Towards The Wind

Stephan Micus

“Towards The Wind”, the 15th ECM recording by the perennially popular world-traveller and multi-instrumentalist, features his debut performances on the Armenian duduk, that exceptionally expressive forerunner of the oboe and the clarinet. Stephan Micus was inspired by recordings of the great duduk virtuoso Jivan Gasparian and was able to study with Armenia’s greatest folk musician in Yerevan in the autumn of 1999. Gasparian passed along to him some of the instrument’s secrets, the ways in which its wealth of textures and sounds can be annexed.

Featured Artists Recorded

1999-2001, MCM Studios

Original Release Date


  • 1Before Sunrise - bass duduk solo
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 2Morning Breeze - kalimba solo
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 3Flying Horses - 3 steel-string guitars, shakuhachi, 12 dondon
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 4Padre - duduk solo
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 5Birds of Dawn - 2 kalimba, duduk, 6 shakuhachi, 3 dondon, 2 sattar
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 6Virgen de la Nieve - 14-string guitar solo
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 7Eastern Princess - steel-string guitar solo
    (Stephan Micus)
  • 8Crossing Dark Rivers - 14-string guitar, 7 duduk, 3 shakuhachi
    (Stephan Micus)
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
Stephan Micus has traveled widely during the course of his eclectic 30-year musical odyssey and in the process has learned how to play dozens of traditional instruments originating in cultures as far away as remote parts of Asia, Africa and South America and as near as his native Germany. Yet it wasn’t until the late-1990s that he discovered the duduk, the Armenian double-reed woodwind that is the latest addition to the ever-expanding cornucopia of instruments he has mastered and the one he casts as the main protagonist on “Towards The Wind”, his 16th solo recording.

An oriental predecessor of the oboe and clarinet, the duduk is crafted from the wood of an apricot tree and its warm, resonant tone and slightly nasal timbre can sound uncannily like the human voice. Capable of communicating a spectrum of emotions from ecstasy to melancholy, it has been used over the centuries to interpret both the secular and sacred music indigenous to this rugged region at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. And as he has done so admirably on his previous recordings, Micus once again succeeds in respecting the heritage of an ancient instrument while adapting its form and function to suit the needs of his highly personal yet remarkably universal music.

“A few years ago a friend gave me several CDs by the duduk virtuoso Jivan Gasparian and I was fascinated by the wealth of textures and sounds he was able to create with an instrument that has the limited tonal range of not much more than an octave,” Micus explained in a phone conversation from his home in Mallorca, Spain. “I found myself as captivated as I was when I first heard the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute that has been my close musical companion since my late-teens,” he confided. “As on many earlier occasions with other instruments I felt a strong impulse to learn how to play the duduk and soon afterwards found myself in Yerevan, Armenia. I was there for the entire month of September 1999 and quite fortunate that Jivan was home and willing to teach me. Every day I spent several hours with Jivan, who is an exceptional teacher, and I was not only able to learn a lot from him in a relatively short time, but he also helped me select several excellent instruments.”

Micus has always been fascinated by the reed instrument family and over the past 30 years has studied and experimented with such European renaissance instruments as the kortholt, krummhorn, pommer, schalmei and sordun; Algerian bagpipes; p’iri (Korea); hichiriki (Japan); kuan (China); saxophones; clarinets; tarogato (Hungary); mudbedsh (Iraq); hné (Burma); Uillean pipes (Ireland); shenai (India); benas (Sardinia); mizmar (Yemen); and surna (Pakistan). „With the exception of my composition for the kortholt ‘Till The End Of Time’ (JAPO 60026) [the title track of a CD he recorded in 1978], I never publicly released my explorations with other reeds because a touch of dissatisfaction always remained inside me. Yet I was quite amazed to learn that an instrument in possession of such a Zen-like quality had developed in Armenia,” he continued. “Obviously the duduk and shakuhachi come from very different cultures yet they seem to have similar souls to me. For example, each has a very breathy tone that resonates so richly there’s really no need to write complicated pieces for them. One can express quite a lot on either instrument by simply playing one note.”

Micus plays the duduk to great effect on “Towards The Wind”, an eight-part suite that is almost classical in its structural development and on which he uses the basic elements of air, wood and metal to tell an engrossing musical tale. The recording opens with “Before Sunrise”, an evocative solo showcase for the bass duduk. “Traditionally the duduk is not played alone,“ Micus explained. “Usually three or more are played in unison to create a drone over which another duduk solos. Also, the bass duduk is normally never used to state a melody or perform a solo but rather to provide an extremely simple drone accompaniment which may only consist of one or two notes.”

On “Morning Breeze” Micus expands rhythmic and melodic patterns traditionally played on the kalimba, an East African thumb piano, while “Flying Horses” heralds his return to playing the guitar after a hiatus of several years as he reintroduces the steel-stringed instrument last heard 19 years ago on his CD “Listen To The Rain” (JAPO 60040). “I have benefited from letting instruments rest for periods that can often be quite long which enables me to discover them anew,” he explained. “In my experience distancing oneself from one’s work is an essential element in the creative process as well as in daily life. In composing it often helps me to approach an instrument as if I have never seen it before and don’t have the slightest idea about how to play it. That way completely new ideas can arise.”

The meditative duduk solo “Padre” is dedicated to Micus’s father Eduard, a respected contemporary painter who died in 2000, while “Virgen de la Nieve”, a paean to purity, is a solo for the 14-string guitar Micus designed in 1982 which he last used in 1985 on his recording “East Of The Night” (JAPO 60041). “Eastern Princess” is the CD’s only vocal selection and a piece on which he sings in the now familiar fantasy language he developed many years ago using spontaneously found “words”.

The empathetic relationship he found to exist between the Armenian duduk and the Japanese shakuhachi clearly inspired Micus, and two of the three intricate multi-track pieces on “Towards The Wind” reveal just how close they are to being musical soul mates. “Birds Of Dawn” is the atmospheric first encounter between the two and also features the sattar (a bowed instrument from West China), the dondon (West African “talking drum”) and kalimba. On “Crossing Dark Rivers”, an hypnotic showcase for duduk, shakuhachi and guitar, the three main instruments featured on “Towards The Wind”, he celebrates this creative epiphany again, bringing the recording to its dramatic conclusion.
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