VOICE AS THE FINAL FRONTIER — Diamanda Galás performs at Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival on March 24th at the @bijoutheatre !
For forty years, the California-born singer has tested the limits of both language and vocal techniques to create a singular strain of avant-garde exploration. Taught to play piano by her father, Galás was first forbidden from singing. But when she finally began as a teenager, she immediately tested and examined every corner of her operatic range—its Luciferian lows and glass-cracking highs, its melismatic flexibility and titanium durability—in order to not so much sing songs as to summon them, adding multiple levels of meaning and interpretation in real-time. A fearless AIDS activist undaunted by desperation and frailty, Galás has issued a string of peerless albums (from the stage and studio alike) that ask uncomfortable questions in impossibly imaginative ways. “Sometimes she seems to rage against terror, her voice a shield,” The New Yorker’s Hau Hsu has noted. “In other moments, it is as though she were trying to represent that terror, conjuring our scabrous traditions as sound.”
After a ten-year break from recording, Galás returned this year with dual piano-focused albums that suggest her powers of provocation have only increased. Confronted by the death of her father and the health struggles of her mother, Galás grapples with darkness, nostalgia, and memory. From the stage for 'At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem,' she grapples with songs about the end of life, her vocal acrobatics seeming to pull away mortality’s cold hands at every turn. And on the astounding 'All The Way,' she interprets the hits of B.B. King, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Paycheck so as to excavate the skeletons from those songs, to unearth the heaviness of the most familiar tunes. Both records include her astonishing ten-minute take on the folk standard “O Death.”
As she told Rolling Stone, “When I finished that performance, there was blood all over the keyboard. I couldn't imagine why. What I had done is I had broken my nails, all of them, when I was playing. And I never enjoyed a performance so much in my life.” @bigearsfestival Photo: Austin Young. Text: Big Ears Festival
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