David Kirkland Garner: Dark Holler

, composer


Composer David Kirkland Garner draws inspiration from archival recordings capturing the musical heritage of the American south. His ebullient work for large chamber ensemble Dark Holler puts some of these sounds traditionally associated with southern folk music through Garner's prismatic compositional lens.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 43:40

Dark Holler

01I. Traveler
I. Traveler
02II. Wandering boy
II. Wandering boy
03III. Devil's dream
III. Devil's dream
04IV. Interlude
IV. Interlude
05V. New railroad
V. New railroad
06VI. Dark holler
VI. Dark holler

Composer David Kirkland Garner deftly weaves influences from the musical tradition of the southern U.S. into his compositions. An avid banjoist and fiddler, Garner’s incorporation of vernacular elements is oriented less around collage and insertion of found sound as it is demonstrative of a honed technique for development of motive, orchestration, and structural pacing. Garner often approaches vernacular material from one of two angles — either we hear idiomatic folkloric material presented first and then deconstructed, or we hear the deconstructed fragments initially as Garner slowly reveals the larger whole, adding elements in other parts of the orchestra or fleshing out the initial motive.

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Dark Holler's opening movement, Traveler, begins with a regular pulse on woodblock, metrically reinterpreted after lush strings circle improvisationally around the block’s beat. Fragments of the fiddle influenced melody are passed throughout the ensemble, catching in the winds, as Garner twists and turns the motives in an increasingly driving, pulsating texture. The second movement, Wandering, opens with evocative, hazy sustained chords, perhaps a portrait of a Southern landscape on a hot summer morning as the sun is rising in the sky. A regular plodding pulse grows out of the haze, and the cello steps forward for a soulful, expansive solo. Devil’s Dream opens with swarming, chromatic motives in the strings, a deconstructed fragment that unpacks itself over time, as Garner slowly builds more textures surrounding these motives in the winds. It is not until the four minute mark that the string lines begin to elongate, before eventually breaking out into a full throated fiddle hoedown. The Interlude, played by clarinet, percussion, and harp, is introverted and reflective, and acts as a counterweight to the exuberance of the surrounding movements. In New Railroad, fast, ascending arpeggios with off kilter rhythms on woodblock seem to symbolize the inevitable forward energy of progress and its impact on the landscape. A contrasting section of violin trills delivers commentary on the technical brilliance of the arpeggiated passages, before Garner flips the material on its head, outlining descending passagework with the same ferocity. Dark Holler closes with the self-titled movement, a lyrical, elegiac coda. Garner’s incorporation of folkloric material from the U.S. South is a natural blend between a Bartokian deconstruction of materials, a more Coplandesque penchant for nostalgia and expansiveness, and perhaps John Adams’ driving economy of means. Dark Holler, performed here by a star studded cast drawn from the New York based yMusic, is a strong statement by an American composer who embraces the music tradition of his surroundings while integrating it into a finely tuned compositional process. By taking a deconstructive approach to the component parts of a musical vernacular, Garner’s work grapples with the fraught complexity of the culture of the South -- a source of so much rich sonic material that is inextricably bound up with a laden and painful history.

Producer: David Kirkland Garner
Engineer: Sound Pure Recording Studios
Editing: David Kirkland Garner
Published by: Hanuga Music
Conductor: Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant
Recording location: Baldwin Auditorium at Duke University in Durham, NC
Recording dates: November 3-4, 2013
Mix and Mastering: Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio
Design: Dan Ruccia
Photos: Arthur Rothstein, Jack Delano, and John Vachon

David Kirkland Garner

David Kirkland Garner writes music, plays banjo, studies fiddle, listens to jazz, hears everything, but suspects he knows nothing. Encompassing chamber, large ensemble, electroacoustic, and vocal works, his music reconfigures past sounds—from Bach to minimalism to bluegrass—into new sonic shapes and directions. He seeks to make time and history audible, particularly through an exploration of archival recordings documenting the musical traditions of the U.S. South.

Garner has worked with world-renowned ensembles including the Kronos Quartet, which commissioned a work based on the music of the Scottish diaspora. Awards include a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, an ASCAP Young Composer Award, and first prizes in the OSSIA, Red Note, and NACUSA competitions. His music has been performed by the Imani Winds, Ciompi Quartet, Vega Quartet, San Diego Symphony, Locrian Chamber Ensemble, the Wet Ink Ensemble, the Boston New Music Initiative, and the yMusic ensemble.

Garner holds degrees from Duke University (PhD, 2014), University of Michigan (MM, 2007), and Rice University (BM 2005), and has taught music theory and aural skills at Duke, Kennesaw State, North Carolina State, and Elon Universities. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of South Carolina.