Payton MacDonald, Billy Martin, Elliott Sharp & Colin Stetson

In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was altering everyone’s reality, percussionist and composer Payton MacDonald came into some grant funds that enabled him to create a new quartet.

“This was a strange circumstance where I had the support to basically do whatever I wanted to do,” MacDonald says. “I had been thinking for years that a band with Colin Stetson, Billy Martin, and Elliott Sharp would have a special synergy, but with everyone being involved in so many projects and so busy I couldn’t see how it could happen.”

The pandemic shut down many touring possibilities and even renowned artists like Sharp, Martin, and Stetson suddenly found themselves with a bit more free time. MacDonald emailed them a proposal to create a recording while everyone waited for touring to open up again, and to his delight they all enthusiastically agreed.

“Even before we worked out the logistics I was 100% certain we would end up with a great recording,” MacDonald reflects. “Not just because they’re world-class musicians, but more importantly because there is a shared history of repertoire, and an attitude towards sonic creation that was a thread running through all our individual work. I knew we’d find the connections, and plus we had worked together before in other contexts.”

“In short,” Sharp adds, “we managed to combine forces to create an expanded sound world drawing on each of our unique POVs but centered on an imaginary locus outside of each of us as individuals and capturing a shared moment in which our isolation was shattered.”
The logistics proved surprisingly easy, especially as all the members have home studios and are well-versed in recording techniques.

MacDonald laid down the initial tracks and then drew up a chart based on a factorial operation such that each member would add to the initial marimba track, but in a different order for each piece.
“Through emails, Zooms, and many phone calls we agreed on a basic set of parameters for pitch, form, and groove, and then just got to work making music,” MacDonald explains.

After Martin, Sharp, and Stetson all added their tracks, MacDonald did the arranging and mixing, and eventually added some more soloistic marimba lines. He then opened up the channels for additional compositional feedback from the other guys, and then incorporated their ideas. Thus, although Void Patrol originated from MacDonald, all four composer/performers were involved in the creative process.

“We never talked much about aesthetics, to be honest,” MacDonald states. “If you ask me to describe this music from a philosophical perspective I’ll be reluctant to say anything other than exploration and experimentation were paramount to making these pieces. That being said, these tracks groove hard at times, and by keeping a drone going there is always a sense of grounding and the tonality is clear. One might label this as jazz, but if we’re going to get fussy about labels I would also include drone and metal.”


Space Force 1

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Payton MacDonald
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