a sunny February morning 2002 in New York City, I crossed Houston and headed towards the East Village for breakfast.
i.i I had barely taken off my coat when the stunning brunette in dark glasses stepped into the cafe and warmly greeted me with a smile.
i.ii This was the beginning of a captivating discussion that encompassed mutual ‘discoveries’, people we both know and experiences we’ve both had , our careers, our personal lives AND the foundation for some topics you may read below and others graciously elaborated upon by my guest.
i.iii It is with pleasure that I present Diamanda Galas.
i.iv Reader, know that his piece will be posted in several installments.
i.v To begin, I asked Diamanda to talk about her concentration in both on-stage and recorded performance. Also, to share a technique and/or visualization that is utilized. I also asked her to speak about something she has had to overcome.
Diamanda Galas :
1 Let’s start with the biggest question for me right now- live performance. I am happy to answer this honestly for you Jarboe, and for your audience, because in my journalistic interviews I have preferred a bit of a distance. This issue is also quite pertinent to my current physical circumstances and those of friends I have known who performed in less than ideal physical circumstances.
2 In the last years I have had occasion to tour while taking interferon treatment for Hep C; what was most difficult at that time was the emotional level the interferon would create onstage, a level that was too personal to maintain a professional level of performance. In other words, it would drive me to a state of depression that would make it difficult to keep singing. As I am NOT a performance artist, I do not aspire to break into tears just to show that my sentiment is authentic. But the interferon was trying to drive me into that place.
3 What I would have to do in order to successfully complete a song onstage when this would happen, would be to bite down and try to concentrate on being a professional, who is not paid to “feel ANYTHING,” but paid to sing well. I would get as cold as possible and get the song done. The usual joy one feels at being able to feel these things onstage —given all the times one is able to feel little more than escaping the fucking gig (when it is badly produced– less and less the case, thankfully)–is perverted into an all-out war AGAINST the meaning of the words. However, this concentration is the same discipline as that which playing crappy gigs forced me in the past to galvanize towards my rescue. Either to sing in the face of a sound system that makes you sound like a rodent lost in a typing pool [any journalist who reads this and uses it against me owes me a month day job—and that means YOU, too, whatever your name – Faith No More’s limberdick singer that uses my own quotes against me, while coming to all my gigs like a parasite]… to sing in the face of a drunk who talks during the whole set, and still mean what you are singing, or to sing in the face of an entire group of people who are telling you to shut the fuck up.
4 It is the cold steel approach.
5 I am a bit nervous about this now because I am taking a drug cocktail of ribavarin and time-release interferon and getting ready for three months of touring. When the drugs don’t get you thinking about blowing your brains out they have you wanting to do the same to others….they make you very sick and very anemic and they make you sleep sometimes 12 hours a day. So a world tour, starting out in St Petersberg and Moscow is quite a leap. But we avantgarde singers (sic)(hah hah) still have to pay the rent. Especially we avantgarde singers with loving record companies who prefer to get their backcatalogue sales going as quickly as possible, if you get me. It is definitely time for all of us with illnesses to threaten these guys that “no sales in THIS life, no sales in the NEXT.”
6 So to reiterate, the issue of concentration on this tour will, with any luck, remind me of the concentration of Michael Callen, or David Wojnarowicz, when they had to move around and do shows, or Doctor Brad Truax, who was sick with AIDS and practiced full time since there were so many others who cared in l986, or my friend radical schoolteacher Carl Valentino, who worked fulltime with a cot in his office,so he could sleep at lunch just to finish out the day. And when I think of people like THAT, with no hope at all to speak of, my little job should become less dire to me, and my level of concentration should rise, as I have said— quoting from my infinitely more heroic brother Philip— “like the phoenix.”
6 In the studio when I am doing strictly improvizational work with solo voice and electronics, for example, I have always worked in the dark, to absent _myself_ from the occasion and be a medium for the sound. SCHREI 27, for example, was recorded in Minneapolis, at Gold’s Studio; it was commissioned by the NEW AMERICAN RADIO series in Staten Island.
7 I had discussed with Blaise Dupuy, who has collaborated with me as an engineer for many years, that I wanted for SCHREI 27 ( Schrei means ” shriek” or “cry” in reference to a nonverbal style of performance from the German Expression era) — which deals with physical and mental torture in a confined space–to work with ring modulation and distortion as well as extreme EQ in postproduction of the overall vocal signal, both dry and variably processed.
8 In combination with different delay times, the work moved from being extremely dry and speech-oriented (the Latin text of Thomas Aquinas) to long delay times of ring modulated high-pitched vocal multiphonics. This kind of vocal production is often done best by me in the studio because I am able to think only of the sound and the composition, and within that limitation is a great deal of freedom. Obviously this can be done with an audience, but it is less interesting as pure research ( which is later refined through improvization and/or editing in postproduction to make the strongest musical sense).
9 The shriek of this piece is a sound analogue for the charring of flesh and this is probably why ring-modulation was ideal. On the other hand, I always think of the processing and the sound and the emotional or conceptual image at the same time. I always have.
10 You either hear this shit or you don’t, and if you don’t, it’s best to go home, because for one thing, most people don’t want to hear it anyway. So YOU better want to hear it!!!!!
JARBOE NOTE TO READERS :
i.vi I wanted to touch on the subject of “Interviews” and asked Diamanda to talk freely about things not generally brought out in the press. I also asked her if there was something she wanted to address and/or dispel.
i.vii And for the aspiring and/or professional musician/performer reading this, what she sees as truths and or advice regarding
1. the business and
2. the work itself.
Diamanda Galas :
11 If you are a real singer the voice is the life. There is no concept of young singer, younger singer, older singer, old singer. There is only the question of good singer or bad singer. A good singer does what she or he intends to do. If you are trying to sing a song using only three notes within a half-an-octave and you do it dramatically or as undramatically as you are able to, then I would say you have made a success out of the song. In the idiotic fishmarket we call the ‘press’ we see the expressions “middle-aged, aging, aged,over-the-hill, on-the-hill, before-the-hill, by-the-hill,” etc. used constantly. These expressions are used by self-hating journalists to distance themselves from their own crime, the crime of doing nothing from the youngest age to the age they still inhabit, an age we shall call “ad infinitum.”
12 In order to deny the fact that they have done nothing while time as continued to pass them by again and again, they continue to select the new emissaries of what they must consider the fountain of their own youth with each passing year. Each year in popular culture a few singers are chosen to carry the torch of the aging journalist’s salvation, and the next year she or he is disemembered publically as a fraud. This usually happens round about the time that the aging journalist has completed his Miami vacation, only to see, in the unforgiving fluoresecent bulb of his own toilet, that this sacrifice to the gods has changed nothing whatsoever, but, like Dorian Grey, he looks even older than he did last year. This unfortunate parable is shared by the female colleagues of this questionable profession, as well.
13 In the meantime, no one would have thought of referring to STRAVINSKY or SCHOENBERG as “the aging composer Stravinsky/Schoenberg.” The keys to their domiciles are purchased with much more difficulty, however. The singer whose voice is her life must look at all the silliness above with pity and continue working, because without work there is only death. Without work there is no god, and without work there is no ability to snigger at the mediocrity of the world, whilst inhaling.
14 The reason I have discussed vocal technique for so many years is not because I work any harder on it than most singers, but because I want always to be able to sing what I hear, whatever age I am. If a composer who uses her voice as a primary instrument is limited by what she CAN physically sing, whilst hearing something ELSE, adjustments must be made, which may or may not sabotage the musical composition. On the level of timbral flexibility–leaving alone vocal pitch range for the moment- it is always dull to hear a singer with one sound rail on and on, sounding the same in every song, regardless of the words or the drama. Usually ten minutes is more than long enough to listen to that.
15 It is also not interesting to hear someone with no musical ideas jump around with no musical ideas like a Hanon exercise book, but that problem can be recitified by listening to Thelonius Monk, or Satie, for example, and realizing that lot s of notes over time is not the goal of music, either, unless the concept is that of a wave of sound, like Coltrane, or stochastic composition, like Xenakis. But again, there is a music idea that is the primary envelope for the sound, and the technique is only at the service of that idea. Getting back to the age of the singer, we have all heard Birgit Nillson sing 5 hour Wagnerian Operas in her seventies, and it is not suggested that singers undertake these operas until their forties, unless they have unusual stamina and power.
16 In the very young and naive civilisation we call America, and the anemic one they call Britain, these concepts are very new. It is always best to align yourself with other professions in order to better understand your calling, for this reason.For example Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, rather than silly male rock singers, that remind me most often of advertisements for urinary incontinence or diaper rash.
17 Jarboe, I was just thinking about this and decided to address this, also, in your interview. It concerns the “middle-eastern” singing people hear me do, which is erroneously referred as Arabic singing, Indian singing, quasi-Middle-Eastern singing, etc. The problem people have in general is they have NO idea what an Anatolian Greek is, for one thing, and secondly, they have no idea how anyone who can sing the blues, could also sing this music. So ONE or the other MUST be “quasi.” But this is about as intelligent as calling a bilingual person an illiterate, since clearly proficiency with one language MUST cancel out any ability with the OTHER.!! I will continue this subject later..I thought it might be good to begin it. . .
18 What kind of singing is that, people ask? Is it Middle Eastern,Greek, Turkish? The answer is that it is Anatolian singing, which can be heard in records of Amanethes SINGERS like…… the music of the first inhabitants of Asia Minor were not Turks, but they were Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs, whose similarities can be heard in the improvisation of amanes…you will hear improvized Amanes in Egyptian, Turkish singing, in Rembetika, the scales are completely different than the scales of Pakistani music, as the sufi music of these cultures are dissimilar as well. The music of the dervishes is originally from Anatolia, and can be claimed by the indigenous cultures to this area. It is not mysterious that I was born being able to sing this music.
19 As I am also an American, I was born hearing the blues as well. This is an unusual combination, but one does not outweigh or cancel out the other.
20 Eastern musicians interested in jazz have had to struggle with this and western musicians NEED to struggle with this, because often jazz musicians use what they consider the “exoticism” of the makams to “flavor” their music, without bringing any understanding to the music they borrow. The makams bring with them different states of spirituality,of sentiment, and should not be used so cavalierly.
TO BE CONTINUED.