Diamanda Galás: The Politics of Disquiet

Empowering Music and Political Action

EDWARD BATCHELDER: On the topic of comfort, I was talking with a friend of mine about this, and one of the points he made is that he thought that empowering music—what you might think of as therapeutic or empowering music—would actually work against political action because it can give people a false sense of power, which then works against them actually seizing real power. The confrontation with the real despair and difficulties that people live in everyday, but don’t necessarily want to face, the confrontation with that actually reminds them of their powerlessness and that might be an effective spur to action. People might be far more likely to take action if they really recognize the circumstances of the situation than if they have a false sense of it: I’m empowered because I’m a woman, I’m empowered because I’m black, because I’m gay, any of the multiple viewpoints people choose to identify with.

DIAMANDA GALÁS: I had some woman’s group, I won’t name them, asking me to participate in a scream-out somewhere in the East Village. I wrote them and said, my dears, don’t you think at this time in history that we are capable of a little bit more sophistication in addressing these issues? I mean, I’m not going to get my Girl Scout outfit on and go over there and stand in my knickers and start screaming like some goddamn moron. Excuse me, I don’t mean to denigrate the Girl Scouts. My mother was a Girl Scout. But this is like …

EDWARD BATCHELDER: Now we’re going to get irate letters from the Girl Scouts of America…

DIAMANDA GALÁS: Yeah, I apologize. I didn’t mean to say that …alright, the Brownies, what the hell. But I mean, it’s like, girlfriend, don’t insult me and don’t think I’m going to be a part of this kind of crap. Use your brains. Oh, we’re all going to scream about Bush. I said what are you going to do, get your sound from the latrine? I’m sure he’ll be listening. Koutamares!

EDWARD BATCHELDER: I went to a number of anti-war demonstrations in Nashville leading up to Iraq. One of the things that became clear to me was that an awful lot of the demonstrations were more about bolstering the emotions of the people who attended them than they were about disrupting the emotions of the people who were being…

DIAMANDA GALÁS: That’s true. That’s true. You know, fair enough, far out. If you want to have a party, right on! I’m just not …I may rail against the feeling of isolation; nonetheless I’m comfortable with a certain degree of it, and very uncomfortable in groovy scenes – [laughs] very, very uncomfortable!

EDWARD BATCHELDER: That reminds me of two things. One is: didn’t you experiment with isolation chambers at one point…

DIAMANDA GALÁS: Yeah.

EDWARD BATCHELDER: …very, very early, actually, before your career?

DIAMANDA GALÁS: At some point in the very beginning, I knew that I was going to work with a voice. I guess I knew it at the same time that I started to work in anaechoic chambers. I worked in anaechoic chambers because I didn’t want anyone to hear me outside the door because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I didn’t want anyone to know that. And I wanted to be uncensored. I didn’t want to be performing. I didn’t want to have to worry. I wanted to be free to say anything in a completely, some would say, musical situation blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it was like that. I was also experimenting with LSD and all sorts of stuff. I’d go in there in a situation, like an anaechoic chamber on LSD, and do these vocal things. Now, you know, I don’t know anything about what LSD did to my mind—I don’t know anything about that. The speed they mixed in it probably screwed me up more than anything else [laughs].

The situation with the anaechoic chamber is so interesting because even if you scream, you get no reverberation back. Just as people can’t hear you outside, you also can’t hear the reverberant sound of your voice in the chamber. It’s a very unrewarding circumstance in which to express yourself. It was purely so that no one would be able to hear, or judge, or know anything. I started the performances I did in darkness for that same reason, because I didn’t want anyone looking at me. And then I would do performances with my back to the audience because I didn’t want anyone looking at me. I’m much better than I used to be about it, but even now I’ve often used very dim lighting because I really want to be separate from the audience, very separate from the audience. I often get these comments like, “You don’t go out into the audience,” and, you know, “You don’t talk to the audience,” and all this. Well, if I were doing that, I’d go to Las Vegas. I mean, if that were my aim …As Kenneth Gaburo said to me a long time ago, “It’s not what you intend to do that is the issue, it’s that you’re able to go through with it, you’re able to realize what you intend to do.” It’s not for me to judge whether somebody is making a mistake by going to Las Vegas, you know what I mean.