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Universal sings praise to YouTube monks

Latest update : 2008-03-28

Austrian monks from a 12th century monastery signed a lucrative recording contract with Universal Music after performing their Gregorian songs on popular website YouTube.

A group of monks from a 12th century monastery just outside Vienna have secured a lucrative recording contract with Universal Music, the label for pop stars such as Amy Winehouse and Eminem, a record executive said Wednesday.

The monks -- from the Cistercian monastery of Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross) in the Vienna woods, 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the Austrian capital -- are scheduled to go into the recording studio next week, with the release date set for the summer, Universal executive Tom Lewis told AFP.

Universal had been looking for a group to record some Gregorian chant, one of the oldest surviving forms of western music dating as far back as the 10th century, after detecting a resurgence of interest in plainchant thanks to a best-selling computer game, Halo, Lewis explained.

The record company placed adverts in various religious publications in Britain in February.

A friend of the monks saw one of the adverts and persuaded them to respond at the last minute.

In order to reach the deadline in time, they sent Universal a clip which they had originally posted on the video-sharing website, YouTube, Lewis said.

Universal received more than 100 entries from all over the world -- "from monks, nuns, academics, amateur choirs, school choirs and even a pop act who do pop covers in a Gregorian style," he said.

But recording executives were bowled over by the Heiligenkreuz monks.

"Quite simply, their sound was more beautiful than anyone else's. It's both immediately calming and deeply moving," Lower said.

The monks' spokesman, Father Karl Wallner, said they had initially responded out of fun.

"But now it has become a very serious and positive think for us, because Gregorian Chant is the expression of our spirituality. It's how we pray," he said in a statement released through the company.

Any profits would be put back into the monastery and training young monks, he added.

Gregorian chant hit the pop charts briefly back in the 1990s when it was sampled by the band Enigma.

"This time round, the sound of Gregorian chant forms the soundtrack to the incredibly popular Halo Xbox game. We think this might have triggered the renewed interest," Lewis said.

"Gregorian chant has an incredibly distinctive, immediate sound. My feeling is that when people hear it, in whatever context, they react immediately. This music is incredibly calming and spiritual, and people do tend to listen to it more in times of heightened anxiety (as we are all feeling right now)."

Unlike Enigma, the Heiligenkreuz monks' voices will not be set to a poppier backing, Lewis continued.

"We will be recording it as it is sung (no over-production). We feel it is at its most powerful when it is also presented in its simplest possible form," he said.

Date created : 2008-03-28

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