Across the Centuries

Los Angeles based trio Niyaz comprises vocalist Azam Ali of Vas, multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian of Axiom of Choice, and producer and remixer

Los Angeles — based trio Niyaz comprises vocalist Azam Ali of Vas, multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian of Axiom of Choice, and producer and remixer Carmen Rizzo. The group's creative chemistry results in a virtually invisible fusion of ancient and modern sounds. For Niyaz's self-titled debut (Six Degrees Records, 2005) Ali and Torkian drew upon Sufi poetry and medieval, folkloric music from Iran, India, and Turkey. “We borrow quite a bit from all those traditions,” says Torkian.

Image placeholder title


Ali and Torkian brought their initial tracks to Rizzo, who has worked with BT, Alanis Morissette, Seal, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Cirque du Soliel, among others. “Azam and Loga wanted to do a hybrid type of project,” Rizzo says. “They both have backgrounds in classical and traditional styles of Middle Eastern music. I wasn't interested in doing a traditional type of record; I was more interested in doing something a little darker and more cutting edge.

“They would give me elements that had voice, instrumentation, and maybe some percussion loops,” Rizzo says. “Some songs were more developed than others. It was my job to bring in the electronic elements — the keyboards, beats, textures, and sound design — and present it to them. Then the three of us would finish [the track] together.”

Torkian recorded vocals and most instrumental parts in his personal studio, Nandi Sound, to a PC running Steinberg's Nuendo. “I used a Neumann M 149 [condenser mic] going through an Avalon preamp,” Torkian says. “The Neumann captures high frequencies really well. For percussion, I primarily used an AKG C 414.” Rizzo brought his Mac G4 PowerBook, Digidesign Mbox, and AKG C 414 to Paris and recorded guest musician Arash Khalatbari in Khalatbari's apartment.

“We tried to keep entire performances to give [the music] that live feeling,” Torkian notes. He says his biggest challenge for Niyaz was changing the way he records instruments such as saz, oud, tabla, and darbuka. “I've always used those instruments in an acoustic context,” Torkian says. “I soon learned that the way that I used to record them may not apply in this context. Recording the saz was the hardest because of the nature of the instrument.

Image placeholder title

“We'd export files without effects and take them to Carmen's studio,” Torkian says. Rizzo's Studio 775 is based around a Mac G5 and Pro Tools|HD 2 Accel system. “They would give me raw files from bar 1,” Rizzo says. “I would import them into Pro Tools. I used Native Instruments' Absynth, Battery 2, FM7, and Reaktor to create a lot of my parts. Most of the EQs were Focusrite plug-ins. I use the Digidesign limiter called Smack. The main reverb was Digidesign's ReVibe.

“Reaktor is wonderful for audio effects,” Rizzo says. “I used a lot of the delays and filters. I'll process a vocal with effects, print it on a separate track, and then blend them together. Often we chose not to make the instruments sound as best as they could. ‘In the Shadow of Life’ is a beautiful piece that has no rhythm. I tried to make Loga's [Jonathan Wilson Designs] GuitarViol [an electric bowed guitar based on a 14th century European instrument] sound like something you've never heard before, manipulating it with plug-ins and various things. I would loop some of Loga's saz parts. He'd play a riff and I would reverse it, filter it, or auto-pan it.

“Many electronic world-music records sound manufactured,” Rizzo observes. “We wanted to pay respect to the poetry and the wonderful instruments. That's why it sounds like it all meshes. Electronic music is not just dance music.”

For more information, go