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Madonna and William Orbit were scheduled to re-enter a London studio this month to work on her as-yet-untitled album.

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Madonna Turns Up Electronica On Upcoming LP, Producer Says

Follow-up to Grammy-winning Ray of Light, due midyear, to feature more work with William Orbit.

Sticking with the collaborator who helped co-write and co-produce one of her most successful albums of the '90s, Madonna is continuing to experiment with electronica on her upcoming album and is said to be venturing into the popular European dance style known as trance.

Co-producer William Orbit said that the dance diva is again exploring her techno side on an as-yet-untitled album due midyear, pushing even further the futuristic boundaries of her sound.

"I think you could summarize Madonna as expect the unexpected," Orbit (born William Wainwright) said of the 41-year-old singer, with whom he shared two of the four Grammys earned for her 1998 album Ray of Light. "She subscribes to the whole notion of keep them guessing, keep changing, keep developing."

"If you liked Ray of Light, you'll certainly like this one." — William Orbit, co-producer

In addition to working with Orbit, other electronica artists have been dropping by to help shape the album. Orbit invited acclaimed house DJ/producer Sasha into the studio in November to play music for possible inclusion on the effort, according to Sasha's U.S. spokesperson, Stefani Lees.

"They were looking for a trancey sound," Lees said, referring to the sweeping, orchestra-heavy techno offshoot that has been prominent on the European dance scene for several years. Sasha, who goes by one name, and partner John Digweed are among the most well-known trance DJs in the business.

Sasha did a vinyl-only remix of "Ray of Light" (RealAudio excerpt of album version), as well as an import-only remix of the Ray of Light track "Drowned World/Substitute for Love," Lees said.

While Orbit would not elaborate on the sound he and the singer are fashioning in a London studio, he did say it follows a similar tone as the multiplatinum Ray of Light, which mixed electronica beats with a spiritual message. Still, Orbit — who has produced or remixed recordings by such artists as dance band Erasure and singers Sting, Beth Orton and Latin-pop sensation Ricky Martin — said Madonna, as always, is not content to stay in one place.

"She's moved on," Orbit said in late December. "It's got this kind of edge to it all. It's a continuation of Ray of Light. If you liked Ray of Light, you'll certainly like this one. I think it's, in some respects, even stronger lyrically and musically; it's pretty solid. It's kind of even more experimental. It's a bit more confident" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).

The co-producer — who is about to release Pieces in a Modern Style (Feb. 22), a solo album of electronica versions of classical compositions, on Madonna's Maverick label — said the duo had worked on close to a dozen songs as of late December.

The pair were scheduled to re-enter a London studio in early January, Orbit said. Madonna canceled her appearance at the Super Bowl, announcing Tuesday that her recording plans would not have allowed her to prepare properly for the performance.

"I am sorry that I will not be able to join all the great entertainers who will be performing on Super Bowl Sunday," the pop singer said in a statement issued by Warner Bros. Records.

She was expected to debut her upcoming single, a cover of Don McLean's pop classic "American Pie," at the championship football game Jan. 30. The song was one of two new tunes Madonna recorded with Orbit for the soundtrack to her upcoming film, "The Next Best Thing." The other is a ballad they co-wrote, "Time Stood Still."

Her latest inspiration, Orbit said, came with the collaboration on those two tracks and led to eight more songs and the decision to go ahead with another album.

"I like to produce records, especially for stars," Orbit said. "She knows what she's doing, she lives in the spotlight and I'm very happy to be behind. I can hide behind that whole thing and do what I do" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).

The pair were recently nominated for a Grammy for their work on the techno-pop song "Beautiful Stranger" (RealAudio excerpt) from the "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" soundtrack. The track also was nominated recently for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture.

Madonna (born Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone) praised Orbit's studio prowess in a statement released Wednesday (Jan. 12), touting Pieces in a Modern Style. "William is a post-modern, 21st-century genius in the world of music," she said. "This is only the beginning of his brilliant career. He's a real visionary, and it's an honor to have him with Maverick."

Madonna's spokesperson, Liz Rosenberg, could not be reached for comment on the new album's sessions.

Moby, a fellow electronica artist whose most recent album, 1999's critically hailed Play, mixed spiritual and techno sounds, said he wasn't surprised that Madonna was continuing in a futuristic direction. "Madonna's always made electronic dance records," Moby said. "Ray of Light was a quite specific attempt to make a spiritual record, even if it was pantheistic and new agey."

Through a career that has spanned two decades, Madonna has grown from a new-wave club singer to one of the most recognized pop stars in the world. Beginning with her first self-titled album, in 1983, the singer, who has developed a knack for incorporating the latest trends in music and fashion and making them her own, has racked up dozens of hits with nine best-selling studio albums.

Despite their recent success together, Orbit said he was surprised that Madonna tapped him a second time to work on her new material, given what he suspected was the singer's infinite number of collaborative choices.

"I never really expect anything from her," he said. "I was pleased to be asked again and I'm even doubly pleased to know that we've another strong album. This new one we've done — she's done — is every bit as strong as the first one" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).

— Senior Writer Gil Kaufman

[ Thurs., January 13, 2000 9:00 AM EST ]

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