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Performer Notes
  • Composer: Stephan Micus.
  • Liner Note Author: Ren‚ Dalpra.
  • Recording information: MCM Studios (2009-2012).
  • Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and musical anthropologist Stephan Micus has always created according to very simple principles; simple, not easy. On all of his recordings he has relentlessly sought to expand his musical universe by digging deeply into the sounds, traditions, and instruments of other cultures, often traveling great distances to study with masters of certain kinds of instruments. He never tries to replicate them but instead has sought to create new music from his discoveries. Panagia is his 20th album for ECM. Its Greek title reflects one of the names used in Orthodox religion for Mary, the mother of Christ (it literally translates as "most holy"). Of these 11 pieces, six are sung prayers with texts dating back to the seventh century Byzantine era. They were chosen and edited by Vassilis Chatzivassiliou. They are interspersed with instrumental pieces played mostly on stringed instruments, ranging from Bavarian zither, Chitrali sitar, Uyghur sattar (a 14-string guitar), and the bowed Sikh dilruba to percussion instruments including Chinese gongs, Burmese temple bells, Tibetan chimes and, on one song, five multi-tracked Persian nay (i.e. ney), a pipe instrument. Micus never takes a strict approach in interpreting the prayers, choosing instead to reflect a transcultural respect and honor for a female goddess drawing from a multiplicity of cultures, while fully and simultaneously utilizing the spaces, tonalities, and silences employed in Orthodox music for centuries. The effect is otherworldly. On opener "I Praise You, Unfading Rose," his baritone voice is accompanied only by a Bavarian zither. On "I Praise You Lady of Passion," he multi-tracks his own voice to simulate a 22-voice choir in Eastern mode. "You Are Full of Grace" is performed by two Chitrali sitars and six sattars, while "You Are a Shining Spring" offers chimes, bells, and two dilrubas, and the percussive tonalities shimmer around the droning bowed instruments. This is all music that emerges from silence and doesn't project so much as resonate within it. In Micus' restrained sense of dynamics, various textures communicate with one another so that sonorities emanate from the instruments, voices, and the recording environment, as well as from nature itself. Panagia is a small part of his larger body of work to be sure, but it's as different from his other recordings as they are from one another, and makes for a compelling, if serene, experience with a slow, unhurried approach that encourages the listener's own encounter with the divine. ~ Thom Jurek
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