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LITERATURE: MICHAEL MUSIKA | By Jonathan Hirsch

The Magical Life and Mysterious
Art of Michael Musika

The tremendous story of Michael Musika and his project Spells started long ago in a valley—and eventually found its way to a mountaintop.

Fourteen years ago, a young man found himself at a crossroads. Faced with a host of personal dilemmas, he decided to visit an old flame in Colorado. “I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway,” he says.

When the encounter went sour, he was without a place to stay. “I wound up sleeping under a bridge with a motorcycle rally passing overhead. It was snowing, even though it was June.”

When a friend living across the state heard about his predicament, he quickly came to his aid offering him a place to stay and a moment to collect himself and decide on his next move. With a flight already booked to San Francisco from Denver, Musika decided to hitchhike from his friend’s home in Southern Colorado.

He was not having the best of luck catching a ride, so when he noticed a timber truck pull into a nearby McDonald’s lot, he climbed into the back. The ride went along smoothly. After a while, however, the truck took a junction in the opposite direction of where Musika needed to go. He decided to jump ship.

“I rolled down a steep cliff and wound up in a valley all alone, very late at night.” When he lifted himself up, he was face to face with the wild eyes of a coyote. Stunned and moved by the chance encounter, it became immediately clear to him that a moment of sea change had arrived.

“When this animal came up to me, I was filled with this warmth. I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I was ready to go on with my life.” It was this moment that provided the focal point for the earnest and magnificent undertaking of Spells—the album and the book.

The remarkable ambition involved in a concept album with a fictional-book compendium can’t be overstated. What’s especially striking is how strong both mediums stand on their own, even though the contents draw from the same well of experiences and possess the same artistic inspiration. Somehow each medium transforms the material into something entirely unique. There is also a synesthetic quality to Spells; even as the author introduces the book, he notes how a film adaptation of the work might help to clarify the literary effort: “Many passages are written from a cinematic point of view,” Musika writes. Illustrations and detailed maps are provided to further contextualize the work.

The music of Spells is stunning and unforgettable. With Musika’s trademark blend of rapid-fire lyricism and richly textured instrumentation—complete with the integration of atmospheric sounds, bells, and shakers—the songs seem to draw as much from outlaw country as they do from romantic-era lieder.

The fluidity and scope of Spells inevitably draws us back to the author of these remarkably similar, and yet remarkably different, works of art. While Musika remains precise when asked about his process, he avoids committing to a simple definition of his work.

“I was trying to meditate on dynamics in my life and my own family, and to see if I could record what I felt was beautiful in the world. So much in music and cultural in general is super-disposable. All the artwork I valued or that helped my life, people put a lot of work into. I wanted to illustrate that art is a craft. All the songs on that record are written about the same feelings or characters or memories, things that I wanted to express gratitude for or bear witness to—or rebel against.”

In the end, what is disarming—and worthy of our attention—is the man as much as it is the work itself: an individual whose art mirrors his life in the most complex and magical of ways.

 

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This article was published in:
Music Issue - Released January 2013
Issue 1 / Version 3 | Buy print copy here
Issue 11
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