Electronic/Computer Music News by Jim Horton
Maggi Payne's electronic music unfolds in long, fragile, delicate threads and continuous volumes which, fusing together, make textures with greatly refined degrees of fluidity and harmoniousness. Little figures of melody and sophisticated chords arise from and merge into the resonant texture without dominating or controlling it. The sounds float and travel through quadriphonic space, not by a scored or intended design, but because of the intrinsic phasing and balanced timbral structure of the sounds themselves. The music gives an impression of effortless but complex motion at the microcosmic level that just happens to flow in the direction of maximal beauty.
These phenomena are not explicitly planned but are highly selected natural "accidents" that result from the intersection of Maggie's remarkably "golden ear" and her interactive compositional processes.
Her work can be heard within the context of that of Gordon Mumma (in terms of sound location), George Crumb, David Behrman, and especially Edgar Varese. She believes that "composition is organizing sounds". When asked what principles lay at the basis of her musical forms, she mentioned in particular Varese's idea of crystallization; an analogy between the structure of minerals and a type of musical organization. Just as the smallest units of matter, atoms, directly determine the macrostructure of crystals without organizing themselves into intermediate hierarchic levels (molecules), so in her music the properties of the smallest perceptual strands are reflected in and shape the macro-structure of a piece without being hierarchically organized by a priori forms, scales or harmonic formulas.
The design process proceeds in stages. Characteristically it starts with an open idea of motion such as a slow quad spiral or a rising and falling in energy. She says "I think of shapes" and being a flute player these shapes will often be melodically oriented. The seed idea is elaborated and realized in the Moog studio during an extended process of trial and error with Maggi always listening and responding to the resulting sounds; "intricate detail is what I'm interested in." She considers the synthesizer to be a musical instrument like any other and plays it in a semi-automatic mode, bringing out its characteristic possibilities and strengths.
To maintain clarity in these delicate and complex timbral streams much attention is given to solving the often technically difficult problems of high fidelity. Here her love of technology and its aesthetic (hidden elegance) strongly influence her work.
The sounds are played onto a four track tape recorder often in quad, but usually tracks will be recorded independently, sometimes at different tape speeds. Eventually, about an hour and a half of recorded sound is accumulated and a choice is made as to which takes to use, and in what combinations.
Material from the four track is equalized and laid onto a twelve track recorder. By premixing, up to twenty original tracks are put on the twelve channel machine in overlapping sections. These sounds are then mixed into their final quadriphonic and stereo forms. She makes charts and uses a digital stopwatch to keep track of what she is doing. Since extremely refined mixing is one of the crucial aspects of her style, everything in the compositional process has been kept relatively simple, so that full attention can be given to its requirements. The places where sections overlap are given special treatment, so that they make locally seamless but globally extensive transitions. Very many (perhaps up to twenty-four) versions of the piece are mixed, and the final version is selected from these.
Typical of her compositions is the most recent, Rising, a work of three sections, slightly less than nine minutes in duration, which took about six months to complete.
Maggi Payne's other compositions include Transparencies, Spheres, HUM, a flute piece that emphasizes amplified air sounds and Allusions which includes colored lights, dancers and synthesizer generated, filmed images. Lunar Dusk and excerpts from Lunar Earth Rise will be released soon as an extended-play record by Lovely Music. Rising will be presented in performance with dancers at the Oberlin Dance Collective in San Francisco March 7 and 8 .
Maggie works as a recording engineer at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in Oakland. She has recently received a composer grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. p.9