The Story of Enigma
Enigma is a German new age band formed in 1990 by Michael Cretu, David Fairstein and Frank Peterson. The Romanian-born Cretu conceived the Enigma project while working in Germany, but based his recording studio A.R.T. Studios in Ibiza, Spain, from the early 1990s until May 2009, where he has recorded all of Enigma’s studio releases to date. Cretu is both the composer and the producer of the project. His former wife, pop singer Sandra, often provided vocals on Enigma tracks. Jens Gad co-arranged and played guitar on three of the Enigma albums. Peter Cornelius also contributed to Enigma during the 1990s.
From the late 1970s onward, Michael Cretu already had his own music career on his hands and apart from some collaboration efforts with several other musicians, he also produced his wife’s albums. Before Enigma, he released a number of albums under his own name, but none of them sold particularly well. Cretu revealed in an interview that he believed that his ideas were running out at that point.
In December 1990, after eight months of preparation, Cretu released Enigma’s debut album, MCMXC a.D., which received over 57 platinum awards worldwide, and topped the charts in 41 countries, directly becoming the most successful Virgin Records act during that time. The album was Cretu’s first commercial success through the single “Sadeness (Part I),” which juxtaposed Gregorian chants and sexual overtones over a dance beat that was very peculiar to the ears of the public at that time. Cretu explained that the album was about unsolved crimes and philosophical themes such as life after death, hence the name Enigma. He had previously used a Gregorian-type chant on the opening seconds of Sandra’s 1987 single “Everlasting Love”, without integrating them into other parts of the song. “Sadeness” quickly rose to the top of the charts in Germany and France; it went on to become a worldwide hit. Later Cretu would claim that the now signature Enigma sound was inspired after falling asleep on the London Underground. The title of the album MCMXC a.D. is the Roman numeral for the year of its release, 1990.
Before the album was released, Cretu was cautious of the response towards the upcoming album, decided to forgo mentioning his and most of the personnel’s real names and credited himself as Curly M.C., while the album sleeve contained little information about the background of the project, furthering the mystery about the creators of the album and leading to speculation whether Enigma was a band, a person or a group.
In 1993, Cretu was given an offer by producers to compose the full soundtrack of the motion picture Sliver, but he was unable to accept the offer. Instead, he came up with “Carly’s Song” (“Age of Loneliness” in the album and video releases) and “Carly’s Loneliness,” which were used in the movie and credited in the motion picture soundtrack as well.
In the same year, The Cross of Changes was released. It received about the same response from the public (it sold 6 million copies in a year). However, both of the albums also attracted lawsuits over the issue of sampling from other music sources.
In 1996, Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (French for “The King is dead. Long live the King!”) was released. Cretu’s idea was that this third album was the child of the previous two albums, and therefore included familiar elements of Gregorian chants and Sanskrit/Vedic chants in it. Though the album was as meticulously crafted by Cretu as the earlier two albums, it failed to achieve the same level of success that they enjoyed. As a result only two of the three singles originally slated were released, with the third one (“The Roundabout”) being silently canceled in 1998.
The 2000 release of The Screen Behind the Mirror included samples from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana on four tracks on the album. This time the Gregorian chants were toned down tremendously, although Shakuhachi flutes and other traditional Enigma signatures remain. Only “Gravity of Love” and “Push the Limits” were released as singles from the album. Ruth-Ann Boyle (from the band Olive) and Andru Donalds mark their first appearances on the Enigma project.
In 2001, Cretu released a new single called “Turn Around” together with Love Sensuality Devotion: The Greatest Hits and Love Sensuality Devotion: The Remix Collection to end what he considers to be the first chapter of Enigma. A light show was held at the Munich Planetarium in conjunction of the release of the compilation albums.
2003’s Voyageur saw a change of direction for the project. Practically all of the prominent Enigma signature elements (the ethnic and Gregorian chants, the Shakuhachi flutes) were no longer employed. As a result many fans did not appreciate this new direction, and sales were affected. From a statistical point of view, every Enigma studio album to date has sold roughly half of what the previous release did.
To commemorate the fifteen years of Enigma, a special limited-edition album called Fifteen Years was launched, which was the size of an LP vinyl disk, with Leonardo da Vinci’s art in the cover, a big booklet with extra art, and featured eight compact discs: all the previous albums, the DVD Remember the Future, and a special and exclusive bonus CD, The Dusted Variations, which included the project’s greatest hits remade by another project. All of the songs are different from the originals and use minimal percussion. This disc also contained the single version of “Hello and Welcome”, which was later released as a single. On 28 August 2005, Enigma’s management Crocodile Music announced the release of “Hello and Welcome” as a single. Originally it was slated to be released in October; the release date was moved to 25 November 2005 and was released in Germany on 10 March 2006. Much like Voyageur, the song shows little similarity to earlier Enigma works. The song was the walk-in music of the German boxer Felix Sturm.
On 26 September 2006, Enigma’s sixth album A Posteriori was released worldwide, containing a new version of “Hello and Welcome” and the new song “Goodbye, Milky Way”, which, despite earlier announcements, was not released as a single. The album is more techno- and pop-oriented electronic music than any previous one. The concept is based on such sciences as astronomy, physics, history, and sociology. A DVD version of A posteriori was released on 16 December 2006, which featured kaleidoscope images in synchronization with the multi-channel remastered music.
In late March 2007, a special private lounge remix album version of A Posteriori was released on the iTunes Music Store. This compilation includes 12 new remixed tracks from the album by artists such as Boca Junior, Tocadisco, and more. Some of these tracks were available previously on the original A Posteriori iTunes version of the album and on the previously mentioned DVD-release.
On 19 September 2008, Enigma’s seventh album Seven Lives Many Faces was released worldwide. The lead single, “Seven Lives”, is a fusion of modern and classical elements.
The Platinum Collection, a 3-CD compilation, was released on 27 November 2009 in Germany, and on 9 February 2010 worldwide. The first CD contains Enigma hits. The second CD contains remixes. The third CD is a collection of “lost tracks”, musical experiments which never were finalized and released previously.
20th Anniversary single “MMX”
On 5 October 2010, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first album MCMXC a.D., The “Enigma’s Social Song” project began. Enigma fans were asked to submit vocals for a new Enigma song. The public were then asked to vote, with the winning submission “Fei mea” being provided by Latvian singer Fox Lima for the chorus.
The top 3 runners up: Mark Joshua from Brazil, J. Spring from Spain and Rasa Serra from Lithuania provided other important parts of the vocals like the bridge, backing and verse of the final version of the single. Fans also influenced further stages of the song’s creation by voting on elements such as a lead instrument, general mood and style of the track.
The final mix of the single named “MMX The Social Song” was released on December 15, 2010. It became the first song ever created for and by the fans via internet.
Enigma’s first two studio albums also led to the creation and popularity of bands and musical groups that follow similar styles, often called “Enigmatic Music”. The first album was named as one of the most important and influential albums of mainstream New Age music. The album not only popularized the “Enigmatic” music style but also introduced some technical changes in music production. With MCMXC a.D., Michael Cretu developed the technical features and intentions of sampling. Though samples were in use long before (introduced by such musicians as Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze and others), Cretu built his own music around whole sequences of previously recorded parts. His method was not remixing and remodeling, but rather recontextualisation – by changing a piece of music’s natural environment. This was a new way of composing and creating albums, which was adopted by some Hip-Hop artists, electronic music producers, and even Rock producers as well. It was also one of the first albums to be recorded directly to hard drive. Furthermore, MCMXC a.D. was arguably one of the first steps in a series of developments which would eradicate the division between mainstream and underground music.
Era and Gregorian (led by former Enigma member Frank Peterson) are among some notable groups which capitalized songs which heavily incorporate Gregorian chants in their works. Enigma and Deep Forest are also to be considered by many to have brought the tribal chant genre to the ears of the public. Achillea, a musical project by arranger and guitarist on several Enigma albums, Jens Gad, features music with similar atmospherics, while featuring female vocals in different languages, with different singers from different parts of the world. Enigma also influenced Christopher von Deylen’s musical project Schiller. The influence can be heard in any album by the band. Cretu’s musical project is also included into the list of influences of Schiller.
Critics and fans have noted down the probable influences if not similarities of Enigma and the works of other notable musicians. Some examples include PR MRS Delerium’s Semantic Spaces album, Mike Oldfield’s albums, The Songs of Distant Earth and Tubular Bells III, all B-Tribe’s albums as well as other Claus Zundel projects and Sarah Brightman’s cover of Hooverphonic’s song, “Eden”.
World Music Award
- Most Popular German Solo Artist, 2002
- Most Successful German Production Abroad, 1991
- Best Marketing, 1992
- Best National Artist, 1992
- Most Successful German Production Abroad, 1995
- “Beyond the Invisible”, 1997
- Over 100 platinum awards worldwide
- 7 RIAA platinum awards
- 2 RIAA gold awards
- 5 BPI platinum awards
- 2 BPI gold awards
Michael Cretu recorded the first five Enigma albums in his private A.R.T. Studios, located on the Spanish island Ibiza. From 1988 until 2001, the studio was located in his home in Santa Eulària des Riu, and from 2001 till 2008 on the hills near Sant Antoni. This studio was designed and built by Gunter Wagner and Bernd Steber (Sydney/Australia). The equipment in the studio regularly changed. The sixth and seventh albums were recorded using a mobile computerized system, Alchemist. In 2010 a new system, Merlin, was ready to use, and the first music recorded on it was the “MMX The Social Song”.
Sampling and lawsuits
In 1994, Cretu was sued by Munich-based choir Capella Antiqua and its record label Polydor Germany for infringing its “right of personality” through distortion in the samples used in “Sadeness (Part I)” and “Mea Culpa”. The samples were taken from Capella Antiqua’s 1976 LP Paschale Mysterium; while the musical compositions were in public domain, Capella Antiqua’s recording of them was copyrighted. European law also recognizes moral rights (droit moral) in works that American copyright does not.
Cretu was not spared over the issue of sampling when in 1998, Difang and Igay Duana from Taiwan’s Ami tribe filed a suit over uncredited vocals in “Return to Innocence”.
Both of the lawsuits were settled, with the source of each sample being granted compensation and credit for the sampled performance; however, the anonymity that Cretu intended to keep after the release of the first album was shattered due to the first lawsuit.
- Michael Cretu – vocals, production (1990–present)
- David Fairstein – lyrics (1990–2000)
- Frank Peterson – samples (1990)
- Sandra Cretu – vocals (1990–2003)
- Louisa Stanley – voices (1990–1996; 2006)
- Peter Cornelius – guitars (1993–1996)
- Jens Gad – guitars (1993–2003)
- Andreas Harde – vocals (1993)
- Ruth-Ann Boyle – vocals (1999–2003)
- Andru Donalds – vocals (1999–2003)
- Elizabeth Houghton – voices (2000)