Desert Poems

Stephan Micus

Micus expands his already broad musical horizons on Desert Poems, his 15th solo project, which he recorded between 1997 and 2000 in his studio on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. Among the "firsts" on Desert Poems are Micus’s recorded debuts playing three African instruments – the doussn’ gouni, (a West African harp), the kalimba (a Tanzanian thumb piano) and the dondon (a talking drum from Ghana); his singing in English (a haunting solo a cappella performance called "Contessa Entellina" and on "For Yuko", dedicated to his daughter) and an instrumental arrangement of "Shen Khar Venakhi", a 13th century polyphonic choral piece from Georgia, which is the only work Micus did not compose to appear in his discography to date.

Featured Artists Recorded

1997-2000, MCM Studios

Original Release Date

22.01.2001

  • 1The Horses of Nizami
    (Stephan Micus)
    03:36
  • 2Adela
    (Stephan Micus)
    05:43
  • 3Night
    (Stephan Micus)
    02:48
  • 4Mikhail's Dream
    (Stephan Micus)
    08:20
  • 5First Snow
    (Stephan Micus)
    04:57
  • 6Thirteen Eagles
    (Stephan Micus)
    05:35
  • 7Contessa Entellina
    (Stephan Micus)
    04:29
  • 8Shen Khar Venakhi
    (Stephan Micus)
    02:44
  • 9For Yuko
    (Stephan Micus)
    08:11
When encountering the music of another culture, most Western musicians adapt by learning to play the instruments native-style and mimicing the music of that culture. But from the very beginning, Micus had his own direction and his own voice. He created his own very distinctive music, and though he used acoustic instruments from many cultures, he did it in ways they never dreamed of – rebuilding instruments, changing tunings, and playing them in idiosyncratic ways. And famously, he mixed instruments from around the world, or used whatever was at hand: stones, ordinary flowerpots tuned with water, and his voice – singing non-verbal improvised sounds over ten years before others made this approach fashionable.
The Hearts of Space
US nation-wide radio program
 
 
This extraordinary multi-instrumentalist is actually one of the few to have grasped in its essence what was the song of the world. With him there exist no territories or cultural atavisms, but a planetary polyphony projected on a horizon of eternity.His instruments exchange once more the out-lines of their countries of origin to become instruments without nationality in the hands of this nomad musician. Exceptional. Keyboards, France
 
 
Micus's music possesses gossamer beauty. Timeless, magical music with a universal appeal. The Times, UK
 
 
Listening to the music of Stephan Micus – which is as itinerant and wide ranging as his life – is one of the most profound experiences possible today. Beyond categories and labels, this German artist was already way ahead of trends when he released his first album in 1976. Fifteen recordings later The Garden of Mirrors, his first CD since the phenomenal Athos, seems on the surface to be heading in a stylistic direction pointing towards the Orient. But upon further listening it’s clear Micus is exploring an internal universe governed by natural elements on the one hand and, paradoxically, by silence on the other. “Passing Cloud”, “Gates of Fire” and “Words of Truth” are the titles Micus uses to name pieces that elaborate his personal liturgy and interpret the movement of water and wind, the flight of clouds and the voices of the spirit. An intrepid traveller and perpetual student, he has learned to play ancient and rare traditional instruments that are as evocative as they are esoteric. When he sings he sounds like a chanting mystic in a trance. The Garden of Mirrors is a recording to be experienced the way one would a journey, the type of voyage Bruce Chatwin would describe as “looking inward”. La Repubblica, Italy
 
 
The music of Stephan Micus is something completely new and entirely ancient and al-together embracing of humankind. If it isn’t heaven, it sounds somewhere near it. Detroit Free Press, USA
 
 
A solemn music, at first enigmatic, then slowly revealing itself. The more one listens – really listens –, the more the music absorbs one. Die Zeit, Germany
 
 
… remarkable, haunting and truly timeless.
Down Beat, USA
 
 
Before there was world music, there was Stephan Micus, playing instruments from Afghanistan, India, and Indonesia. But ever since his first album (released in 1976) the German composer has not been making world music but other – worldly music. He plays ethnic instruments in nontraditional ways, multitracking them in layered arrangements and creating meditative excursions. Stephan Micus isn’t pan-cultural but transcends culture with music that’s innocent but not naive. Billboard, USA
 
 
Fascinating music, where silence has its place.
Midi Libre, France
 
 
Micus has a natural aptitude for taking ethnic sounding instruments and playing them in a manner that places them outside their traditional context.
Sounds, England
 
 
Wistful, sweet-sad melodies, warm, glo-wing chords, shadows become sound; strands of light are tuned and strummed … a truly original voice, suffused with a mysticism that is equal parts Western and Eastern. Rolling Stone, USA
 
 
The music of Stephan Micus cannot be bracketed in a special category with jazz, Asian music or Indo-jazz. Multi-instrumentalist Micus – on bamboo flutes, rabab, sitar, zither and sho – is completely right: this music is not Japanese, not Indian, and not Bavarian … from the cultures which im-pressed him as a West European, he has created a high-standard eclectic music greater than the sum of its parts. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany
 
The interesting sounds of these unusual instruments contrast strongly with the thoughtless imitative monotony of the synthetic sounds which are delivered to our houses in such great quantity by the pop in-dustry. It becomes clear, however, that it is not possible to imitate everything. Micus himself does not imitate. He takes inspirations – from the Far East for example – and transforms them into his own quite Euro-pean music. Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany
 
 
A sensitive, distinguished and finely balan-ced music of rather subtle dynamic which expresses a meditative quality of listening. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland
 
 
On Garden of Mirrors he preserves the same virtues of his first works: freshness, imagination and a talent for intercultural synthesis. El Pais, Spain
 
Micus masters the art of musical simplicity.
Die Weltwoche, Switzerland
 
 
Micus‘ style of singing is comparable to a universal language, to a transcultural code, as if participating in all languages and transcending them at the same time. Basler Zeitung, Switzerland
 
 
Stephan Micus is inspired and abandoned, unself-conscious and disciplined all at once, producing dazzling sound and exquisite melodies. It’s ancient-sounding, witchcraft kind of music, music that’s innovative and entirely contemporary in its disturbing directness, a work of genius indeed, a unique talent, a painter of soundscapes, one of Europe’s strongest and most original soloists. Fanfare, USA
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Stephan Micus is an intrepid and adventurous seeker and explorer whose musical aesthetic is stimulated by a creative wanderlust that leads him to the far corners of the earth in an ongoing quest to discover traditional instruments and ancient performance practices from a host of the world's cultures. He not only studies and learns these, but also adapts them in a manner to suit his personal style. Over the years he has developed a unique and clearly identifiable sound that is both contemporary and timeless and which has attracted a global following among a discerning world music audience.

Micus expands his already broad musical horizons on Desert Poems, his 15th solo project, which he recorded between 1997 and 2000 in his studio on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca. In addition to introducing new aspects of his artistry on the album he also adds several instruments to his ever-growing repertoire.

Among the "firsts" on Desert Poems are Micus's recorded debuts playing three African instruments ' the doussn' gouni, (a West African harp), the kalimba (a Tanzanian thumb piano) and the dondon (a talking drum from Ghana); his singing in English (a haunting solo a cappella performance called "Contessa Entellina" and on "For Yuko", dedicated to his daughter) and an instrumental arrangement of "Shen Khar Venakhi", a 13th century polyphonic choral piece from Georgia, which is the only work Micus did not compose to appear in his discography to date.

Micus also re-introduces, after a hiatus of several years, the sarangi, a bowed instrument from India that he played on his recordings Koan (ECM 804 SP) and Wings Over Water (JAPO 60038). He changed the form of the sarangi, which is traditionally constructed with three main gut strings and 35 sympathetic strings, by building a new bridge to accommodate 10 gut strings, and modified how the instrument is normally played by plucking it in a percussive way.

Other noteworthy aspects of Desert Poems include "First Snow" for solo shakuhachi (the Japanese bamboo flute) and several selections where he continues his use of the multi-track recording technique introduced on earlier albums to overdub his voice, clay flowerpots, the dilruba (another bowed instrument from India), the nay (an ancient Egyptian hollow reed flute), the sattar (a bowed instrument of the Uigurs, a Turkman tribe from Western China) and steel drums in a manner that empowers his solo recordings with their distinctive orchestral character.

The essence of this diverse collection of musical portraits ' which vary in mood from the meditative to the melancholy to the ecstatic ' is eloquently articulated in its title, although Micus observes that upon first hearing, the range of performances on Desert Poems might make it appear that the recording is not as thematically homogeneous as some of his earlier albums. For example, on his previous release, The Garden of Mirrors (ECM 1632), the focus was on African harps and vocal choirs, while steel drums played the central role on To The Evening Child (ECM 1486).

"If there is a thread that runs through this recording it's its austerity and simplicity, qualities I associate with and cherish about the desert," Micus explains. "I've traveled across the Sinai, Gobi, Sahara, Takla Makan and Arabian deserts - either on foot or on the backs of camels ' and I've always been struck by the silence and purity of these environments." Micus sensitively communicates the desolate beauty so characteristic of these regions on "Contessa Entellina," a hypnotic vocal tour de force he has recently been featuring in concert that was inspired by a visit he made to central Sicily several years ago.

"I passed through a village called Contessa Entellina while riding through the Sicilian countryside on a motor scooter after I performed a concert in Palermo in 1997," Micus explains. "I was intrigued by the name and stopped in a bar to ask about its origin. It seems Contessa Entellina was a countess who gave refuge to Albanian immigrants several hundred years ago and the town was named in her honor. It was August and as I drove off on my Vespa in the 40 degree heat, I started singing in a strange new way and made up this poem as I went along. The starkness of the parched fields, which were so dry that the earth had cracks in it several meters deep, gave the area a truly striking beauty."

Micus's unaccompanied vocal performance on "Contessa Entellina" marks the first time he has sung this way on record. "I first heard someone singing solo a cappella when I was 14 and studying flamenco guitar in Granada, Spain," he recalls. "It was a profound experience for me and it took more than 30 years before I felt confident enough to perform this way in public. The human voice is the most delicate and complex instrument in the world and singing solo puts the artist in an extremely vulnerable situation. In addition, it is especially challenging singing in English since, unlike Greek, Spanish or Italian, this is a hard-sounding language with many words ending in consonants."

Micus combined many different vocal styles on "Contessa Entellina" including that of the Japanese Noh theatre which he describes as "probably the strangest music that exists on the planet." He returns to more familiar vocal territory on the tracks "The Horses of Nizami" and "Mikhail's Dream" by singing in the fantasy language he developed which he has featured on several earlier recordings.

Another engrossing selection on Desert Poems is an instrumental arrangement of "Shen Khar Venakhi," a masterpiece of the centuries-old polyphonic singing tradition developed in the Caucasian country of Georgia. "I feel this is one of the most amazing pieces ever written in that the work is 750 years old yet its harmonies sound so modern," he says of the first non-original composition he has recorded. "I've visited Georgia twice to study the duduki, a kind of oboe, and more importantly to study the incredibly important choral tradition that developed there. 'Shen Khar Venakhi' was originally written for a three-part male choir and traditionally it's never interpreted instrumentally but my arrangement here is for six dilruba and six sattar."

In addition to the doussn' gouni solo "Night" and other African influenced songs on Desert Poems, and the Eastern influenced "Contessa Entellina" and "For Yuko," Micus adds a decidedly Western flavor to the album with "Adela," a piece that sounds like late-20th century chamber music yet is performed by overdubbing 22 dilruba. "Unlike the sitar, whose sound is difficult to disassociate from its cultural context, the dilruba is an Indian instrument that is easily adaptable and on 'Adela' I play it in a decidedly Western fashion," Micus explains. Almost all the instruments Micus uses are modified to some extent since he not only revels in experimenting with ways to physically alter them, but also enjoys discovering new or uncovering hidden sonic possibilities. "I sometimes add holes or rearrange holes on wind instruments, add strings to stringed instruments, and so forth. I also often use alternative tunings or, as I do with the sarangi, change the style in which they are played altogether," he says. "I have also designed instruments which several talented artisans in Germany, Spain, Japan and other countries build especially for me."

"Stylistically this recording definitely wanders all over the globe and someone familiar with various world music traditions would certainly be able to recognize elements from many different cultures," Micus says in reflecting on the influences he drew upon while creating Desert Poems. "But hopefully one also hears something new, since my goal as an artist is not only to respect the ancient heritages but hopefully to also bring something new and modern to the illustrious musical legacies I've been fortunate enough to encounter over the years."

Mitchell Feldman (c) August 2000
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 November 22 Ottobrunner Konzerte Ottobrunn, Germany