ListN Up: Darian Donovan Thomas (December 18, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Darian Donovan Thomas is a Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist interested in the intersections of medium, genre, and audience. He uses violin, electronics, and extra-musical materials in his works to discuss matters of racism in the US, uphold ancient indigenous stories, and create abstract nature-scapes. Darian is currently touring with Moses Sumney and Balùn, and is a Bang on a Can Summer Festival Composition Fellow, Sō Percussion Summer Institute Fellow, and New Amsterdam Records Composer Lab Fellow.

Hello! I’m Darian Donovan Thomas, a violinist and composer based in Brooklyn, NY. I put together this playlist called “Sincerity” to showcase something that’s become very important to my craft and my writing which is achieving a state–and therefore a sound–of sincerity and authenticity with whatever you create. This can happen in small pieces, large pieces, this can happen in songs, this can happen in any genre and in any medium. I wanted to put this set together so that people could find things that I find to be sincere, but also then research the artists and listen to them more because I think they’ve done the necessary self-reflection to warrant being listened to by a wide array of people! So I hope you find something new, I hope you find something interesting, and I hope you enjoy!

“Naturalize” by Phong Tran

Be nicer to yourself–thanks.

PHTMV by Phong Tran

Sincerity follows you as you leave your medium. Interdisciplinary artists have to struggle with the idea of “voice” as they begin to speak different languages. This is such a concise example of what Phong Tran is–a growing light aware of its own darkness–that to call it anything other than sincere would be worthy of discussion.


Marejada by Angélica Negrón, performed by Kronos Quartet

This is (so far) my favorite solution to the “Zoom performance” problem. A loose and airy work that allows itself to flow (or lag) as the world sees fit. A welcome sunny meditation space for the year that turned us inside out.

“Children” by Katie Martucci

One of my favorite composers and songwriters in my generation. Finding a writer who doesn’t get in their own way isn’t as common as one would hope (I struggle with this OFTEN), but anytime Katie plays or writes… We get to fly with her wherever she wants to go. Effortlessly.

“Research Stage of Love” by Wizard Apprentice and The Neighbourhood Character

A work for self awareness. What am I in respect to the other? How does this feeling intensify? Does it derail itself? What are you committed to?

“Donovan’s Dream” by Vanisha Gould

“A long time ago when I held you, you were my child–Donovan, can you forgive me for being so young and so wild?” We have to make hard choices in life. But they make us stronger.

“Human Bog” by Baths

“The lengths I go to get held on to.” Queer romantic involvement has been imbedded with such shame over the generations that each healthy relationship feels like it’s uncovering layers of self hatred. But imagine what the unhealthy relationships do–how they stain us. One lyric progression of this work stays with me: “I’m queer in a way that works for you – I’m queer in a way that works for them – I’m queer in a way that’s failed me.”

“Sanctus/Benedictus” from Mass for the Endangered by Sarah Kirkland Snider, performed by Gallicantus (Gabriel Crouch, conductor)

A work that acknowledges the world outside itself. The piece pulls from older sounds to create a new architecturally firm statement–regardless of art jargon: this piece is profoundly beautiful and empowering. Which is good, because we need all the strength we can get to halt the extinction of endangered species.

“Show Me Love” by Laura Mvula

Do you remember the first day of flowing wind and sunshine after a major breakup? This song has that air. Acknowledging a new hole in your heart, but also the extra sunlight allowed into your ribs. A complicated feeling tackled beautifully by one of my favorite composers.

“the souls that sit with me” by Joy Guidry

Chatter of the community. Bright colorful shadows of memories stored in DNA. Clifton is a remarkable bassoonist and already one of our more important Black noise makers in the new music scene. But in this work, our ancestors (adjacent and past) are centered, in an act of reverence and sincerity that masterfully closes out their album.

“Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell

Joni wrote this song earlier in her life, then revisited it for one of her more recent albums. A work for voice and guitar expanded to voice and orchestra, I hope to have moments of such reflection when I become an art adult.


Thanks to Sarah Kirkland Snider for her generous support of ListN Up.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. Editorial decisions are made at the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.