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DIAMANDA GALÁS

Hailed as one of the most important singers of our time, Diamanda Galás has earned international acclaim for her highly original and politically charged performance works, as well as her spectral interpretations of jazz and blues. A resident of New York City since 1989, she was born to Anatolian and Greek parents, who always encouraged her gift for piano. From early on she studied both classical and jazz, accompanying her father’s gospel choir before joining his New Orleans-style band, and performing as a piano soloist with the San Diego Symphony at the age of fourteen.

In the 70s, Galás played piano in the improvisational scene around San Diego and Los Angeles with musicians such as Bobby Bradford, Mark Dresser, Roberto Miranda, Butch Morris, and David Murray. She made her performance debut at the Festival d’Avignon in 1979, where she sang the lead role in Vinko Globokar’s opera, Un jour comme un autre, based upon the Amnesty International documentation of the arrest and torture of a Turkish woman for alleged treason. While in France, she also performed Iannis Xenakis’s work with l’Ensemble Intercontemporain and Musique Vivante.

Galás first rose to international prominence with her quadrophonic performances of Wild Women with Steak Knives (1980) and the album The Litanies of Satan (1982). Later she created the controversial Plague Mass, a requiem for those dead and dying of AIDS, which she performed at Saint John the Divine cathedral in New York City and released as a double CD in 1991. In 1994, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Diamanda Galás sought each other out for a collaboration that resulted in the visionary rock album, The Sporting Life.

Over the past two decades, Galás’ wide range of musical and theatrical works have included The Singer (1992), a compilation of blues and gospel standards; Vena Cava (1993), exploring AIDS dementia and clinical depression; Schrei 27 (1996), a radical solo piece for voice and ring modulators about torture in isolation; Malediction and Prayer (1998), a setting of jazz and blues as well as love and death poems by Charles Baudelaire, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Salvadoran guerrilla fighter and poet Miguel Huezo Mixco, occasionally fused with the virtuosic singing of the Amanes (improvised lamentation from Asia Minor); La Serpanta Canta (2004), a greatest- hits collection from Hank Williams to Ornette Coleman; and Defixiones, Will and Testament (2004), a 80-minute memorial tribute to the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian victims of the Turkish genocides from 1914-1923. In 2005, Diamanda Galás was awarded Italy’s first Demetrio Stratos International Career Award. Her much-anticipated CD, Guilty Guilty Guilty, a compilation of tragic and homicidal love songs, was released worldwide in 2008.

Galás has contributed her voice and music to Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Dracula, Oliver Stones’ Natural Born Killers, Spanish/Nicaraguan filmmaker Mercedes Moncada Rodriguez’s El Immortal (The Immortal), as well as films by Wes Craven, Clive Barker, Derek Jarman, Hideo Nakata, and many others. In 2005, Galas was awarded Italy’s first Demetrio Stratos International Career Award. Her much-anticipated CD, Guilty Guilty Guilty, a compilation of tragic and homicidal love songs, was released by Caroline in the U.S. and MUTE UK worldwide on April 1, 2008; You’re My Thrill, will be released in 2009.

As important to Galás as her multiple creative projects has been her extensive research and activism around the persecution of homosexuals in the Middle East Ethiopia and Uganda, resulting in the essays GODHEAD AND ANAL GLUE and PRAYERS FOR THE INFIDEL, which have been translated in French, Spanish, Arabic, Slovenian, German, and Italian, and published internationally.

In the past decade, Galas has continued to tour worldwide, presenting the work of living and dead poets who were imprisoned, exiled, or assassinated from/by their own countries and poets who lived in fear for their lives for real or perceived political/moral dissidence: César Vallejo, Ali Ahmad Said Asbar, Cesare Pavese, Constantine Cavafy, Miguel Huezo Mixco, Jose-Maria Cuellar, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and many others. She has also continued to perform Defixiones, Will and Testament, and Defixiones, Orders from the Dead worldwide.

 

NEW MUSIC BOX

The Web Magazine from the American Music Center:
www.newmusicbox.org

Diamanda Galás: The Extended Voice as Singing Id

By Mark N. Grant

August, 2007

Before the late 20th century, Western art only infrequently depicted violent cruelty and transgressive emotion. Sure, Picasso painted Guernica, and Gloucester gets his eyes gouged out live on stage in Shakespeare’s King Lear. But in most art and literature, we didn’t get Molly Bloom-like interior monologues telling us at epic length what it feels like to be murdered or tortured. Instead, the extremis states of emotional pain were written, painted, or musicalized in a stylized, framed manner by even the most graphically truthful artists. Even the rage of the blues, while deeply emotional, is contained within a certain temperature range. Socially, too, we are all acculturated to be too polite to let it all hang out when we grieve a loved one’s death or even a lover’s rejection—we’re taught to “hold it in” from earliest infantile toilet training.

Singer Diamanda Galás jumps over all these barricades. She is an aesthetic revolutionary.

Techniques of extended voice production are not new. A German-Jewish voice teacher named Alfred Wolfsohn (1896-1962), serving as a stretcher carrier during World War I, was scarred for life by hearing the extreme vocalizations of the wounded and dying soldiers he tended to. He escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and settled in London where he taught a vocal method that enabled both men and women not only to extend their ranges to multiple octaves, but to employ the wartime death cry as a natural tool of vocal technique and emotional integration. Wolfsohn’s students Marita Günther and Roy Hart were listed in early editions of the Guinness Book of World Records for their freak ranges; Hart was said to be able to sing eight octaves, starting below the range of the piano. The South African Hart eventually became the singer in the premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969).

Diamanda Galás accompanied herself on the piano in an hour’s set of ten torch songs. But to say that her show merely consisted of her “covering” blues and torch songs is like saying an avalanche consists of a few hoppity-skippity pebbles. This was Torch Song Raised to Metaphysical Howl Against the Cosmic Void of Unlove. It was like taking Laurence Olivier’s famous blood-curdling howl as Oedipus Rex—at the moment when Oedipus realizes he has copulated with his own mother—and extending that howl to the crack of doom, to a Sisyphean eternity.

Part exorcist, part Pentecostal channeler, part Antonin Artaud, part Tibetan monk chanting “om” sound-processed to glass-shattering decibels, the regal, Goth-like Galás is the incarnation of the mythological Lilith, the she-demon as singing shaman. The keening of funerals becomes a kind of complete A-to-Z musical language in Galás’s vocal expression. Her vocal arsenal on this occasion seemed to include multiphonics, vocal double-stops (at an interval of an octave?), and vibratos within vibratos upon vibratos, all enhanced by wall-shaking amplification, echolalic sound delays, synesthetic strobe lights, and a smoke machine. Like Yma Sumac, she’ll shift without a break from a subcontralto that verges on Tuvan throat singing to a high lyric/coloratura. But Sumac was merely exotic; Galás is primal. Where other singers run out of breath on a single long note, Galás, iron-lunged and with titanium-plated vocal cords, actually redoubles her wind and intensity, emitting unearthly volleys of gargoylish “vocal fry” roulades as if they were bel canto fiorature.

In Freudian terms (which Ms. Galás has said she rejects), Galás is an “id” singing without mediation from the ego or superego. She doesn’t care if the lyrics are heard clearly; she only needs to sing the “id” subtext, because she’s already swallowed the song text so wholly into her expressive DNA that the meaning is clear gesturally. Galás carries Stanislavsky’s method of emotional truth to a logical extreme neither he nor Duse nor Lee Strasberg ever dreamed of. I have rarely heard such power of expression commanded by a single performer. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that she can express these centrifugal emotions and still compose herself after each song without disintegrating onstage.

Certainly there is no prettiness or beauty in Galás’s sound. But Galás’s use of her expressive tools is as deeply felt and as far from gimmickry as could possibly be. If there’s anyone in our too-soon-for-judgment epoch closer than Diamanda Galás to being a modern “classic,” I don’t know who it is. She’s one of the most original artists musical culture has produced in the last 30 years.

The question Galás raises may be: Is there still room for other musical artists to cut the edge as deeply with beauty of sound and other “conventional” parameters of performance?

Guilty Guilty Guilty, a compilation of tragic and homicidal love songs, was released by Caroline in the U.S. and MUTE UK worldwide on April 1, 2008; You’re My Thrill, will be released in 2010. Intravenal Sound Operations is currently releasing singles of exceptional performances, which can be downloaded from the Shop.

 

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