…This must have been impressive to witness.
ECM 2757 / 484 1937
Stephan Micus: Frame Drum, Dung Chen, Burmese Temple Bells, Himalayan Horse Bells, Ki un Ki, Bass Zither, Bowed Dinding, Kyeezee, Shakuhachi, Sarangi, Nyckelharpa, Kaukas, Sapeh, Voice, Nokhan
Recorded 2020 – 2022
Anyone familiar with Micus from his previous recordings (this is his 25th for ECM) will recognise the bewildering sense of unfamiliarity with the list of instruments at the top of this review. The instruments are part of his extensive collection of instruments from all corners of the world and his approach to making music is to immerse himself in the tradition of each and every one of these in order to master them sufficiently to meld them to his unique musical imagingings.
On this album, pride of place is taken by the dung chen – a 4-metre long trumpet used in Tibet which produces a resonant bass tone in traditional ceremonial music. Indeed, a problem he had was to find someone willing to share the secret of playing this instrument as he is likely the first non-Tibetan to record himself playing it.
On this set, it provides rich and thunderous foundation to several of the tunes. Each tune is dedicated to a god of thunder from Tibet, India, Burma, Borneo, Siberia, Japan, South America, Gambia, Namibia, Sweden or Bavaria. And each tune employs an instrument that the respective country and a nod towards the musical contexts in which those instruments might be more usually found.
As with every Micus recording, the stories through which he acquired and learned to play each instrument, together with musical contexts and the instruments are the starting point for his fertile imagination and experimentation in mixing and matching sounds and textures.
The opening bars of the first track, ‘A song for Thor’, reminded me of a half-remembered version of ‘morning has broken’ (fitting as an opening track and, itself, based on an old Scottish folk tune ‘Bunessan’).
Over the dirge of the dung chen, Micus wrestles a tune from the ki un ki – which is a 2-metre length cut from stalks growing wild in Siberia and is played by inhaling rather than blowing and which has a tone not unlike a trumpet.
Tunes, such as ‘A song for Shango’, track 4, feature plucked or bowed instruments, with vocal chants in a variety of languages, often giving a sense of religious or ceremonial incantation. This is followed by thundering drum beats that herald a piccolo-like sound over the dung chen. On this track, the dung chen does not simply provide a two-tone dirge, but Micus forces short melodic lines from it. Given its dimensions, this must have been impressive to witness.
Reviewed by Chris Baber