NCIENT and modern combined on the eve of the third millennium, to create a new sound. Frank Peterson's perception of a change in world moods and his long desire to utilise a live church-choir, inspired him in 1998 to begin work on something revolutionary. Instead of the Enigma-style sampling of recorded Latin liturgical chants, Frank's alchemical concept was to employ the Gregorian style of singing as a basis for re-interpreting four decades worth of the most memorable pop and rock songs.
:: the selection
Along with his team of Michael Soltau, Carsten Heusmann and Jan-Eric Kohrs, Frank sifted through hours of songs, from 1960s' rock through to 1990s' pop trying to determine which were best-suited for performance by Gregorian vocalists. The complex and arduous process of translating 12-tone pop music into flowing Gregorian pentatonic scale was a long one. But besides determining whether a song was musically compatible, the concept dictated that the choir sing in English not Latin, so the lyrics of a chosen song also had to fit the group stylistically. With the most suitable tracks collected, the team now had to ensure that their selection — from such diverse artists like REM, Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Gabriel and Metallica — all fitted together seamlessly within the new soundscape of Gregorian.
:: the re-invention
Once the lead-vocal melody for each song had been transcribed, the four producers needed to decide how best to meld the music so that these recognisable classics seemed fresh. The introductions for some songs were lengthened, a bridge adapted or an all-new instrumental passage written. Then each piece received new electronic instrumentation, prominent basslines and added rhythms. All these arrangements were done in Nemo Studios by utilising synthesisers, sequencers and drum machines. The result was the basic arrangements reflecting the team's more modern and ambient-pop sound that they had in mind.
:: the voices
But Frank Peterson always knew that such a project would be judged by its vocal quality and so with the basic music recorded, he assembled a 12-man choir whom he hand-picked from England's most sought-after session singers. These vocalists hail from major cathedrals and classical institutions like the Academy of St. Martin, Royal College of Music, King's College Cambridge, Royal Northern School of Music and Trinity College of Music. Besides being chosen for their expert voices, they also had to be open to the new idea behind the group.
Backing tracks in hand, the Nemo Studios team
visited Britain to record the choir. To ensure the right ambience, Frank
hired an old London church that had been refitted into a studio so that
the choir could be recorded in surroundings more akin to the style intended.
Wearing headphones, the dozen vocalists sang along to the pre-recorded
:: the result
With both solo and group vocals recorded, it was time to mix the tracks and polish the musical arrangements back at Nemo Studios. At the same time short Variations were developed which allowed each track to segue into the next, furthering the idea of a unified album. In the end, the 12-track album titled Masters Of Chant took a year to produce and at great expense, but was released finally in the last quarter of 1999. The time was worth it though, for the resulting album, marrying the timeless style of singing with recognisable lyrics and melodies, proved hugely successful all across the globe. By going Gold or Platinum in more than a third of the countries it was released in, this was once again another hit-project for Frank Peterson.
:: the tour
With such a successful album, it was inevitable
that the performers for Gregorian follow this up with a European tour
in early 2000. A choir touring like this was completely unparalleled,
but these live shows impressed upon people that the superb and haunting
vocal performance was no studio trick. It was always important that everything
tie into the theme of Gregorian monks and heritage. From the group's inception,
album graphics and music-videos showed the choir dressed in pseudo-monastic
robes and this was carried over to the concerts. Indeed, with such authentic
visualisations, many fans thought the choir were real-life Gregorian monks!
The quasi-religious theme was furthered by setting the concerts in real-life
churches packed full of fans — sometimes with as many as 2000 people in
the audience. And like the music, ancient mixed with modern: the churches
were equipped with smoke machines, flashing lights and near rock concert
sound-levels ensuring standing ovations at the end of all the concerts.
:: the videos
A full-length DVD and VHS, entitled Masters Of Chant In Santiago De Compostela, was made of the choir and released in early 2001. But this was not just merely footage of one of their live-shows, but rather specially-recorded videos of the choir performing 10 of their songs from the Masters Of Chant re-release album in suitably serene and mystical places such as mountain-tops and castles. The DVD especially, with its immersive surround-sound, allowed for everyone with a home theatre system to experience a Gregorian show in their living-rooms...
:: a return
Frank and the team had by this time already returned to the studio, to start the process all over again. Three months of song selection and initial arrangements followed. A new church, namely Henry Wood Hall in London, was outfitted for recording the choir which took a further 6 months, including time for mixing. Of course this time there was no need to convince choir or publisher that they had a winning formula. October 2001 heralded the new Gregorian album called Chapter II was released. The second chapter overall had a greater orchestral quality to it, along with more ethnic influences. Besides the re-invented canon of classic songs, the first single Moment Of Peace was specially written for the new album by Carsten Heusmann. Chapter II was practically as successful as its predecessor and the second promotional tour commenced shortly afterwards. By covering 60 shows across Europe, it granted superstar status to the most unlikeliest of pop-stars. To accommodate the greater number of shows, not only churches were used this time but also small theatres that had the requisite ambience. A second, bigger-budget, DVD and VHS was released at the end of 2001 called Moments Of Peace In Ireland which cast the choir in various locales of the titular country.
:: the third chapter
Exactly a year after the second album, Chapter III was released in October 2002, resulting in a trilogy of interweaving albums. The colour-scheme for the album's sleeve and the choir's robes, was changed to mustard-yellow — as opposed to the red of the first album and the second's blue. A first for a Gregorian album, was the inclusion of a bonus remix by German electronica duo Schiller. Germany, Austria and Switzerland were the first countries to receive the new album and within a matter of weeks, it began climbing the pop-charts. Releases across the globe soon followed with a DVD being sold in December 2002 and a third sell-out tour in April 2003 where standing ovations was the norm after ever concert!
:: the fourth and the original
In October 2003, Chapter IV was released this time emblazoned with The Original logo. This was an effort to distinguish the project from the horde of imitators that had appeared on the scene in the years since Gregorian's success. The choir continued a highlighy successful tour for the album. The supporting act at some shows was Isgaard, an up-and-coming neo-opera singer. Co-incidentally Isgaard featured on the second album from German group Schiller, who provided the "Schill-Out" Version of the Gregorian track Join Me featured on their Chapter III album.
:: a new turn
October 2004 saw the group take a different approach with a new album that dropped the "chapter" moniker. A much darker and rock-orientated sound heard on the aptly-titled The Dark Side.
:: a new turn
October 2005 heralded the release of The Masterpieces — a compilation of the group's most popular tracks. Of special importance is the double-disc version of this release that includes a stellar DVD of one of their concerts in Prague.
But Gregorian's roots stem much further than that day in 1998 when Masters Of Chant was first conceived. After leaving Enigma in 1991, Peterson decided to make a solo-project under the pseudonym he had used on the Enigma debut — namely F. Gregorian. Frank had already pre-produced three tracks by then and on returning to Germany, completed the album with his then-wife Susana Espelleta, Michael Wehr and recent recruits Thomas Schwarz and Matthias Meissner. The first single So Sad was followed by the album Sadisfaction under the group name of Gregorian.
:: the precedent
Although very different from the Masters
Of Chant albums that would follow it almost a decade later, Sadisfaction
contained many of Frank's trademark pop-meets-past sound. The 1991 album
had a distinct pop-sound, indeed far more so than Enigma, and featured
some sampled chants but predominantly the vocals were performed by The
Sisters of Oz. Later the single Once In a Lifetime was also
released and has since become something of an institution at Nemo Studios,
being performed by Sarah Brightman (on Dive)
and twice by Princessa (a Spanish version for Princessa,
and the English version on I
Won't Forget You).
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