The Most Intense Voice Around: Diamanda Galas

The first time I heard Diamanda Galas was in a car, driving through the fog at 2 am, listening to her Plague Mass being played on WRIU. Freaked me the fuck out – wasn’t sure if I was hearing a human or a demon or an angel.

I’ve seen her live twice and both times have been struck nearly dumb by the power of her voice. A reviewer for the Providence Phoenix said that she does for the human voice what Miles Davis did for the trumpet. My buddy Jay is the only person I know who adores her work as much as I do, and this post is dedicated to him and the hope that we will go see her perform live again one of these days.

This is not music you put on while you do the dishes. This is music that requires all of your attention. If I were in a poetic mood, I would go so far as to say that it requires a significant portion of your soul (although several of her blues albums are fairly accessible and don’t rip your mind to too many shreds).

If that hasn’t scared you away and if you feel brave, you can check out this piece which presents two excerpts from her work “Eyes Without Blood” – if the first video highlights the beautiful power of her voice, the deep reverberating sadness that lies at the heart of much of her work, this one shows the demonic – the sheer inhuman power that stabs into your gut with a knife of impossibly cold metal . . . then twists.

I swear, these are the sounds that must have erupted from the fallen angels as they descended into hell.*

I met her after one of her concerts and she was far more open and less scary than you might think from her performances. I told her that I wished I had something more than applause to give her because applause seemed somehow inappropriate. It may seem a pretentious thing to say, but her performances are so intense, so deeply there that you feel like clapping afterward is cheap and tawdry.

One of the oddest collaborations must be the album she did with John Paul Jones, the bassist from Led Zeppelin. It is one of her most accessible albums and this is one of the most laid back of the songs:

While her work is certainly not for everyone, I honestly can’t think of a more powerful vocal performer. If you want to open yourself to an experience that is truly sublime–in the Kantian sense–and that will reveal a raw, palpable and bleeding humanity, take a deep breath, turn the stereo up and let yourself be surrounded and penetrated by a voice that is more than human.

  • Literarily, not literally speaking.

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