythm of the world of media.

Carve drawing of hunting sceneEncouraged by his father in his early exercises on the alto saxophone Norbert Stein was one of the first jazz music graduates in Cologne University. During the busy Seventies he was one of the musicians citizen-initiative of the Koelner Jazzhaus, which is one of the most successful and effective musicians co-operation of our time. He was also a member of the initiativeís central groups. … His compositions often deviated a bit from the diffuse consensus of the group. Even then he never liked ironically exaggerated humour: he found dissociating-destructive work with the music material and a composer´s eloquent craft work with humorous-sarcastic gestures too superficial. Humour, Norbert Stein says, should not be a medium for a need of limitation. Humour should not narrow stingily the horizon instead of widening it ambitiously, and make contradictions and oppositions bearable.

As he… started to go his own ways he founded his PATA music. PATA is a double syllable, found by Alfred Jarry (Taten und Meinungen des Pataphysikers Doktor Faustroll), and is in his phonetic structure similarly essential and far-reaching as DADA. ataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, and it defines the way to gain knowledge avoiding the rigorous rules of reason and tradition without disrespecting them). ATA is the name of his music, of his label and of the formations with whom Norbert Stein works. (PATA Horns, PATA Orchester, PATA Trio, PATA Masters). Some compositions contracts – Moers, Koelner Philharmonie – helped him to formulate his musical language which doesn´t lead into a definite vocabulary, and they fixed his relations to a circle of musicians who took part in the performances of different constellations.

Carve drawing of humans and animal flooringA pata physician is no neo-romantic. Norbert Stein´s music is often loud, sometimes eruptive. Curiously he uses music electronics as a contemporary instrument but is not obsessed by it. He loves the little, song-like forms, but connects them to greater contexts and returns to already performed pieces to re-examine them. The compositions for his wind players give room to improvisation and often built the background for freethinking soloists: he learned from jazz without feeling obliged to its idioms, he learned as much from other idioms and idols.

It may happen that a homely melody turns out to be a twelve tone string. One central item of his scores is that he doesn´t prescribe every sounding moment note by note. While composing certain musicians with their virtues and abilities come to his memory. What he writes should be carried out as precisely and responsibly as possible – he insists on that like every composer does. But this includes also for example that metrical concepts that are not completely congruent create little frictions in rubato-parts. Such little deviations are intended bows in front of the performing situation, and like solos they give the musicians their stand in music. Thus, his pieces are not commanding works, rather schedules for performing situations, embodied with creative musicians who also bring their surprising ideas and their individuality to the team. And with that they also bring: pata-scores.

Pata music is like a living organism in motion and underlying changes. Years ago it sounded totally different. The LP Lucy und der Ball (1988) was recorded by the unusually casted Pata Trio: two saxophone players (Norbert Stein and Hennes Hehn) and one drummer (Reinhard Kobialka), the music is rough and uncompromising at the same time airy, unflowery and loud. That is, says Norbert Stein, the reverse of the „turn to the world-happiness“: the need for sparseness of a disillusioned Beckett setting only with the light of a bulb, the chairs in a empty room at the edge of the abyss of the absurd. In such a room you can easily think and create music. If a melody is composed here it has no candy topping, if there is rhythm in it, it is no pompous waltzing dream. If you compose there you don´t fill a plastic bag with bizarre surprises.

The compositions for the pata orchestra on the CD „Die wilden Pferde der armen Leute“ (1990) followed old music without forgetting contemporary music and jazz entirely. The wind quartet PATA HORNS on „Talking People“ (1992) plays a warm, swinging wind music that is often well composed with free solos and loud intermezzo. And the music of PATA ORCHESTRA on the CD „The secret Art of Painting“ – a composition contract for a Bayer exposition – finds itself in a surprising context of fine arts. Now, Norbert Stein is writing for a contract of the ARFI (Association de la recherche d`un folklore imaginaire) and their orchestra La Marmite infernale in Lyon. The music will be performed on the festival „Le grand barouf“ in Lyon and, after that, once in Paris on the Banlieue-Festival. He didn´t meet the musicians till now. With that he meets a new situation of composing: Pata Music flows on.

Hans-Juergen Linke, Frankfurter Rundschau