Maggi Payne

Arctic Winds

Innova 783


1) Fluid Dynamics  © 2002  (11:48)

2) Distant Thunder  © 2003  (10:48)

3) Apparent Horizon  © 1996  (11:52)

4) Arctic Winds  © 2007  (9:51)

5) System Test (fire and ice)  © 2001  (11:21)

6) Glassy Metals  © 2009  (10:00)

7) FIZZ  © 2004  (10:18)    

total time: 76:20


All compositions by Maggi Payne (BMI).

Cover photo by Maggi Payne.

innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn: director, design

Chris Campbell: operations manager


1 My original intent for Fluid Dynamics (2002) was to use two rhythmic sounds I recorded—a raucous faulty faucet in a men’s restroom near the Concert Hall and a gently squeaking gas service regulator outside of Lisser Hall, both on the Mills College campus. As the piece developed, though, the rhythmic elements were set aside as the more subtle sound of gas traveling through the pipes and the soft purring sound that the faucet made on its way to the clacking rhythm became the foci. To these sources I added the sound of a large steel ball and a small brass ball bearing being propelled across a wooden floor, a spare MCI tape machine part rolling on a linotype sheet, and very thin brass sheeting gently swaying. The other main sound is that of a large steel ball rolling down two strings of a miniature koto-like instrument.


The sources are processed using phase vocoding, convolution, granular synthesis, equalization, and extensive layering. Although residual attachments to the original sounds remain, often their origins are rather obscured. The spatialization is natural. At times more static sources are convolved against naturally moving sources so that they take on the spatialization of the moving sources.


2 For me Distant Thunder (2003) conjures up images of being in the desert while watching distant thunderstorms roll across the sky, accompanied by the unforgettable sweet smell of desert rain. These storms are particularly beautiful as the rain clouds build, break apart, and re-form, sending tendrils of rain down, most evaporating long before they touch the desert floor.


I intended to use the sounds of a resonant floor furnace and various adhesive tapes slowly unrolling as the primary sound sources, but after recording the furnace, I boiled water for tea, and could not resist recording the sonic patterns that emerged. I did use the sound of the furnace, but the tape unrolling was used only to impart spatialization through convolution to other, more stationary sources.


3 I started gathering video images for Apparent Horizon (1996) six years prior to its completion. These shots slowly reveal information in various landscapes by holding still on an image for several seconds, then zooming in or out or panning to reveal more detail, an unusual vista, rock formation, etc. It occurred to me that it also might be interesting to see what might be “revealed” from an overhead view. Since it was impractical to rent airplanes for this purpose, I incorporated NASA footage taken by the Space Shuttle and Apollo series astronauts. At times it is difficult to distinguish views of the earth from space from those taken on the earth’s surface.

Many of the earthbound shots are of rather “alien” landscapes—those where I, as a human being, don’t really fit in—I’m the alien there. In these often desolate places the only sounds one hears are wind, insects, a scant number of birds and animals, and a rare rainstorm. I decided to take our constant human chatter and transpose it into sounds somewhat reminiscent of nature’s sounds in the landscapes to which they are attached or to transform them into somewhat “otherworldly” sounds. This was an attempt to convey an aural impression of the sensations I have experienced while in these earthbound landscapes and those sensations I imagine the astronauts might experience while viewing the earth from space. Sound sources consisted of transmissions from/through space and were from Space Shuttle and Apollo missions, satellite transmissions, and shortwave radio broadcasts. Often I chose sections that were full of static and distortion—signals that were reaching unintelligibility. There are Morse Code “crickets” at Bryce Canyon and static “rain” at the Canyonlands. This is the third work in a series of video pieces based on transformations of human-made or generated sounds, the previous two being Airwaves (realities) and Liquid Metal.


4 Arctic Winds (2007) transports me to the Arctic (where I’ve never been, but dream of). The piece is sparse, with occasional frantic “windstorms” stirring up the vast frozen expanse. Everything is suspended, in near silence, with occasional forays dropping low into blasts of “wind.” Each sound is crystallized, exaggerated, as in our dreams.


The primary sound sources are dry ice and several sizes of ball bearings rolling across a variety of drumheads, attached and unattached. I started working on this piece when I had a 102-degree temperature coupled with chills for three days. I suspect that experiencing those internal extremes conjured up those beautiful arctic dreams and this somewhat playful piece.


5 System Test (fire and ice) (2001), which primarily uses my recordings of Jacob’s ladders, ice melting, and papers sliding against each other as the sources, is a rather dramatic piece, which I attribute to the dynamic/dramatic character of the Jacob’s ladder. There is such intensity in the discharges, accompanied by wonderful sizzling, hissing, crackling sounds, and powerful low frequencies—danger is always present. The sources are convolved, stretched, granulated, equalized, and further processed many times over, then whirled into this intense piece. The visual component for this work uses four electroluminescent wired “imagers” in a very dark presentation space.


6 A continuation of my fascination with the sounds of metal objects, Glassy Metals (2009) explores the sounds of tungsten filaments in burned out incandescent light bulbs, magnetic (iron oxide) tape rushing across a head stack, small ball bearings, ball chains of various sizes, sheet metal, tiny gear motors, bikes, BART (which permeates the sonic landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area), freight trains, and other metal objects.

Some sounds are used in their raw state; others, such as the BART train, which now sounds like the wind, are transformed beyond recognition. Selecting only small portions of the spectrums of several sources and layering them results in new constructs with constantly fluctuating details. The ending exaggerates these perturbations, as sources emerge from the texture and fold back in as if they are fluttering insects hovering close by briefly, then flitting away, only to return later. Although several sources are cyclic, none are precisely so, nor are they synchronous with other sources combined in the layers, so apparent synchronous relationships occur only briefly, then drift apart. Glassy Metals takes its title from non-crystalline (amorphous) metallic materials.


7 Two sounds primarily sparked FIZZ (2004). The first was a disequilibrium in a toilet tank that caused almost inaudible cyclic, but constantly changing, sounds: a faint rising squeak that occurred at the valve where the rod attaches, coupled with water trickling down the refill pipe, resulting in a squeak, trickle, squeak, trickle sequence. I stretched this sound using granular synthesis and layered the results. There is an ebb and flow that floats naturally across the space. It provides the long section that occurs after the rhythmic filtered faulty faucet valve that begins the piece. Disk drives turning on and off then spiral us into a section in which a malfunction in my system caused cyclic low frequency feedback. This is accompanied by fizz, a sound that I never captured satisfactorily until a student, Alison Johnson, played her wonderful recording of fizzing for me. She divulged her method of producing fizzing, providing the second spark for this piece.


Maggi Payne’s electroacoustic works often incorporate visuals, including dancers outfitted with electroluminescent wire and videos she creates using images ranging from nature to the abstract. She composes music for dance and video, and is a photographer, recording engineer, flutist, and Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in the San Francisco Bay Area.


She creates immersive environments, inviting listeners/participants to enter the sound and be carried with it, experiencing it from the inside out in intimate detail. The sounds are almost tactile, visible, tangible. The music is based on location recordings, with each sound carefully selected for its potential—its slow unfolding revealing delicate intricacies—and its inherent spatialization architecting and sculpting the aural space where multiple perspectives and trajectories coexist.


Her works have been presented in the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Australasia. She received Composer’s Grants and an Interdisciplinary Arts Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; video grants from the Mellon Foundation and the Western States Regional Media Arts Fellowships Program; and honorary mentions from Concours International de Musique et d’Art Sonore Electroacoustiques de Bourges and Prix Ars Electronica.


Her works appear on Lovely Music, Starkland, Asphodel, New World (CRI), Centaur, Ubuibi, MMC, Digital Narcis, Music and Arts, Frog Peak, and/OAR, Capstone, and Mills College labels.