Monday October 20, 2008

Interview: Michael Cretu, Enigma

Posted by Karthik

Abridged version of this interview was first published in Bangalore Mirror (October 18, 2008)

The Romanian musician, best known as the creator of the Enigma project, has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. Karthik S speaks to the mysterious artist about his musical preferences and his just-launched seventh studio album, Seven Lives Many Faces.

Karthik: After the phenomenal success of 3 albums each in the 90s and the 2000s, have you ever considered a re-release for your earlier, 70s and 80s work, notably – Wild river, Ausgewählte Goldstücke (Moon, Light & Flowers), Legionäre and Die Chinesische Mauer (The Great Wall of China)? These were your initial pieces of music and can provide an insight about your musical preferences/ capabilities to new-age fans.
Cretu: No, I am a person who always looks ahead and not reminisce about the past and ENIGMA has nothing to do with my solo projects. It follows an absolutely different philosophy and intention.

Karthik: Why did the music of The Cross of Changes steer away from Gregorian chants, considering how successful MCMXC a.D was? And how did the idea of using tribal chants come about, considering Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez of Deep Forest came out with their debut album in the same year, heavily sampling tribal chants?
Cretu: Firstly, MCMXC a.D. was an invention within the framework of modern pop-music. There were hundreds who tried to repeat the mixture of Gregorian chants and this specific ethno flute, but it didn’t work. After a while, the market was so saturated that nobody wants to listen to this kind of sound anymore. So it was time for a new invention which I did with ENIGMA 2, “The Cross of Changes”, using ethnic voices from all over the world. During the creative process, I never listen to other music. I do not looking for a specific sound either. I just listen to my library again and again, and suddenly a sound/ voice sounds good to me. This is how I found the famous voice of “Return to Innocence”.

Secondly, I hate to repeat myself. The first two ENIGMA albums definitely were worldwide successes. I always said that ENIGMA albums are like my musical children. I am not into the technology of cloning, so every “child” has to be different. ENIGMA is the mirror of a specific emotional condition in my life. It is normal that emotion changes from time to time.

Karthik: Enigma has been categorized under so many diverse genres – ambient, world music, mood music, electronic and so on. What is your personal take on such slotting of Enigma’s music? How do you categorize your music in light of your aim of producing music that has never been heard before?
Cretu: I don’t understand any form of categorizing. Either music is good or not. It seems to me that ENIGMA has released and still releases something within the listeners’ hearts, otherwise it won’t be so successful worldwide. At the end, it is a compliment that ENIGMA often is categorized as New Age music, because they cannot find a category where this music fits into. I would say it is an omni-cultural sound design project – call it Future Age!

Karthik: Have you ever considered collaborating with any other international artists, beyond merely using artists like Andru Donalds and Ruth-Ann Boyle?
Cretu: Andru Donalds and Ruth-Ann Boyle are two of the most professional artists that I have worked with – both with fantastic voices. More importantly, ENIGMA was and will always be an “invisible” project. The music should speak for itself. There is no need to have a face, and even not a famous one.

Karthik: After a consistent, successful and widely imitated sound, what was the reason behind incorporating pop sounds and rhythms and completely moving away from the typical Enigma sound in albums like Voyageur and A Posteriori?
Cretu: With ENIGMA 5 (Voyageur) I wanted to make sophisticated pop-music in the spirit of ENIGMA. That fans didn’t understand or like this idea is alright with me. I can say, it was important for myself in that moment of my life. It was necessary for the becoming of ENIGMA 6 and also 7.
With the sixth album “A Posteriori”, I wanted to escape this earthly life. It is music from and within the space looking on our earth and reflecting what is going on. My idea is that ENIGMA is a tiny asteroid which orbits our planet in a very elliptical way – sometimes it is far away, and sometimes they cross each other. This means, sometimes people don’t like the music that much and sometimes it fits to the current trend. However, with the new album “Seven Lives Many Faces”, I am back on earth.

Karthik: What is your take on your peers like Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Mike Oldfield and the more decidedly imitative Eric Levi (of Era) and Gregorian?
Cretu: Vangelis is great!

Karthik: Can we expect yet another album from the Trance Atlantic Airwaves project?
Cretu: Not at the moment.

Karthik: Indian artists and vocals are being widely sampled these days in the US, sometimes credited, many times, uncredited. Why have you stopped using samples in albums like Voyageur?
Cretu: I did not stop using samples. Since many years I am searching for vocal samples from all over the world, till I discovered that there exists a wonderful vocal tradition here on Ibiza, where I reside for the past 20 years. It is a Catalan dialect which only people over 60 are proficient in. I met this wonderful lady, Margarita Roig, here by chance, and knew I need her to be on my new record. The result is two tracks “La Puerta Del Cielo” and “Between Generations”.

Karthik: Have you listened to music from India? Any favorite Indian artists?
Cretu: I would like to, but I had no chance to get some.

Karthik: Any plans of a live concert?
Cretu: Slowly, but surely, I should think of a live concert, just to avoid this question. If I would do a concert with ENIGMA, it will be one in a very special way and at very special place. I already have my ideas.

Karthik: What can fans expect from your new album, Seven lives many faces?
Cretu: Listen to it and find out is all I can say. “Seven Lives Many Faces” is a new invention – the mixture of Symphonic classical orchestra and dirty hip-hop loops. Maybe it is the best ENIGMA album I ever did.

Karthik: The title song, ‘Seven lives’ seems to incorporate elements from hip hop – is it an attempt to connect with a younger, more recent fan base who’s preference includes hip hop?
Cretu: No, this was not the intention. ENIGMA always had this kind of hip-hop drums – even in the previous albums. At the end, it is simply something I really like. Nothing is better than a deep, dirty drum loop and a pure, harmonic sound environment coupled with voices from all over the world – a perfect combination! If young people like this concept, better.

Karthik: Any new voices/ collaborations in this album?
Cretu: The Old ones include Andru Donalds and the new additions are my children, Margarita Roig from Ibiza and Nanuk.

Karthik: What is the sample used in ‘Between Generations’ – which language and who does the voice belong to?
Cretu: It’s not a sample, it is Margarita Roig who I mentioned earlier. The song is in Ibizenco, a Catalan dialect, and is about a mother who has to marry her daughter to a much older man, but does not want to, because she is already in love with another, younger man. This conflict between generations is symbolized in this song.

Karthik: Any message to your huge fan base in India?
Cretu: I have great respect for the Indian tradition and culture. It always inspires me. I hope that you will like my new ENIGMA album.



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