Featured Voltage Modular Artist: Mike Pascarella

This month's featured artist is Mike Pascarella. With his new album, "Electronica Volume 1: All Circuits Are Busy," talented songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist, and producer Mike Pascarella can now add modular synthesist to his resume. Hailing from Marlborough, a suburb of Boston, Mike continues to challenge himself as a solo artist by honing and evolving his creative art and sound manipulation skills with passion and improvisation. We hope you enjoy our interview with Mike Pascarella.

Tell us about yourself. What got you into music?

As a musician, I guess people often refer to me as a songwriter, guitarist, and keyboardist. But I think of myself first and foremost as an artist. From that standpoint, I try to tap into a creative process that I can control in some ways, but one that controls me as well - if that makes any sense at all. I’m a fan of improvisation, and the challenge for me as a solo artist is to cultivate that kind of an environment best I can. If the end result is a musical journey for me as well as the listener, I feel like I’ve succeeded.

I’ve been intrigued with music as a creative art form ever since hearing the Beatles for the first time. Their music motivated me to write and experiment at a very young age. I got my first electric guitar (a Sears Silvertone) at 11 years old and my first keyboard (a mini Casio sampler) later on. I was instantly compelled to manipulate sounds, first with a Fuzz Face, and later with delays and tape. It all grew from there. 

How do you approach producing?

As a producer, my role is to guide the artist’s creative and performance process - helping them fully envision and express their music. The latest album I produced is Steve Schuster’s “Unassembled Man” - which I’m happy to say has received great reviews. But most importantly, I want the artist to be proud of the final product and feel that it’s true to their original vision.

 As president of Pascarella Multimedia, my job is to combine music with other art forms to create targeted content for business, creative, and educational markets. For these projects, I need to make sure that a guitar or synth lead isn’t getting in the way of the voice-over. Hahahaha!

What do you like to do outside music?

I love spending time with my three kids. I’m told I’m a bit of a coffee snob, which I accept as a compliment. Incidentally, you can enjoy that boutique pour-over or French press while you’re wiring up a virtual modular synth!

Tell us about the making of your new release, Electronica Volume 1 and how Voltage Modular played a role in it.

Electronica Volume 1

With Electronica Volume 1, I set out to create electronic pieces where process and technology played as important a role as performance. In fact, some of those processes produced the performance. The generative synthesizers I created in Voltage Modular were musical workflows where not only sound was generated, but deployed in creative ways. I can’t overstate how valuable it was having that environment at my disposal - nearly limitless creative power, but accessible by a very intuitive user interface. 

Generative patches can be tricky - any tips you can share with others?

The approach I used was to create a sort of “controlled randomness” where notes and other control parameters were defined as guidelines, but then selected randomly within those guidelines. For example, there were several moments in “Dreaming Machines” where notes were randomly paired creating overtones that had a life of their own.

The album has really lush sonic landscapes - did you use any mixing tricks to make that happen?

I’m so happy to hear you describe this music as sonic landscapes. That was exactly what I had in mind. The goal was to create those landscapes using harmonically rich sounds animated in time and across the stereo stage. In the song “Opposite Poles,” most of the sounds were created using different synthesizers, but from the same set of notes - each synth evolving separately and bleeding over into the other. To create a widening affect on a couple of the synth tracks, I used a touch of comb filtering. 

What was the creative process like for this album?

That is a great question . . . and one of the most important aspects of the process vs performance approach to the album. In some cases, the generative process inspired me to create live performance parts. In other cases, something I played on the keyboard first inspired me to wire up a modular synth to match that part. To maintain an improvisational feel, I tried to avoid “composing” these pieces in the traditional way and kept things as instantaneous and reactionary as I could. I’m not quite sure who was in charge, man or machine, but it all came together in the end.

Who are some of your major influences?

Besides the aforementioned Beatles, whose music taught me so much about rhythm, chords, harmony, and songwriting, there were many artists who inspired me. Since I mentioned the Beatles, I’d have to say George Martin’s creative and sometimes random approach to production was an early influence. From a performance standpoint, I became interested in progressive bands such as Yes, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, etc. Those bands led me to fusion, jazz, and eventually electronic music. But from a purely creative standpoint, artists such a Brian Eno, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Wendy Carlos, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Holger Czukay, etc. had a huge impact on my approach to music.

What are your favorite modules and features in Voltage Modular?

One of my favorite features is the ability to run VM as an AU plugin. That allows me to integrate it into my DAW flawlessly. My favorite modules? Wow, there are so many. I do love the Vintage Oscillator and the Ladder Filter. They offer a great starting point before I crush and twist the tones beyond recognition. Maybe this one is a little nerdy, but I use Clock Divider quite a bit! One of my favorite modules is Octagon. That is currently my favorite sequencer module. For the song “Synapses,” I used two instances simultaneously.

Tell us about your recording and performance setup.

At this point, I use either Logic X or Digital Performer as my DAW. My outboard synths at the moment are limited to a Behringer Neutron and an old Roland S10 sampler - the glory of 12 bit samples! That said, most of my synthesis comes from virtual synths, with Voltage Modular playing a more prominent role all the time.

What's next for you? Any plans for an 'Electronica Volume 2'?

My immediate plans are to finish recording the next single, which I’m hoping will be released this October. I will start recording Electronica Volume 2 soon after that. Volume 2 will have the first recorded pieces where I use guitar to trigger Voltage Modular - I’m very excited about that development! 

Where can we find your music, and where can people connect with you?

All releases are available at major digital music stores and streaming services such as:

Apple Music / Spotify / YouTube Music / Mikepascarella.com / Mike Pascarella YouTube Channel / Facebook

I want to thank Cherry Audio for giving me the opportunity to discuss my music and for making Voltage Modular the creative powerhouse it is. I’m looking forward to what the future brings.

Editor's Note: We would like to thank Mike for integrating Voltage Modular into his creative art, for his thoughtful responses and for sharing his decades of production experience with our readers. We look forward to the release Electronica Volume 2!

Sep 25, 2020