What is Sonic Peaks?

Sonic Peaks is an adventure with experimental music and ultra-distance hiking. My name is Payton MacDonald. I’m a musician, filmmaker, and endurance athlete.

Payton at the summit of Lower Wolfjaw mountain in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, July 2020

Over the next few years I plan to summit a bunch of mountains in the Northeastern of the United States. I’m going to start with the Catskills 35. If that goes well, then I’ll 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 plan to create a graphic score for each peak, that reflects the feelings/experiences I had on a given peak or collection of peaks if I do several in one day. And I’ll make some short films about this whole journey. Here are a few examples of my graphic scores:

Peekamoose Table
Score for Peekamoose & Table, from the Catskills

Meep Meeps

I hike and mountain bike a lot, and when I’m 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.

The films will focus on my adventure, but I also plan to engage other artists who spend a lot of time in the wilderness. I’m hoping to do some performances of these graphic scores with other musicians, in galleries and cafes and concert halls all over the Northeast as the project develops. 

And to add another element of adventure, I plan to travel to all these hikes on my beloved Kawasaki Versys 650 motorcycle. The High Peaks are mostly accessible from twisty, turny backroads, which make for excellent riding. So I’ll ride, hike, compose.

Sonic Peaks is the second part of a massive three-part trilogy that explores the connections between experimental music and outdoors athleticism. The first part of the trilogy is my Sonic Divide project, completed in 2016. (The third part will be titled “Sonic States” and will include a 5,000-mile self-supported bikepacking adventure across the U.S. from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.)