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Claus Sterneck / Claus in Iceland
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- Elsie Owusu: Body Politic
- Wolfgang Sterneck: Der Schrei

Elsie Owusu:


Music, machines, sex and power. These are the dominating obsessions in the life of opera singer Diamanda Galas. Virtuoso pianist, AIDS activist, composer and radical fag hag, Galas has been compared to that other divine diva, Marie Callas. With her three-and-a half octave range, critic Robert Conroy says she is 'unquestionably one of the greatest singers America has ever produced.'

This diva is dark and graceful, gentle, softly spoken with a deep sense of irony running through her conversation. After a classical training, she went on to play jazz piano, which led to voice training. 'I was working with guys who were saxophone players, drum that was heavily influenced by Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. I decided to move in the direction of the voice, which inspired Albert and Ornette's innovations. I was doing percussive piano work, which became more and more vocal and theatrical. I started doing solo performances with voice...inspired by gospel music, music of Arab countries, Greek incantations...different countries where the breath is the source of power.'

Vena Cava, her latest composition, continues her exploration of the extremes of severe mental depression and the condition known as AIDS dementia. The text is based on the work of her brother, the late playwright and actor Philip Dimitri-Galas, who died of AIDS. The rage which shines through this work is a tribute to Philip, who, she has said, 'despised cheap sentiment... parlor-room sympathy. He was a strong man, a genius, a great writer. He was a fucking homosexual...'

The work is a profound hymn, of damnation and praise to a deity she has described as: 'a god invented by despair'. The semi-autobiographical work, a performance in eight sections rises from the depths of sorrowful lamentation to the heights of the banal and the everyday. Those who fancy a journey into the extremes of claustrophobia, schizophrenia, stigma, obsession with catharsis and psychic violence will find no better way to travel. It is a harrowing experience. The central character depressed and emotionality autistic, is incarcerated in a mental institution. We follow the moves from absolute stillness to extreme terror and back again.

Since she was discovered at the Festival Avignon in 1979 by Yugoslavian composer Vinko Globokar Diamanda Galas has continued to cause trouble in the world of avant-garde music. Globokar gave her the lead role in his opera Un Jour Comme Une Autre which deals with the death by torture of a Turkish woman. Since then, she has traveled widely, performing her own compositions. These works, with titles like wild Women With Steak Knives (the homicidal love song of a schizophrenic woman), Song From The Blood Of Those Murdered, Eyes Without Blood and Masque of the Red Death are uncompromising statements of social and political criticism.

Plague Mass is her most controversial work to date. First performed in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1990, it was denounced by members of the Italian Government as sacrilegious', a 'blasphemy' against the Catholic Church. As a well brought-up girl from San Diego, California, Diamanda was upset by this accusation. 'I come from a Greek Orthodox background, so l was a bit hurt. The District Commissioner was there with all the upper-class people of the town. After the performance I noticed this look of horror on the faces of the promoters. I thought, 'What the hell's going on? I mean, they knew what I do. I'm an avant-garde opera singer doing new music.'

Galas came onto the stage covered in blood and performed the opera in Italian which left the opera-goers little room for doubt as to the meaning of her words. The opera describes the experience of a victim of divine punishment. It is done, she says, for people in the AIDS community by someone (herself) from the AIDS community, who says defiantly, "You think I am cloaked in filth... let me tell you that I wear my cloak with style...' Many of her friends are HIV positive, she says, 'This is my life.' On the knuckles of one hand she carries the words 'We are all HIV.'

Looking a little pensive, she says ruefully, 'I think what happened wasn't treated as a piece of artwork.... It was seen only as a then it became a scandal in the press. No pictures of me or anything. I haven't been invited back to Italy since. But I think the old ladies...any woman who's lost her son or a husband in disease or war...which amounts to the same thing these days, is certainly going to understand my position. They're not going to be sitting with a pencil and writing little platitudes and prosaic nonentities. They're going to know what my rage is. If my choice of words is confusing to them, they should look at the emotion behind it. So I think that these are just good old boys trying to speak for everyone else.... But I was sad because Italy is such a nice place. I always enjoyed performing for the Italians because they're kinda loud you know.'

In 1989, she was arrested at an ACTUP 'Die-In' demonstration at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Protesting against a campaign against homosexuality and safer sex, she interrupted the service shouting, 'Cardinal O'Connor, you are responsible for the deaths have sinned!' The congregation was asked to stand up and repeat the Lord's prayer, as if to exorcise a devil from their midst. She is still being pursued for disobeying a community service order made against her by the court. She is prepared to go to prison but thinks that community service is beneath her dignity. 'So what are they gonna make me do? Serve three days in jail? I've been in jail before, that's no big deal. But I'm not going to clean the fuckin' subway - that's too demeaning.'

Diamanda feels aggrieved when she is criticized for telling it straight. She sees clear divisions in the world: good and bad. The good people in the world are allied to the female principle: powerful heterosexual women, dykes, faggots. Most of her recent collaborations have been with gay men. She worked with Derek Jarman in The last Of England with Wes Craven in The Serpent And The Rainbow and with German film-maker Rosa Von Praunheim. She appears in Praunheim's film Positive Positive and has contributed music to Silence = Death.

A special place is reserved in her heart for drag queens, especially the black drag queens she met when she was a prostitute. Her street name was 'Miss Zena' 'A bunch of drag queens taught me to make up. I dressed as a man dressing as a woman. An there were pickpockets and stuff, playing all sorts of pranks. Once I was attacked by a man and they defended me. There was a lot of sweetness, a sense of fraternity which I had never felt before. I wanted to be one of the girls. I was carrying a knife and working for a living.' Working as a prostitute was not only a means of earning money, but also a way of coming to terms with her fear of attack by men. She affirmed her right to be in public places late at night, her presence needing neither explanation or apology. In her interview for the book Angry Women she describes, 'the fifth time I was nearly raped...this black guy came up to me and said (in the dark) "This is a rape!" I said in a bored voice, "Oh, really? It's been a long day. Could I ask you a question - do you carry a knife?" "No" "Then why don't we call it off?" And he called it off! It was like: Darling, I'm terribly bored. I really want some sleep and I don't have time for this, so let's forget it." None of us were crazy about turning tricks, she told me, offering an explanation for another of her attitudes. 'Maybe that's why I am so merciless about straight men.'

And she is merciless about heterosexual men, apart from her lover, a black Vietnam veteran. She has a weakness for military men. This, she admits, to be strange and perverse. She enjoys the company of robust men who she can shove up against a wall and know that they will bounce back. But her contempt for weak men is absolute. 'They should be dragged out into the middle of the street, beaten, humiliated, degraded and sodomised by my friends and me for sport. I love seeing weak men cry.'

Deeply disappointed by her own heterosexuality, which she sees as a sort of test a divine punishment, Galas denounces God as a callous bitch, playing a deeply unfunny cosmic joke. 'With all my beliefs that women are goddesses so divine, and I love being around them so much, I think that is a true misfortune, she must be up there testing me somehow, the bitch. I don't know why she's doing this.'

Condemned to live out her days as a straight woman in confrontation with the enemy, she has no inclination to understand heterosexual men, be they rapists or the surly waiters like the one who served coffee at our table. 'Why should I waste myself educating a fool like that when I can just insult him. All these sensitivity sessions about... oh... how they are raised.... I don't care if they were hung by their balls from a clothes line by their fucking mother.... I want them thrown out on the street, beaten... not burnt at the stake, that's a martyr's death.'

Recently, Galas has been showered with awards, including funds from the Ford Foundation, Meet The Composer and the beleaguered National Foundation For The Arts. With international recognition and her role as founder and director of her company, Intravenal Sound, in New York and Berlin, Diamanda has little time for some of the projects closest to her heart. She is particularly saddened by her inability to pursue such pet projects as the establishment of the anti-raperevenge commandos called the Black Leather Beavers.

The BLB are small cells of anti-rape commandos, staffed by feminist diesel dykes. Each cell consists of a veterinary surgeon to perform castrations on the rapists, a tattooist to engrave the letters 'BLB' on their foreheads and an arsonist to burn their houses down. "We'd tie them to a tree and castrate 'em. It would be immaculate...' She has offered potential recruits this sisterly advice, 'If you can't get professionals for the "meat work", don't worry about it - but the arsonist should be a professional.'

Copyright © Body Politic Ltd / Arc Net LTD 1995
Thanks to Elsie Owusu for the permission to use the article in the Archive Sterneck-net.

Diamanda Galás


Wolfgang Sterneck:


Zu den ersten Solo-Projekten der Sängerin Diamanda Galas gehörte ein Programm, das sich mit der Terrorherrschaft der griechischen Militärjunta auseinandersetzte. Wie in den meisten ihrer Produktionen beschränkte sich Galas dabei nicht auf das Bestreben bestimmte Vorgänge darzustellen und aufzuzeigen, sondern versucht diese auch selbst, soweit dies möglich ist, während ihrer Auftritte zu durchleben. ”Die Lieder beziehen sich nicht nur auf die griechische Junta. Solche Militärjuntas gibt es überall auf der Welt. Wenn ich den ”Song from the blood of those murdered” aufführe, werde ich zu der Person, die gefoltert wurde, die diese Erfahrung gemacht hat. Ich durchlebe die Situation. Es ist also nicht in erster Linie eine Analyse der politischen Situation, sondern eine schmerzhafte Darstellung der Realität. Ich gehe weit weg von meiner eigenen Realität, erlebe das Leiden, die Ungerechtigkeit. Das ist manchmal sehr gefährlich, wenn man sich intensiv konzentriert.”

Als Tochter griechischer EinwanderInnen, die selbst als MusikerInnen tätig waren, wuchs Galas in New York mit vielfältigen musikalischen Einflüssen auf. Später arbeitete sie nach einer klassischen Gesangsausbildung mit dem Avantgarde-Komponisten Iannis Xenakis, verschiedenen Theater- und Performance-Gruppen und mit dem Jazz-Musiker Ornette Coleman zusammen. In den späten siebziger Jahren begann Diamanda Galas, die sich selbst als elektroakustische Schauspielerin bezeichnet, mit der Realisierung eigener Projekte, die bis in die Gegenwart von der Auseinandersetzung mit menschlichen Verhaltensweisen unter extremen Bedingungen bestimmt sind. Durch die musikalische und inhaltliche Kompromißlosigkeit ihrer Aufführungen wurde sie bald einem größeren Publikum bekannt.

1986 führte Galas mit ”Divine Punishment” den ersten Teil ihrer Musikperformance ”Masque of the red death” auf, die sich mit der Immunschwäche AIDS auseinandersetzt. Neben eigenen Texten benutzte die Sängerin dabei Bibelpassagen und die ”Litaneien des Satans” von Charles Baudelaire. die konzeptionell in einen Zusammenhang mit der Krankheit gestellt und als Metapher für das Leiden, aber auch als Angriff auf die gesellschaftliche Ignoranz und die ausgrenzenden Positionen der katholischen Kirche und konservativer Gruppen verwendet wurden. ”Es geht um die Hexenverfolgung, die Kreuzigung der Unschuldigen und den langsamen Tod. Was können diese Menschen fühlen, die ich mit einer verdammten Nadel im Hals im Krankenhaus sah. Sie waren menschliche Skelette, die nur durch schmerztötende Mittel am Leben gehalten wurden. Ich werde dies nie vergessen. Niemals.”

Über die Trauer um die Verstorbenen und den Zorn gegenüber den regierenden PolitikerInnen und deren Haltung zur AIDS-Problematik hinausgehend, versteht Galas die Trilogie als Aufforderung zum Handeln. ”Du bist entweder ein Teil des Widerstandes oder ein Kollaborateur. Es gibt keine andere Wahl. Ich war im finnischen Fernsehen und ein Journalist fragte mich: Wann wird es deiner Meinung nach eine Heilung geben? Ich antwortete: Wenn du das fragen mußt, dann bist du ein Teil der Ursache, weshalb wir noch keine Heilung haben... - Ich habe nicht den Anspruch, eine Sprecherin der AIDS-Community zu sein. Ich bin nur eine kleine Stimme, die gibt was sie kann. Aber ich sage dir: Mach etwas! Selbst wenn du dich nur eine Stunde in der Woche mit der AIDS-Krise beschäftigst, mach etwas! Frage mich nicht nach einer Heilung, sei ein Teil davon!”

Neben den Auftritten und Schallplattenveröffentlichungen der Sängerin erregte in der Mitte der achtziger Jahre ihr ”Black Leather Beavers”-Manifest Aufsehen, in dem sie in der Tradition von Valerie Solanas radikal-feministischen S.C.U.M.-Manifest die Notwendigkeit der Bildung von Frauengruppen beschreibt, die Vergewaltiger aufspüren und kastrieren. Zudem sprach sich die Sängerin für die Bewaffnung von Frauen aus, damit sie sich gegen Übergriffe von Männern zur Wehr setzen können. Bewußt provokant fordert sie, daß jeder Mann, bevor er das erste Mal mit einer Frau schläft, anal penetriert werden sollte, damit er zumindest ansatzweise die Empfindungen einer Frau nachvollziehen kann, in deren Körper ein Mann eindringt.

Aus dem Buch:
Wolfgang Sterneck:
Der Kampf um die Träume - Musik und Gesellschaft. (1998).

Diamanda Galás

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