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Members include Michael Cretu (born on May 18, 1957, in Bucharest, Romania); married Sandra Lauer; two children. Education: Graduated from Musikhochschule Academy (College of Music), Germany, 1979. Addresses: Record company--Virgin Records America, 338 N. Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

With Greek roots, the word "enigma" means mysterious or ambiguous. Staying in line with its name, few people knew the creative force behind Enigma when its debut MCMXC A.D. was released. As the album rocketed to the top of the charts worldwide, Michael Cretu's name surfaced as the maestro behind the mystery. Combining the seemingly conflicting musical styles of Gregorian chants, hip hop beats, French-spoken words, and keyboard sounds influenced by Art of Noise and Vangelis, Cretu produced a sound that set the stage for an entirely new genre of music.

"It's my plan for Enigma to be an outlet for music that boldly strays away from the norm of pop music," Cretu said in Enigma's Virgin Records Germany bio. The musical fusion that became Enigma's trademark sound was a challenge to define and describe, even for the record company. "No words can explain music," said Cretu. "Music explains itself." Holding fast to this philosophy, Cretu took great pains to avoid tying the music of Enigma to any one artist or even one language.

Although Enigma's debut received critical acclaim, reviewers had the challenge of trying to explain the sound to readers. One writer wrote in the New York Times, "Mood music, dance music, trip music, whatever you want to call it... Enigma is an international phenomenon."

During a time when many industries, including the recording industry, thought packaging was as important or more important than content, Cretu wanted to create an anomaly. "I said let the music speak for itself, and I'm not important at all," Cretu said in his record company press materials. He wanted to offer music without a personality or package behind it, and to let the project be the star. His goal was to remain in obscurity as the father of the Enigma project.

"With Enigma, I have created a complete piece of music that I wanted to let stand alone," Cretu told Larry Flick in Billboard. "There is a sense of mystery in the music that I want to leave untouched by the perceptions and preconceived ideas that come with the past history of a producer or songwriter."

A Maestro Is Born

Michael Cretu's own history began with his birth in Bucharest, Romania. His mother was Austrian and his father Romanian, and he began studying music as a child. He started learning to play the piano at the age of five. By the second grade, he was enrolled in music school, which he continued through college. In 1975, Cretu moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where he studied at the Musikhochschule Academy (College of Music). He graduated with honors in 1979, specializing in composition and conducting.

However, he decided not to continue in the field of classical music, and instead, pursued a career as a songwriter and producer for pop music. His work included the European projects Moti Special and Cretu and Theirs. In 1983, he released his first solo album, Legionärè (Legionnaires),followed by Die Chinesische Mauer (Invisible Man) in 1985. Both were released in Europe on Virgin Records.

While still living in Germany in the mid-1980s, Cretu began working with an unknown singer named Sandra Lauer. She recorded simply as Sandra. Cretu wrote, arranged, and produced Sandra's first album, Maria Magdalena, which became a number-one hit in 15 countries. Cretu continued to produce hit albums with Sandra, and eventually, produced a marriage, as well.

Unveiled the First Mystery

By 1987, Cretu had established himself as a successful producer. He was working with French pop singer Sylvie Vatan, when he met Mike Oldfield, who asked Cretu to work with him on his upcoming album, Islands. While working with Cretu, Oldfield strongly encouraged him to take a break from producing and work on his own material. It was then that the seeds for Cretu's Enigma project were planted. In 1989, Cretu had made the decision to start work on the project, and built his own studio on the Balerian island of Ibiza.

As with almost every Enigma release, Cretu locked himself in the studio with limited human interaction to record his music. "To be separated from the world is very important," Cretu told David Knight in Dotmusic. "I have to spend months in one atmosphere in order to dive into the back of my mind."

Enigma's debut album, MCMXC A.D., including the first single, "Sadeness Part 1" was released in 1990. The album struck a chord with music fans all over the world. It reached number one in 41 countries, and earned 57 platinum awards. In the United States, it reached triple platinum and stayed on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart for five years.

In keeping with the mystery of Enigma, Cretu asked his record company to send the album to radio stations without any packaging to see if the music would sell itself. To almost everyone's amazement, it worked. "The reason for calling the project Enigma into life is the desire to make music that I have long heard in my head," Cretu said in his Virgin Records Italy bio. "Till now, I've had neither the time nor the opportunity to make my plans reality. Enigma has given me the possibility to experiment in the studio without paying any regard to musical conventions whatsoever."

Cretu wrote the single "Sadeness Part 1" about Marquis de Sade. Part of the song refers to his name, "Sade," while another part relates to the "sadness" in his life, having spent 50 years of his life in prison. Cretu's wife Sandra provides the female vocals on the track. When the single was released, the record company gave no reference to any artists behind it, and did not explain the content as being related to Marquis de Sade. Cretu wanted people to react to the song without having any preconceived notions. "I had no ulterior motive," Cretu told Catharina Jacobsen in Verdens Gang. "The music has neither verse nor chorus, and if I ask you to sing a melody line, you won't be able to do it, because it's all based on a mood and an atmosphere." The track was followed up with a second single titled "Mea Culpa."

Explored the Metaphysical

In 1992, Robert Evans, producer of the film Sliver, asked Cretu to write the score for the movie. Cretu weighed the option of living and working in Los Angeles to work on the film or to work on the next Enigma release. He opted for the latter. However, he did contribute two tracks to the 1993 Sliversoundtrack-- "Carly's Song" and "Carly's Loneliness."

The Cross of Changes, Enigma's second album, was released in 1994. It included the single "Return to Innocence," which featured German singer Andreas Harde, who was known by his stage name Angel. The Cross of Changes reached double platinum sales in the United States, and received 21 platinum and 24 gold awards worldwide. With this album, Cretu took a more metaphysical approach to the music. "The lyrics are like a mirror of my soul, and probably it helped me a lot to live in a very quiet place, where I could start to concentrate and to start listening to my inner voice," Cretu said in his record company's press materials.

The year following the release of The Cross of Changes, Cretu started to work on a third album, but the recording process was interrupted by his wife's pregnancy. "When I'm working in the studio, I'm an absolute night owl," Cretu said to Mike Alexander in Sunday Star. "And when I am working on my music, there can only be my music, but because of Sandra's pregnancy, that wasn't possible." In 1995, Cretu and his wife became the proud parents of twin sons, and Cretu returned to the studio.

Created Early Work's Offspring

Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!(translated "The king is dead, long live the king!") was released in 1996, along with the single "Beyond the Invisible." Cretu explored existentialism with this album, and musically, described it as the offspring of the first two albums. "Since the first two albums were of a rather experimental character, I now intended to produce a more 'middle of the road' one, which wouldn't ask the listener to look for a meaning and think about it a whole lot," Cretu said in Virgin Records press materials.

In preparation for Enigma's fourth release, Michael Cretu accomplished a rare feat. He was able to get the rights to sample the music of Carl Orff's opera Carmina Burana. Centering around a theme of mysticism, The Screen Behind the Mirror was released in 2000, and included the single "Gravity of Love."

Although Cretu would describe his conceptual ideas behind Enigma's music, he refused to explain the meaning behind particular songs or lyrics. He maintained the definition of Enigma as a mystery by replying that the project is "called Enigma, not instruction manual." As he explained to Michael Azerrad in Rolling Stone, "I didn't want to write songs, I wanted to write moods."

During more than 10 years working on the Enigma project, Michael Cretu achieved the very rare ability to not only reach across world borders, but across generations, as well. "Enigma is liked by everyone from kids buying Smashing Pumpkins to 70-year-old fathers buying The Three Tenors," a reviewer wrote in Billboard. Where Cretu will take his work with Enigma next continues to be a mystery, just as he always intended.

by Sonya Shelton

Enigma's Career

Formed in 1989; released MCMXC A.D., 1990; contributed to Sliver film soundtrack, 1993; released The Cross of Changes, 1994; released Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!,1996; released The Screen Behind the Mirror, 2000.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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