Stephan Micus: The Music Of Stones (ECM 1384)


Stephan Micus
The Music Of Stones

Stephan Micus shakuhachi, tin whistle, stone chimes, resonating stones, voice
Elmar Daucher resonating stones
Günther Federer resonating stones
Nobuko Micus resonating stones
Recorded 1986 at Ulm Cathedral
Engineer: Martin Wieland

Elmar Daucher’s resonating stones have haunted me since I first heard them on Klangsteine-Steinklänge (released 1990 on ProViva). While not conceptually unique (stone instruments, notes Micus, have at least a 2500-year history), Daucher’s playable sculptures nevertheless speak with voices all their own. They are, as anyone familiar will tell you, enchanting enough on their own terms, but to hear them in the context of Stephen Micus’s visceral melodies is to hear them as the source of some nameless creation. For the most part Micus has had free reign in recording for and submitting his work to ECM producer Manfred Eicher, who commits the material to disc as an acolyte might transcribe a master’s words. But for this project he took a rare dip into the pool of collaboration along with his wife Nobuko, Günther Federer, and Daucher himself all playing resonating stones. Add to these Micus’s unique instrumental prowess in the reverberant embrace of Germany’s Ulm Cathedral, and the results are as profound as they are extraordinary.

Micus and Daucher at Ulm Cathedral

The stones come alive in Part 1. Their voices hum through the listener’s bones. A shakuhachi begins its bird-like dip from the heavens, touching its wings to freedom. In its song one finds a cave, never knowing what will be heard, for under the cover of that night there is but a single voice calling (or is it weeping?) for someone. Two hands hold a song of water, turning it like a teacup held high in the absence of ceremony for the gods to drink. The shakuhachi then becomes a woodland creature who knows the trees well enough to skip through the branches blindfolded. The striking of the stones in Part 2 therefore startles with a blast of light. With the delicate force of a prepared piano or gamelan it is at once metal and flesh. One feels within it a sense of coming together through falling apart, a slow dissolve into unity at a molecular level. Part 3 introduces a penetrating tin whistle, and with it a feeling of windswept plains and distant shorelines, the continued gonging of the stones like cow bells in the pastures. Underlying rhythms carry over into Part 4, embracing an elemental sound in their tectonic heart, in which every seismic shift carves a new glyph of experience. Part 5 is a shakuhachi solo, tremulous and breaking. Spun of cloud and snow, it is a crane’s inner life unfolding before the dawn. Micus lets his throat unspool at last in Part 6, making music out of the very air around him. Which brings our attention to the one uncredited stone sculpture in all of this: the very cathedral itself, which has collected and preserved the footprint of every note played and which imparts its histories to us in an everlasting whisper.

<< Terje Rypdal: The Singles Collection (ECM 1383)
>> The Hilliard Ensemble: Perotin (ECM 1385 NS)

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