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November 2002

Stephan Micus
Towards the Wind
ECM Records

Renowned for his experimentation with ethnic instruments played out of their normal cultural context, Bavarian composer Stephan Micus offers a meditative exploration of the duduk, an Armenian reed instrument, on Towards the Wind (ECM). This instrument, with its unique breathy quality, is traditionally used for drone effect and counterpoint. In Micus' hands, it becomes the lead, portraying a desolate, mournful melody on the album-opening "Before Sunrise." As a composer and performer, Micus is a minimalist, crafting pieces wherein silence and space are as critical as tone. This song cycle is no exception, as Micus sets up his key instruments-the duduk, the kalimba (a buzzing, thumb-piano/linguaphone native to Tanzania) and the Japanese bamboo flute shakuhachi-for an evocative meeting of tone and purpose. "Morning Breeze" offers solo kalimba, chiming, ringing and resonating in a peaceful state. On "Flying Horses," shakuhachi blows, trancelike, through deep organic tones of steel-stringed guitar. The instruments meet in intricate fashion on "Birds of Dawn," creating unique, exotic harmonies and a marching percussive motion for a majestic feel. In combining these instruments, Micus uncovers new tones and sources of harmony that resonate in mystical fashion. The results run the gamut from mournful to ebullient but are consistently absorbing.

Originally published in November 2002
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