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From Madonna to Maurice Ravel, this William is in Orbit
(CNN) -- You might think that after taking home two Grammys in 1998 for his collaboration with Madonna on "Ray of Light" -- and thus becoming something of a household name -- producer William Orbit would be content.
But while he gamely talks about his collaboration with the Spiritual Girl on her smash album, you can't blame the studio whiz for seeking his own moment in the sun.
"I stand behind that record totally, and I always want Madonna to do well," Orbit says, "but the Mount Everest of ambition for me would be to have a William Orbit record top the charts. If I got an album with my name on it to No. 1 on the Billboard album charts, I would be smoking a cigar."
If early glowing reviews are any indication, Orbit may be reaching for a stogie soon enough. "Pieces In a Modern Style," out in mid-February, has the British beat king interpreting such classic masters as Vivaldi, Handel and Ravel. The single "Adagio for Strings" hit No. 7 on the British charts.
So naturally, you might wonder why mainstream listeners, the same folks who eat up Oasis and Blur, are suddenly buying up classical music.
"There's no crusade here, but I am trying to slip classical music in through the back door," Orbit says. "I think people can talk about classical composers in the same breath as contemporary music. All music is good music."
Even before Madonna sought out Orbit, the British producer's dance card was already quite full.
Since the early 1980s, Orbit had remixed songs for The Artist (formerly known as Prince), Erasure, Sting and Peter Gabriel.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, Orbit recorded a series of instrumental albums under the moniker Strange Cargo. "Strange Cargo 3" featured a vocalist Orbit met in a London nightclub and encouraged to sing. Her name was Beth Orton, the smoky-voiced British vocalist later lauded by critics for her own releases, "Trailer Park" and "Central Reservation."
But it wasn't until Madonna came calling and elicited his help for her electronica-tinged release "Ray of Light" that Orbit vaulted into the public eye. He co-wrote and co-produced nearly every track.
"I had done remixes for her for some time," Orbit says, "but I didn't realize that she was actively involved in vetting them. When Guy Oseary (who co-runs Madonna's label, Maverick) called me in the spring of 1997, I didn't think he was serious. But Madonna was sent some material, and she set up a meeting. Pretty soon, we were recording.
"For me, it was just a matter of keeping my head above water in big recording studios, which were filled with assistants and expectations," he says. "I'm a bit shy around large groups of people but didn't want to be a wilting violet and forced myself to communicate. And today, I feel like a broader individual."
And while Orbit prides himself on his ability to work with a broad range of artists, there are a few he won't touch.
"I got asked by Barry Manilow to work on something," he says. "There's no disrespect meant, but that is not something I want to do. I just don't want to go down that road."
Though Orbit would love to beat out Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on the U.S. Billboard charts, he's not giving up his Madonna gig just yet. Late last year, he and Madonna were holed up in a London studio working on her new album. And Orbit colluded with her on the soundtrack to her movie, "The Next Best Thing," which features an ambient remake of the Don McLean classic, "American Pie." He and Madonna also co-wrote and co-produced "Time Stood Still."
Thanks to their platinum history, it's little wonder then that Madonna now calls Orbit "a post-modern 21st century genius in the world of music."
But Orbit has his own spin on his career and the maelstrom that surrounded his work with Madonna.
"I'm a regular guy," he says. "I get disoriented by it all sometimes, and my answer is to go and do music. It answers all the questions in life for me."
William Orbit Website