Stephan Micus: The Garden Of Mirrors (ECM 1632)

Stephan Micus
The Garden Of Mirrors

Stephan Micus voice, steeldrums, sinding, shakuhachi, suling, nay, tin whistles, percussion
Recorded 1995-96 at MCM Studios

Just as one look at the many instruments Stephan Micus plays is sure to impress, so too does one experience of what he produces with them dispel arbitrary interest in those means. Music flows from his fingertips in such an organic way that the source catches light in all of us. Nothing feels out of place. It’s worth noting, however, that The Garden Of Mirrors makes especial use of that most intuitive instrument of all: the human voice. Like water in sunset, Micus’s wordless songs collect light-years of travel along the glittering surface of their multiplication. Twenty such voices manifest themselves first in “Earth.” Accompanied by the bolombatto, an African gut-stringed harp, this world traveler speaks to the very marrow of life. A binary star leaves his lips, the being to our nonbeing. These twins become triplets, and so forth, until the galaxy is alive in a choir whose rhythms are the stuff that binds. “Violeta” and “Night Circles” exchange the bolombatto for its hemp-stringed cousin, the sinding, melting into a future where hope may breathe like an autumnal wind through leaves. Dry and crackling fields shape syllables with the ferocity of a linguist. Vocal flocks outline the sky in chalk, coloring it in like the white of a giant eye. Veins become songs. These become the world. “Passing Cloud” bands steel drums, two sinding, and shakuhachi for a sound at once vapor-like and heavy as soil. Those who are content see in it animals, trees, and faces, while others see sighs, depressions, and hardships. For “Flowers In Chaos” we get a coterie of 22 suling (Indonesian bamboo ring flutes), dispelling that very cloud with tales of earthly things. “In The High Valleys” is the album’s most insightful contemplation. In its intimate pairing of sinding and voice, it moves, to reference an album title of the Alial Straa, in a lumbering intransitive dream, and would seem to invoke the origin myth of the jazz bass. “Gates Of Fire” marks its passage with ashen footprints, bringing atonement in circular motions, each a brand on the side of a mountain. “Mad Bird” is a living solo for Irish tin whistle that traverses its own boundaries in search of landing, for life on the wing desires stillness. This singles out the final “Words Of Truth,” where the breath of life courses through six shakuhachi in self-reflective bliss. It is the sailor and his reflection, the storm and its rainbow, caressing the shores of a fading continent, of which we are the only inhabitants left standing.

Alternate cover

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