As an improviser MacDonald has recorded and performed with Elliott Sharp, Billy Martin, Steven Crammer, Aakash Mittal, Colin Stetson, Gideon Forbes, Peter Evans, Tim Feeney, Todd Sickafoose, Theo Metz, and many others. He has revolutionized improvising on the marimba, by creating new music languages, interfaces with technology, and various innovative mallets and preparations to the instrument.
As a new-music percussionist he was a founding member of Alarm Will Sound, a new-music chamber orchestra. Alarm Will Sound is currently regarded as one of the foremost new music ensembles in the country and MacDonald made five recordings with them, on the Nonesuch and Cantaloupe labels, and toured the U.S., Europe, and Russia. He was with the group from their beginning in 2001 to 2014, at which point he left to pursue other projects. MacDonald currently performs with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble and with that group has appeared on a PASIC Showcase concert as well as events in New York City and New Jersey.
As an interpretive solo marimbist, MacDonald has commissioned many works from other composers, including Charles Wuorinen, Robert Morris, Caleb Burhans, Don Freund, Peter Jarvis, Elliott Sharp, David Saperstein, Michael Udow, and Stuart Saunders Smith. To date MacDonald has released over 20 solo marimba recordings, and he is currently releasing one full-length recording every week for a year, producing the largest body of recorded marimba music ever.
-Senior Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship, 2013/2014, for Dhrupad studies in India with the Gundecha Brothers -Yaddo -Ragdale
WBGO.org: “The opening track, ‘Kid Tao Mammal (Unworldliness Weirdo),’ which has its premiere here, was composed for this project by percussionist Payton MacDonald, a founding member of Alarm Will Sound. It’s an excellent representation of the album, shining a light on all parties involved: note the zip-lining orchestral figures that set up Medeski’s funky electric piano solo, and the tensile hush that descends about four minutes in.”
Freejazzblog.org: “It is during Payton Solo, that I gained my first real appreciation for the way MacDonald plays the marimba. There is a real earthiness that exudes from the instrument’s resonance as sticks hit wood . . . definitely one of the best things I have heard in a while.”