As an Enigma fan I have always been fascinated by Michael Cretu’s A.R.T. Studio, where the music project’s first five albums were created. The studio was brutally knocked down by bulldozers in 2009, but the music that was made here lives on. So put on an early Enigma album and join me on this voyage into the historical A.R.T. Studio!
When it comes to studio technology, there’s have been many Mars landings over the last few years. The technology is now light-years from where we were in 1990. Armed with a smart phone or basic laptop, you can record and mix in studio quality from any location. That said, technology itself will not make great art. It is just that the creation process that has become easier and more affordable. (I doubt that it has become better though…)
The studio is visible in this German TV interview from 1992 (seen from around 3 minutes or so):
How important is a studio to the finished product? It is hard to say something general, but for an Enigma album – which is not played live, and only exists as a digital recording – it is vital. It is where the music is born.
The story of A.R.T. Studio starts when Michael Cretu was to build a studio in his new home at Ibiza, Spain, in the late 1980s. He commissioned partners Gunter Wagner and Bernd Steber, who had over 20 years experience in designing and building high-end studios. Over the next three years much equipment was moved from Michael’s old studio in Germany, and state-of-the-art technology was also implemented. To webpage Enigma-Fanclub Wagner said in 2003 that the studio was «the most unusual» in his career. He said:
The floor is covered with a wall-to-wall carpet which we had especially printed with a reproduction of the moon’s surface. All this leads to the impression of standing in an old ruin somewhere in space, maybe on another planet. Especially at night (the time when Michael likes to work), the illusion is truly breathtaking.
Pictures of the studio can be seen here (picture of the Enigmamusic.com site – click for more):
A studio is nothing without equipment. In A.R.T. Studio the following top shelf music gear (and some personal favorites of Michael) were available:
- Custom built AMEK Digital mixing console
- Audio Frame Workstation and Waveframe 1000 (old at the time, very important for the Enigma sound)
- Custom built studio controller by Quested Acoustics
- Protools system hardware
- Emagic Logic Audio Platinum software.
- Sample cell (Software sampler)
- Steinberg’s Halion
- External Midi modules and hardware: Lexicon 480 and 960 (reverb)
- Yamaha REV1, REV7 and REV9,
- Eventide Reverb
- Dynacord DRP20.
- PPG System,
- Korg M1,
- C-Lab Notator
- Takamine 6 and 12 String Guitars
- Tom Anderson Electric Guitars
- Otari DTR-900
- Akai 900
- Linn 9000
- Prophet 2002
- EMS Vocoder
- Roland MKS-80 «Super Jupiter»,
- Roland V-Synth,
- Korg OASYS
- Korg Karma
And, of course, a PC-based Studio Sampler. This is, after all, sample heavy music!
Any vintage synth enthusiast knows that there are some truly excellent equipment mentioned here. Even though they are old, their soundbanks are still relevant – if not outright modern and fresh. I’m sure Michael could have used this studio to create Enigma 8, and we would all have been happy with the result. But his current equipment – called Alchemist – have some excellent features as well. It is more a studio for our age, which can be moved around and use any software synth.
The following Enigma albums were made at the A.R.T. Studio:
- MCMXC a.D. (1990) (one of the first album ever to be recorded on a hard drive).
- The Cross of Changes (1993)
- Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (1996)
- The Screen Behind the Mirror (2000)
- Voyageur (2003)
Some other albums were made here as well (by Sandra and Michael’s side project Trance Atlantic Air Waves).
How can we describe Enigma’s music with a few, carefully selected key words? For starters: The above mentioned albums are all highly atmospheric. That – and the Gregorian singing on MCMXC a.D. and the early 1990s club beat – are hallmarks of «the Enigma sound» that made Michael Cretu’s project into a million selling band. It is safe to say that some of this atmosphere is thanks to the A.R.T. Studio; This is where the sound was invented and refined. Think of the studio, the synths and the surroundings while listening. Michael truly had great working conditions while making the first few albums.
So what happened to this unique studio? Readers of this blog already know the answer. According to Spanish Provincial court, the mansion where the studio was situated had been built illegally. The house was demolished in 2009 following a court ruling. When the house fell, the A.R.T. studio was gone forever. (Some parts of the mansion does still exists today, as seen on this page where the below images are taken from).
Michael Cretu went on to build two mobile studio solutions called Merlin and Alchemist. We know that he’s happy with his current equipment (as seen in the below comment), so he cannot be missing his Ibiza studio that much.
Given the unfortunate fate of his house, Michael probably want to put the matter behind him and move on. But the first five Enigma albums will forever be associated with A.R.T. Studio. This is where Enigma was created. That is not an Enigma.