Stephan Micus voice, sho, nay, shakuhachi, Bavarian zither, hammered dulcimer
Recorded January 1986
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Stephan Micus is more than the sum of his parts. The German-born multi-instrumentalist has done that rare thing: absorbed rather than pilfered a wealth of musical traditions and means and molded from them an entity all its own. As one of his earlier recordings for ECM, Ocean is a tinted window into an artistry of full-blown brilliance. Part I opens with his unaffected, wordless incantation before opening into a flower of hammered dulcimers. As the mournful cries of the nay replace his voice, it is as if the bodily has become breath incarnate, airing out its gentle patchwork of sound in a breezy sky, while meditations rise like pedestals beneath souls. The shō (Japanese mouth organ) opens Part II, treading its feet upon cloud, every step forward an exhalation, every step backward an inhalation, such that one remains poised on the brink of falling. From this congregation of threads arises a shakuhachi, unspooling in reverse, its fatigued song but a dream on a wistful day. Zithers enter in with their skittering rhythms, fluttering like the wings of some vast diurnal insect whose wing covers are its feet, and for whom landing is but a memory of a past in which humans never spoke. In the opening dulcimer meditation of Part III, we feel the kinship into which Micus so profoundly invites us, a promise of stillness in its embrace. The shakuhachi whispers its secrets across the waters, ending in a delicate waterfall, a lifetime’s worth of tears compressed into a single fade and pooled in the cupped hands of silence. Part IV ends (or does it begin?) with a moving shō solo, which turns like a crystal spun from Philip Glass-like filaments and melted by body heat into a fluted garden, churning with the song of every earthworm below.
Micus lets unfold a territory so personal that it becomes selfless, somehow unmarked the human elements of its creation. In his playing, names, labels, and covers, even personages and politics, cease to matter. The only restriction is its very lack. Such music goes beyond the pathos of meditational action, looking into the soul of stillness, where only music can express that which all the languages of the world, lost and extant alike, never could. Their cage is not one that surrounds us but one we surround with the promise of creation, waiting with closed eyes and open hearts.