Stephan Micus is a composer who lives on the island of Mallorca and is a compulsive collector of oddball musical instruments. An acoustic music purist, Micus generates unusual, almost electronic-sounding textures from his collection of instruments through multi-tracking, but does not utilize anything electronic to generate the sounds. On Life, Micus plays such instruments as the bagana, tin whistle, various kinds of gongs, sho, zithers, and Thai singing bowls, and uses recording techniques to build the multifarious parts played into a contiguous whole. The result is a very colorful blend of peculiar tones, gestures, and voicings. Although Micus seems to release a new ECM album almost every other month, Life is the result of three years of careful planning and labor, and Micus claims that the process of overdubbing is far more complex on this album than any other that he has done.
At a time when, at least for First World residents, there seems no respite from the relentless, rapid pace of life, artists like Stephan Micus provide welcome clarity; proof that there are alternatives. Difficult though it may seem, when immersed in all the push-and-pull of day-to-day distractions, there is another way; it's just not necessarily an easy one. For nearly four decades, Micus has traveled the world, a student of culture and society…and the music that naturally evolves from the two. Acquiring and learning to use ethnic instruments from around the world—often taught to him in the remotest locales—for the past two decades, Micus has always, ultimately, returned home to the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain, where he has honed his craft through an organic process of experimentation, recording and gradual shaping of music that truly transcends all cultural boundaries. Each of the eighteen albums he's released since 1977—first, on the JAPO subsidiary, and then on the main ECM label—has introduced at least one new instrument to his expanding array of flutes, reeds, percussion, stringed instruments.
The Garden of Mirrors is an album by Stephan Micus, released by the ECM label. It was recorded in 1995–1996 and released the following year. It follows the tradition of all of Micus's earlier works in that he plays all of the instruments: he also provides all of the voices for the 20-man chorus in three of the tracks. Micus's inspiration for this album was two traditional low-range West African harps that he studied in Gambia: the bolombatto and the sinding. When playing these two instruments, Micus claims to have identified with early African American music, which they influenced, claiming that the bassline in jazz was influenced by these harps. Other instruments used by Micus include steel drums and four different flutes: the Japanese shakuhachi, the Balinese suling, the Irish tin whistle, and the Egyptian ney.
“Panagia” is Stephan Micus’ 20th album for ECM, and it coincides with his 60th birthday in January 2013. The Greek word Panagia is one of the names of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ. Stephan Micus’ album takes six Byzantine Greek prayers and sets them in his own inimitable way with instruments he has collected in years of travels round the world. “The album alternates sung poems with instrumental tracks and thus has a clearly symmetrical, even ritualistic, structure”, says Micus.
Being a perpetual student, Stephan Micus usually makes world music by default. He breathes patience and skill into the exotic instruments he uncovers, but certainly with respectful bending of the rules along the way. Towards the Wind follows in the same exploratory tradition – educated, but unassuming as to the nature of what an instrument is "supposed to do." Here, the album evokes an easily digestible cross section of Middle Eastern mysticism – swirling sand dunes, rust-colored sunsets, and sacred spaces.
"The idea of sitting down at a table and making a composition on paper is totally foreign to me. To come up with a piece of music, I have to make the sound myself, have the instruments in my hands."