All it takes is 3 chords and a dream!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Review: Michael A. Wiktor - Volume One: Misery Made Beautiful

Michael A Wiktor – Volume One: Misery Made Beautiful
2008, The House of 3 Studios

Phoenix-based composer Michael A. Wiktor has a very distinctive compositional style that invites comparisons to “New Classical” and Cinematic (score) works. Wiktor has training in brass, percussion and string, in addition to advanced studies in composition. Wiktor has ultimately found a voice he is comfortable with as a composer. Volume One: Misery Made Beautiful is Wiktor’s chance to display that voice to the world.

Misery Made Beautiful
is performed by a virtual orchestra, allowing for an evenness of sound that doesn’t occur with an actual orchestra. This is the greatest flaw of the recording from the listener’s perspective. Where orchestral music is wonderfully textured and nuanced, much of Misery Made Beautiful comes off sounding flat. It’s like trying to look at the texture of an oil painting in a two-dimensional photograph. The writing style is a mix of romanticism and American New Classical, which holds a disdain or disconnection from traditional structure. Consequently the compositions here at times end up sounding more like a series of sonic events than a story; orchestral talking points where the music score is a slideshow presentation rather than a cohesive and organic creation.

Keepsake is written in this new style. The visual image I got from this was like a street scene where the frame are set but all of the individual actors speak in their distinctive voices, irrespective and even sometimes counter to one another. There is a cohesive whole built from this in the same way that a painting or a photograph documents such a scene, but its all disparate parts without a common sense. Monarch presents as a fractal sonic picture. It soars and crashes at odd times, and no distinctive theme emerges. Monarch seems more focused on the use of sounds to punctuate musical moments than structure of melody to tell a story.

Marionette is a study in practice and trust; synchronization and default. It’s a mortality tale of sorts pointing to the act of letting go as the key to gaining control over oneself. Disjointed passages early on give way in a sort of Zen musical awakening as various moving parts fuse into one musical being. Canopy finds disparate musical personalities and embellishments and ties them together under the guise of the circus big top. Outsiders may see the outlier appearance and actions of the stars, but Canopy portrays the human need to be accepted and grow in the range of this nuclear “family”. Canopy is never as dark as you might expect, and never as light and breezy as the circus fliers might imply. Themes are hard to come by here, and the multitude of disparate voices makes for cluttered listening at times, but overall it’s not a bad effect.

Vespertine details nature’s night life in very general terms. The dramatic rises and falls here work to focus the nearly invisible activity that occurs after the sun sets. There is an almost martial sub-theme to all of this, as if the nightly goings on in nature are as rhythmic and planned as an army at full march, but this is hinted at more than stated outright. Millennium is a musical juxtaposition of light and dark, perhaps contrasting night and morning against the turning hands of time; one precipice to the other. There is a theatrical bent here that’s not narcissistic but screams, “Look at me!” at odd times. The highs and lows are periodically unexpected, rising and falling almost on whim. Little thematic continuity is present, although there is the essence of a theme that pops up from time to time.

This would be a very different album if it involved a live orchestra; at least some of these pieces would fare better from human treatment. The texture of the virtual orchestra is just too flat and restrained. The power and movement that one achieves in a concert space just never makes it to this CD. Volume One: Misery Made Beautiful is an ambitious collection of musical compositions. It strives to be original, and generally succeeds, but it’s clear that Michael A. Viktor enjoys challenging the orchestra and the listener. Challenges can lift the music to a higher state, but challenging for the sake of challenging can become tedious, and Viktor does seem to cross that line at times. All in all, Volume One: Misery Made Beautiful is an intriguing listen. I didn’t enjoy all of the elements, but as a whole it was satisfying.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Michael A. Wiktor at You can purchase downloads of Volume One: Misery Made Beautiful on iTunes or

No comments: