Carmen Rizzo is an LA based musician, producer, music engineer and two-time Grammy Award nominee. He is currently working on his third album and has worked with artists as varied as Alanis Morissette, Paul Oakenfold, Ryichi Sakamoto, Cirque du Soleil and Pete Townshend of The Who.
His recent album, Eternal, with Tuvan throat singers, Huun Huur To juxtaposes electronica with ancient Siberian throat singing. Lush and thought provoking, this album fuses ancient tradition with cutting-edge electronics. We catch up with Carmen in a narrow break between tour dates.
Can you tell a bit about yourself, how and why you got into music, a bit about your history and how you became successful?
I was fortunate to do music as a young child, playing drums. My mother was a school music teacher, church organist and piano teacher. This was lucky but I really wanted to become a pro baseball player so I did music and then at a certain point as a young teenager I gave up to pursue baseball. I went as far as I could go and then decided, well, it’s not really gonna happen. So I decided to go back to the music, but more the technical side: engineering and production.
I ended up moving to Los Angeles at about 19, I had about a thousand dollars and just showed up! I started out as a janitor at a studio called Westlake in the mornings, and then in the afternoon I was the runner. I sat and learned from the engineers and musicians and producers and stuff and that’s how I got started. Then I was lucky to become a Tape Op and so I was lucky to engineer and produce at a young age and get an early start. Then it kind of evolved back to doing music again. When I was doing the Oakenfold records, my manager at the time, Dave Holmes, who manages Coldplay, sort of said, you know, why don’t you do your own music? So that’s when I eased back into being an artist.
How did you discover Jazzmutant’s controllers?
The first time I saw it was at a Native Instruments loft party many years ago, downtown LA, when it first came out. The were showing off NI stuff with Jazzmutant and it was this cool warehouse party. I was just mesmerised by it.
How I really got my hands on one was working with AR Rahman from India (who scored Slumdog Millionaire, amongst many other films) and he became a friend and he had one, or two I think. And I was lucky enough for him to give me one as a gift when he knew I wanted one so bad!
Why did you choose to use it above other products on the market?
Because there is nothing else on the market like it. When you do electronic music, especially, if you want to divide yourself from the rest you have to raise the bar. I’m lucky that I’m very technically savvy and I have a lot of gear – my studio looks like a showroom for Guitar Center; everything from a Monome to every Korg and Digi and… all kinds of wonderful toys! The Lemur was something that not only was unusual, but also allowed the user to customise to what you wanted to do. The thing about electronic music is that a lot of laymans don’t understand that electronic machinery are instruments in their own right, and the Lemur has helped bring that to the forefront Ð where this touchpad is an instrument; it can be used as a tool to make music. People get a boner just from how it looks, but it’s way more than just how it looks – you can customise it in a way that really help you create music, create sound and entertain people.
How has using the controller changed the way you work?
Mainly that you can customise it to do anything you want to do. With the Lemur, if you think of it, you can pretty much do it.
Another great thing is that it’s reliable. It works, unlike some gear which is sort of hit or miss. When you’re performing you really need reliability, with my Monome for example, whenever I hook it up to Max/MSP you have to say a prayer! What’s really important to me with the Lemur is that it always works!
What would you like to see in future revisions of the software?
If it was a little bit smaller and a little bit lighter, and perhaps an easy way to adjust the sensitivity on the fly. Some apps you want more sensitive than others.
What are your plans for the near future?
Well now I am touring this record I made with Huun Huur Tu called “Eternal” in Russia and then the States. I am very proud of it and the Lemur is a big part of the show. I’m going on stage with these futuristic instruments like the Lemur on the one hand, alongside these ancient Tuvan singers playing their two string instruments – it’s extreme! There’s a point in the show where we play this beautiful, lush song, and a firewire camera goes live to the Lemur on the bouncing balls program which I’ve assigned to some really cool drone sounds. You’re hearing this ancient music, but then you’re seeing the Lemur, live on a huge screen, generating sound. It’s a wonderful moment of extreme differing cultures. To me that’s the highlight of the show as it shows that they can be married.
When I am done in a few weeks I need to finish off my third solo album and hope to do more video game work; I just wrote and performed the closing theme and trailer for the new Sony PlayStation 3 game Uncharted 2.