Stephan Micus: White Night (ECM 2639)

White Night

Stephan Micus
White Night

Stephan Micus guitars, duduk and bass duduk, cymbals, kalimba, sinding, dondon, voice, cane whistles, nay
Recorded 2016-2018 at MCM Studios
An ECM Production
Release date: April 26, 2019

Though the purity of the moonlight has silenced both nightingale and cricket,
the cuckoo alone sings all the white night.
–Anonymous, Japanese

White Night is Stephan Micus’s 23rd solo album for ECM and might just be his most inwardly focused. Figuring centrally in this sojourn is the kalimba, which through various incarnations hosts us at six of the ten waystations marking our path.

The bronze kalimba—a modern version of this ancient instrument—makes magical appearances in “The Forest” and “The Bridge.” Both tracks feature purely phonic vocalizations. The latter song multiplies the kalimba by four and adds the sinding, a West African harp with cotton strings that resonate through a gourd. As one of his most evocative pieces to date, it seeks meaning in selfless regard. Other vital stars in this constellation include “The Poet” (kalimba, sinding, voice), in which the voice primes soil for harvest; “The River” (2 kalimba, duduk), which elicits gamelan-like textures and suspends the duduk in gentle persuasions of moonlight; and “Fireflies” (kalimba, sinding, 13 Indian cane whistles, 7 voices), which renders the earth an altar for vocal offerings. And then there is the kalimba solo “All The Way,” touched by the souls of a faraway people. Each is a journey within a journey, a story within a story, a prayer within a prayer.

Framing the album are “The Eastern Gate” (5 fourteen-string guitars, bass duduk, Tibetan cymbals, steel-string guitar) and “The Western Gate” (5 fourteen-string guitars, bass duduk, sinding, Tibetan cymbals). Their fourteen-string guitars have a slack, liquid quality, which by virtue of their human construction (they are designed by Micus) reveal more-than-human energies. Harmonics speak of realms beyond the senses, while the bass duduk tenders its grace. From one gate to the other, we embrace the world in the span of 50 minutes, starting the cycle anew. Along the way, we stop to view “The Moon,” wherein a role that might normally have been filled by lone shakuhachi finds a multivalent replacement in the double-reed duduk. Like the nay that appears alongside the Ghanaian dondon (or talking drum) in “Black Hill,” it is a thought made incarnate by contact of skin and breath. Fitting, then, that Micus’s last name should be an anagram of “Music,” as his very being is synonymous with that most connective force.

One thought on “Stephan Micus: White Night (ECM 2639)

  1. A stunningly beautiful album. The music reminds me a little of Anouar Brahem in that is has the same airy quality of birds in flight, the sound of wind rushing over wings, and tentative groundedness of standing on a tree limb waving in the breeze. A wonderful organic feel that connects to the listener in unexpected and rewarding ways. Thanks for bringing this work to my attentions. Peace.

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