Text by Julia Masi
Photo by Robert Barry Francos
Album cover image from the Internet
© 1985 FFanzeenThe following article/interview with singer/musician/artist Diamanda Galas was originally published in FFanzeen in 1985 by Julia Masi, who kindly grants her permission to reprint it here.
Her voice vibrates with passion as strong and multifaceted as the stone she was named after. Sometimes, she adopts a “flamenco voice” that dances up and down the scale on the microtones of the piano, as she did for the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Nshima. Sometimes she ignites the flames of Hell in your imagination with her shrei “intervenial electra-acoustic language.” Always, Diamanda Galas’s voice is the ultimate definition of synestisia.
Her album, Diamanda Galas on Metalanguage Records, offers only two of her works, “Tragouthia Apo To Aima Exoun Fonos (Song from the Blood of those Murdered)” and “Panopitikon,” but it is enough to make you overdose on sensation. This is the type of record that should be played at high volume, in total darkness, on a rainy night. The second the needle touches the vinyl, it unleashes a legion of sounds from all directions, as powerful as a punch to the solar plexus, or a blast of electric current to the temples. Diamanda sounds like a diva possessed and ready to wreak havoc on her unsuspecting audience.
Too often, critics dwell on the images of blood in her lyrics, or her elegantly svelte figure and long black hair that reminds them of Vampira, forgetting that Diamanda is a serious, accomplished artist. She began her career as a pianist, at the age of 14, playing Beethoven for the San Diego Symphony, and jazz covers (e.g., Fats Waller and Art Tatum) for the Saturday night crowd at a local VFW post. She holds a M.A. in music and her reviews as a vocalist in the jazz and classical modes are as lavish as the raves she receives in underground fanzines.
She conceived her unusual singing style several years ago as an “anti-entertainment manifesto.” With her back to the audience she would improvise, screaming sounds and words “like a painter would throw color, like Jackson Pollack. When I was using a microphone,” she explains, “I had certain sounds that were less vocalized sounds that could equal a huge palette of colors to draw on. I was using my voice as an artist to create sound sculpture.
“I realized that the human voice had a greater potential range than the piano or any other instrument. When I was in my early 20s, I started doing solo performances with my voice, trying to get complete control of that ‘instrument.’
“I started studying bella canta because the sound of an operatically trained voice is a very interesting kind of voice. It’s a steely type of sound that can pierce right through an orchestra. It’s really a strong sound. And I wanted to use that sound as well as all the other sounds I have. Also, I felt that the stuff I was doing with my voice was dangerous. And that, unless I really knew how to place the sound, I wouldn’t have a voice.
“My idea is that you have 200 screams, not just four or five. So that means you have to have complete training of the voice. That means I have to work like an athlete with my voice. I train every day. I work with a teacher five days a week in San Diego. I live a very reclusive sort of existence.”
And although her schedule is hectic, constantly tr4aveling from New York, to Holland, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, and back to her vocal coach, Diamanda doesn’t complain. She is devoted to her art.
“When I sing with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, I have to sing every octave range. I have to be a classical singer. Plus I sing in clubs. And I sing at outdoor jazz festivals. I sing in so many contexts that my voice has to be perfect for each context, which means my voice has to be really disciplined.
Diamanda’s music grows like weeks. Lately, she’s been performing with nine microphones, “so I could distribute the sound throughout the room and send sounds to different parts, like a choreographer would work with dancers on stage. You can establish directions to go in. I use sound as choreographers use dancers within a company, except that the audience is in the center of the space in which the sound is being sent out.
“Now I’ll actually start to process sound with different electronics, so I’ll have a lot of different radical changes with the electronics. Anyway, that’s the technical aspect of the work. I’m only interested in really lurid music. I like music from a lot of the old horror films.”
Lately, Hollywood has been calling, asking Diamanda to score some science fiction and exotic subjects. She worked on the soundtrack for the upcoming Cannon film, Ninja, and is looking forward to the completion of her first video. “I’ve been asked to do video for years. I haven’t done one because it takes so much time. I would want to produce and direct the whole video myself. But I’ve been working on one with someone for “Panopitikon.” It should be out by fall.”
Until then, her album and thunder, or sudden storms, will have to suffice.
Included below is an brief excerpt of an interview with Diamanda when she appeared on New York cable access show Videowave, around the same time as Julia’s article, above.