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Modular Profile: Lisa Bella Donna

Electronic Sound Sorceress By William Stokes
Published April 2023

Modular Profile: Lisa Bella DonnaPhoto: Tristan Whitney Weary

Musician, sound designer, educator and all‑round electronic sound sorceress Lisa Bella Donna has built a reputation for herself as one of the most eminent synthesists anywhere. With upwards of 40 explorative releases to her name, she has run workshops at venues ranging from Superbooth in Berlin to the vaunted Berklee School Of Music in Boston, USA. She has also in recent years been welcomed into the inner fold of Moog Music Inc, with whom she has produced myriad demonstrations, recordings and detailed patchbooks, also crafting a range of rich presets for the company’s flagship Moog One.

On her entry into modular

I started in modular synthesis in the mid‑to‑late 1980s. I was a teenager and working at a commercial jingle studio. It was at that studio I had my first opportunity playing & patching an ARP and Moog synthesizer, which was truly an epiphany for me. I scraped and saved every penny and eventually bought a pair of ARP 2600s from a vintage synth dealer named SYNTHLOCATER in the back of Keyboard magazine. During this time, I purchased quite a few synths and modulars from him. I soon added an ARP 1601, an Oberheim DS‑2 sequencer, a Roland CR‑78, an ARP Odyssey, ARP Omni and Moog Prodigy.

A few years later I added a Prophet‑5, Roland System 100M, Roland CSQ‑600 sequencer, ARP String Ensemble and a borrowed, beat‑up Moog Model 15. I stuck with that setup for many years. Just composing and developing. Until, eventually, Eurorack came around. I started with the brilliantly designed Wiard System, then Doepfer Modular, and finally the revolutionary Moog Mother‑32 and Grandmother.

On her go‑to modules

Oh dear, there are so many! The Moog Mother‑32 is a complete electronic music studio in one module. There are so many features under its hood. It never ceases to amaze or inspire me. The oscillator and filters sound so classic and fat. It’s my favourite live synth, but it’s an immediate songwriting or composing tool too. The sequencer is totally unique and dials up magic fast. For its size and price, there are so many ways to route and modulate and create multitimbral synthesis. I love working with a collection of them in my system.

On working in partnership with Moog Music

Working with the many teams at Moog Music on a wide variety of different projects is such a wonderful and fulfilling confluence. They’re such an immensely clear, articulate and talented collection of humans. It takes a vastly talented and dynamic team to create such timeless instruments and to elevate the spirit they work tirelessly to create. An environment of creativity and inclusion. Getting to know and work closely with all at Moog Music is something I am equally grateful and proud to be a part of. I am also always happy to hear from the thousands of Moog owners who reach out to me with questions and advice. Always feel welcome to reach out to me. I answer every single message. Community is as community does.

On running electronic music workshops around the world

It’s always a privilege and pleasure to work with those passionate about music and synthesis. All the many demographics offer their own spirit and unique energy surrounding their intentions with the electronic arts. I feel education is vital to the welfare and evolution of this craft. I love learning about what inspires students and participants. I also try to aid and assist with each of them in areas where they may feel unclear in the many different destinations of working with synthesizers and recording techniques. It’s an everlasting stream of curiosity and creative continuum. It’s a great infinity. I am forever humbled by the process and discoveries found in electronic music composition and sound design. I am forever the student of the craft.

On the culture of modular

It’s been amazing to witness how, in my lifetime, modular went from almost completely non‑existent to having a full‑blown resurgence. When I began, it was just something that made perfect sense to me and for where I wanted my music to go. It’s always been my sanctuary. No rules or laws posted anywhere, as far as the mind could see. What a wonderful chapter to begin in! Just turn on the studio, warm it up, roll up the sleeves, and then see what inspires. Musical, sonic, and compositional freedom. I’d love to see the modular culture stay away from stylistic conformity, ego‑focus and closed mindedness. I am still of the spirit that it’s such a wild, wonderful and wide‑open territory, where every kind of creative individual can be included, highlighted, and heard. Art first, style last.