top of page

Sonic Peaks

July 16 thru November 27, 2022

Over the next few years, MacDonald plans to summit the 146 highest mountains in the Northeastern part of the United States. His objective is to create graphic scores that reflect the feelings and experiences he has on a given peak or collection of peaks.

This idea makes up his latest exhibit, "Sonic Peaks."

Balsam & Eagle005 (small)
61 (small)
Big Indian & Fir


Payton MacDonald (Portrait).jpg

Photo credit:

Payton MacDonald

Payton MacDonald is a musician and filmmaker and ultra-distance mountain biker and hiker. He explores the frontiers of art in a variety of settings, from Carnegie Hall to remote wilderness locations. He spent his early years drumming along with jazz records, while exploring the Rocky Mountains near his home in Idaho by foot, bicycle, and skis. Eventually he was shaped into a percussionist who plays marimbas, snare drums, bicycles, plants, pots and pans, and anything else that might produce an interesting tone. Along the way Payton discovered Indian classical music, and after 20 years of studying that ancient music he now sings it in concert halls, yoga centers, and ashrams.

Payton studied music formally at the University of Michigan (BFA) and Eastman School of Music (MM and DMA), as well as with the legendary Gundecha Brothers (Dhrupad vocal) and Pandit Sharda Sahai (tabla). He was a founding member of Alarm Will Sound, played with New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, Present Music, Keiko Abe and Galaxy Percussion, teaches music at William Paterson University, and tours nationally and internationally as a solo percussionist, singer, and speaker.


"Sonic Peaks is an adventure with experimental music, visual art, film, and ultra-distance hiking. See for more information.

Over the next few years I plan to climb the 146 highest mountains in the Northeastern part of the United States. I’ve started with the Catskills 35. As of the time of this writing I have summited 15 of them. When I have finished those then I will do the Northeast 111. The Catskills 35 includes 35 mountains over 3,500 feet and the Northeast 111 are 111 mountains over 4,000 feet.

I am creating a graphic score for each peak, that reflects the feelings/experiences I had while summiting that mountain (or collection of peaks if I do several in one day). A graphic score is a piece of music that uses a variety of notational devices, include standard music notation, text, pictograms, and more.

I hike a lot, and when I am out there, I always think about music. I hear/imagine/see music that is surprising, rugged, tender, challenging, awe-inspiring, all the things we find in nature. Graphic scores are the best way to notate this music.

My Sonic Peaks graphic scores resists easy categorization, primarily because they fill a need for me to explore new sonic territory, much of which is through conscious or unconscious multilingual exploration of trans-idiomatic musical grammar. The holy grail of speculative fiction (aka “science fiction” or “fantasy”)— which has had a profound influence on my artistic outlook—is the Sense of Wonder, often explained as an overwhelming experience of awe awakened when one encounters worlds and perspectives that are completely new and force one to reevaluate one’s fundamental understanding of one’s place in the universe and the most pressing existential questions that concern us as a species and a civilization. My interest in various world music traditions, as well as exotic pet husbandry and ultra-endurance sports, and all sorts of forms of avant-garde art are all an expression of my obsession with the Sense of Wonder.

The marimba is my primary mode of communication sonically and most of the recordings of these pieces are for marimba. What I find particularly compelling about marimba is that it is at once ancient and modern. But any of my Sonic Peaks graphic scores may be realized on any instrument or combination of instruments, including electronic and digital expression.

To hear one possible realization of this music, go to the Sonic Peaks website ( and look under the “PCAC Exhibit” tab."

--Payton MacDonald, June 2022






bottom of page