Born in 1953 in Germany, Stephan Micus made his first journey to the Orient at the age of sixteen. Fascinated by the variety of musical cultures around the world Micus has travelled in virtually every Asian and European country as well as in Africa and the Americas. Studying with local master musicians he learned to play numerous traditional instruments, many of them unknown in the Western world. However, Micus‘s intention is not to play these instruments in a traditional manner, but rather to develop the fresh musical possibilities which he feels are inherent in them. In many of his compositions, which he performs himself, he combines instruments that have never before been played together. The resulting dialogues further reflect his vision of a transcultural music.
In addition to his exclusively acoustic instruments Micus also uses his voice, at times – with multitrack recording techniques – creating whole choral pieces by himself. The words he sings usually do not carry any known meaning. However, on Athos and Panagiahe set to music ancient Greek prayers to the Virgin Mary, on Desert Poems he performed two original poems in English and on Life he has set to music an ancient Japanese Koan.
Many of Europe’s leading dance companies have chosen his work for their productions. He has performed hundreds of solo concerts over the last 30 years throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas.
He has studied a variety of instruments including guitar, concert-flute, sitar in Benares (India), flamenco guitar in Granada (Spain), shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and sho (Japanese mouth organ) in Kyoto (Japan), suling (Balinese flute) in Ubud (Bali), Uillean pipes in Carna (Ireland), sinding (African harp) in Gambia, dondon (talking drum) in Accra (Ghana), doussn’ gouni (African harp) in Bamako (Mali), duduki (Georgian oboe) and Georgian polyphonic choral singing in Tbilisi (Georgia), hné (Burmese oboe) in Yangon and Mandalay (Myanmar), duduk (Armenian oboe) in Yerevan (Armenia), bagana (Ethiopian lyre) in Addis Abeba, nohkan (flute of the noh theatre) in Kyoto (Japan), Bulgarian polyphonic choral singing in Plovdiv (Bulgaria), genbri (bass lute of the gnaoua) in Essaouira (Morocco), ryuteki (flute of the gagaku orchestra) in Kyoto (Japan), tama (talking drum) in Kafountine (Senegal), dung chen (Tibetan alphorn) in Kathmandu (Nepal).
In search of musical culture and context Micus has travelled extensively, in particular in India, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Afghanistan, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Thailand, Egypt, Burma, Sri Lanka, Turkey, USA, Canada, Israel, China, Gambia, Senegal, Nepal, Ladakh, Sinkiang, Venezuela, Tanzania, Argentina, Peru, Ghana, Mali, Jordan, Georgia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Cabo Verde, Mauretania, Armenia, Karabagh, Siberia, Mongolia, Namibia, Iran, Tajikistan, Botswana, Sarawak, Colombia, Mozambique.
Some of the instruments used by Stephan Micus on record and in concert:
Japanese bamboo flute with five holes and no mouthpiece, capable of subtleties unequalled by any other flutes in the world. Used for meditation by Zen monks.
10 and 14-string guitar
A new type of guitar designed by Stephan Micus, allowing many different kinds of stringing: 10 single strings, or 7 double strings, or sympathetic strings as on a sitar, etc.
Indian bowed instrument with 4 metal and 24 sympathetic strings and frets like the sitar. The bridge runs over a goat skin.
Originally from Bavaria, with different strings and tunings.
Japanese ‘mouth-organ’ consisting of 17 reed pipes inserted into a cup-shaped wind chest. Blowing into this wind chest while closing holes in the pipes produces a series of chords. The pipes sound whether the player breathes in or out, so a constant tone may be obtained. Has to be heated before playing.
American version of an instrument that is played in many parts of the world, such as Persia, China, the Balkans and the countries of the European Alps: it has 62 metal-strings across a soundbox which are struck with two small wooden hammers – one of the ancestors of keyboard instruments.
Ancient Egyptian hollow reed flute.
Long necked bowed instrument used by the Uigurs, a Turkman people from Western China. It has one metal playing string and ten sympathetic strings.
West African harp with five strings made of cotton. The resonating body is a gourd stretched with a goat skin. A tin rattle may be attached to the instrument. Plucking the strings sets the rattle in motion, adding a percussive element to the instrument’s rather hollow sound.
West African harp with four gut strings over a gourd resonator and an attached tin rattle. The rattle is set in motion by the simultaneous striking of the strings and the sound box. In former times shepherds also used the Bolombatto to frighten off wild animals.
West African harp with six nylon or gut strings. The resonating body is a gourd stretched with a goat skin.
Afghan lute with 13 sympathetic strings. A folk instrument with a very earthy character and an especially ‘dry’ tone quality. The three main gut strings are stretched across a goat skin.
Indian string instrument with 13 sympathetic strings, 6 – 7 melody strings, and a resonant body fashioned from a dried gourd. The frets are movable.
Short German Renaissance reed instrument.
Table harp. A contemporary cross-breed of bowed psaltery, zither and harp. By means of a special string arrangement, the instrument can be both plucked and bowed.
Bowed instrument from India with 3 main gut strings and 35 sympathetic strings.
Accompanying drone instrument from India.
Xylophones used in the Gamelan orchestras of Bali.
West-Indian percussion instruments made out of old oil drums.
In China, stone-instruments had been in use for thousands of years, but are nowadays neglected. Micus also plays the stone-instruments of German sculptor Elmar Daucher who has developed completely new shapes for sonorous stones.
Bamboo rattles in tuned pitch from Java and Sumatra.
From Burma, Bali, China, Korea.
Bells and Chimes
From Burma and Tibet.
Irish tambourine drum, 50 centimetres in diameter. Played with a mallet while the other hand produces varying tones by pressing on the drum skin.
A set of 30 ordinary flowerpots, tuned with water and played with the hands or with mallets.
Hollow reed flute of the Balinese Gamelan orchestra, similar to the recorder.
Ki un Ki
A wind instrument used by the Siberian tribe of the Udegeys. It is a two-metre long stalk similar to our hemlock cane. In contrast to almost all other wind instruments, the tone of the ki un ki is not produced by exhaling, but rather by inhaling. The sound is suggestive of a trumpet. As the instrument has no fingering holes, the pitch can only be altered by lip pressure.
A one-meter long bronze rod is suspended from a hanging frame drum by means of a metal string. When the bronze rod is struck, the instrument’s three components vibrate simultaneously and produce a gong-like tone of extremely long duration.
Tongues of various sizes are sawn in the top part of a wooden box and hit with mallets or with the hands.
Iraqi reed instrument.
Ancient Ethiopian lyre with ten gut strings which produce a distinct buzzing sound. The resonating body is a wooden box stretched with a goat or cow skin. It is thought to derive from king David’s harp and is traditionally used exclusively to accompany religious songs.
‘Talking-drum’ from Ghana. The two ends of this hour-glass shaped drum are covered with membranes which are connected by leather strings. By squeezing and releasing these strings with the arm a variety of pitches can be produced.
Double reed instrument from Burma. Due to its very high volume and piercing sound it is mostly played outdoors. The reed is made of layered palm leaves.
A recently developed metal percussion instrument inspired by the steeldrums of the Caribbean.
An extremely rare Indian bass bowed instrument, similar to the dilruba, with movable frets. The bridge runs over a goat skin.
Irish metal folk flute.
Lamellophone from Tanzania. Metal tongues (flattened bicycle spokes or umbrella spokes) are fitted on a small wooden box. One end of them is fixed to a bridge so that the other free end can be plucked by the thumbs. Little rings are added to the metal tongues that give a buzzing timbre. Some people used the instrument to induce a trance for walking long distances.
Lamellophone from Botswana. It is similar to the Kalimba, but the ndingo´s metal tongues are made of thicker iron pieces which are tuned with small pieces of wax. Traditionally musicians play the ndingo over tin cans for better resonance. For Micus´recordings a wooden box has been attached to the instrument for this purpose.
A set of forty tuned gongs from Burma.
Plucked instrument from the South American Andes, resembling a miniature guitar with five pairs of nylon strings. It evolved in the 18th century from the contact of Spanish settlers with American Indians. Originally its resonator was made from the dried shell of an armadillo, which has recently been replaced by a wooden body.
Armenian double reed instrument made from apricot wood with a distinctive breathy timbre. Although limited in its tonal range it is capable of subtleties unequalled by any other reed instrument in the world.
A free-reed pipe made from bamboo, played by the Hmong people of Laos for entertainment and courtship.
Large zither made from Alpine sycamore maple. The vibrating length of the steel strings is about 1.70 m.
A new type of zither – designed by Stephan Micus – which allows its sixty-eight strings to be tuned in several chords.
Long necked lute with frets from the Chitral area of Western Pakistan. Made from mulberry wood it has five metal strings.
A bass string instrument with three gut strings from Marocco.It has a wooden resonance body over which a camel skin is streched. Hitting this skin while plucking the strings adds a percussive element to the playing. Played by the Gnaur, descendents of former black slaves, the instrument which has its roots in Subsaharan West Africa is traditionally used only in collaboration with large metal castanets and human voices for healing ceremonies, which usually last through a whole night.