Photo by Olga K.

THE YERBA BUENA CENTER October 19 and 21 2006
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE October 21
excerpts by Joshua Kosman.

 
"Defixiones: Orders From the Dead," an 80-minute memorial tribute to the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian victims of the Turkish genocide, deploys all the darkly expressionistic musical resources in Diamanda Galas' considerable arsenal -- from operatic shrieks to guttural growls, with stops in between for lullabies, ululations and simple (and not-so-simple) recitation.

 
Appearing in the first of two shows at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, Galás used these techniques as she always has, to craft a dark and theatrically potent howl of defiance and despair. Her work is not for the faint of heart.
 

Though it's been in the works for at least seven years, the piece has a certain odd timeliness. It comes on the heels of the politically charged decision to award the Nobel Prize for literature to Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, as well as France's passage of a law making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide.
 

In "Defixiones" (the title refers to warnings printed on gravestones against moving the remains of the dead), there are texts in Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Turkish as well as English.

Listeners not conversant in those tongues can read the translations ahead of time (once the show begins, sepulchral darkness prevails).Poems, oral testimony, news reports, Turkish propaganda -- are right at the forefront [and] Galás sings or declaims them with exemplary diction, as though the audience needed to catch every word.


Photo by Richard Termine

Diamanda Galás
Defixiones, Will and Testament: Orders from the Dead

“She plays the piano like driving rain slapping on concrete, and she sings like a demon going to war, a valkyrie scatting, a lizard queen seeking revenge for the dead...Galas is profound, rigorous, vocally unlimited, terrifying and utterly compelling. To hear her is to have your soul scoured clean.”
-THE AGE AUSTRALIA 2001

Internationally acclaimed vocalist, pianist, composer and poet, Diamanda Galás is currently presenting her latest work "Defixiones, Will and Testament," for solo voice, piano, and tape. The performance is an angry meditation on genocide and the politically cooperative denial of it, in particular the Turkish and American denial of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian Greek genocides from 1914 to 1923.

The program "Defixiones, Will and Testament" features selections of work that address man's inhumanity to man, and is concerned with material written by those living in exile: "The Dance," a poem by Armenian poet Siamanto; "The Desert," by Syrian poet Adonis; "Epistle to the Transients," by Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo; "Todesfuge," by Rumanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan; Greek and Armenian rembetika (a form of music brought by Asia Minor refugees from Smyrna down into Greece) and amanedhes (an Asia Minor style of improvisation), including "If I Die on the Boat," made famous by Sotiria Bellou and "Anoixe," by Papaiannou; "Hastayim Yasiyorum," by Udi Hrant; "Artémis," by Gérard Nerval; work by Assyrian poet-martyr Dr. Freidoun Bet-Oraham and the music of the deep South.

"Defixiones" refers to the warnings engraved in lead that were placed by relatives of the deceased on the graves of the dead in Greece and Asia Minor. These warnings cautioned against moving or desecrating the corpses under the threat of extreme harm. "Will and Testament" refers to the last wishes of the dead who have been taken to their graves under unnatural circumstances. Concerned with the poet/author living in exile, either from his homeland or within his homeland, "Defixiones, Will and Testament" speaks for individuals who have had to live as outlaws, and for those who have had to create houses out of rock.

One of the most startling artists of our time, Galás creates haunting gospels of despair, desolation and redemption that leave the audience shaken and transformed. For some, the things of which she sings are too much to bear; for Galás, it would be unbearable to remain silent about them.

Galás treats her piercingly beautiful multi-octave voice as an instrument whose sound defies description, penetrating like wind to the bone, resurrecting the dead in the living. She stands alone by virtue of her extraordinary technical accomplishment and her passionate commitment to the principle that the personal is the political. The themes she addresses are universal-a ferocious grieving of real and immediate loss-taking material from a wide variety of cultures and eras. The sorrow of which she sings addresses in chilling recollection, man's inhumanity to man, songs of life and death, redemption and damnation, of human pain and suffering which is experienced directly by the audience.

Raised in San Diego, Calif., Galás was born to Greek Orthodox parents, who always encouraged her gift for piano. Galás studied a wide range of musical forms, as well as visual-art performance, and then moved to to Europe where she made her performance debut at the Festival d'Avignon in France in 1979, performing the lead in the opera, "Un Jour Comme un Autre," by composer Vinko Globokar, based upon the Amnesty International documentation of the arrest and torture of a Turkish woman for alleged treason.

Releasing her first recorded work in 1982, Galás' numerous musical and theatrical works include the pivotal "Plague Mass" (1990), the haunting mass for People with Aids, “Vena Cava”(1992), the solo voice and electronic work concerning AIDS dementia and clinical depression, "Schrei 27" (1996), which deals with torture in isolation, and the concerts/recordings of "Malediction and Prayer," (1998), "Judgement Day," “Concert for the Damned,” and "The Masque of the Red Death" (1984 - 1988). Galás is currently working on the composition and commissioning of the opera "Nekropolis."

DEFIXIONES has been performed and developed since 1999, with the World Premiere, September 11, 1999, at the Castle Of Ghent, followed by workshop performances at The Kitchen in NYC, and official productions at The Barbican in London, The Athens Opera House, The Sydney Opera House, The Festival of Perth, The Cloisters of Sor Juana in Mexico City on The Day of the Saints, The Aula Magna in Lisbon, The Fano Festival of New Music, The Glasgow Center for the Arts, The Gogol Theatre in Moscow, The Dresden Festival of New Music, and UCLA Live at Royce hall in Los Angeles.

Galas has just been given a Civitella Ranieri Residency in Composition for 2003-2004.

"Defixiones, Will and Testament" and "La Serpenta Canta" are scheduled for a simultaneous release on November 24, 2003.

La Serpenta Canta, a double-album (83 minutes), contains the songs Ain't No Grave Can Hold Me Down (Boise Sturdevant), Burning Hell (John Lee Hooker), Lonely Woman (Ornette Coleman), Baby’s Insane (Galás), I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams), Dark End of the Street (Dan Penn), Blue Spirit Blues (Spencer Williams), See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (traditional), My World Is Empty Without You (Holland/Dozier/Holland), Dead Cat on the Line (Tampa Red Mississippi Fred Mac Dowell), Dancing in the Dark (Schwartz/Dietz), Frenzy (Screamin' Jay Hawkins), I Put A Spell on You (Screamin' Jay Hawkins), and Burning Hell (Reprise).

Defixiones, Will and Testament, also a double-album (99 minutes), begins with the large work THE DANCE which features "Ter Vogormia (from the Armenian Liturgy), The Dance (Siamanto), The Desert (Adonis, aka Ali Ahmad Said), Sevda Zinciri (Anonymous), and A Desperate Vitality (Pasolini). The album continues with THE EAGLE OF TKUMA (Bet-Oraham), ORDERS FROM THE DEAD (Galás), and a selection of "SONGS OF EXILE" featuring San Pethano (Anonymous), Hastayim Yasiyorum (Hrant), Je Rame (Michaux), Epistola A Los Transeuntes (Vallejo), Birds of Death (Galás), Anoixe (Papaioanou), Todesfugue (Celan), Artémis (Nerval), and See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (Traditional).

Following a performance of La Serpenta Canta, Alex Vartay wrote "The night's unequivolcal highlight was Galas' diabolically bleak version of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonely, I Could Cry". With its stark visual poetry and coyote-howl tune, this is one of the world's great songs, especially when delivered at a death-march crawl and sung with spectral intensity. Judicious touches of digital delay turned Galas' voice into one long wail, in a performance that was so spooky I swear the temperature in the room dropped several degrees." (November 10/02, Georgia Strait, Vancouver)

Special thanks to Krista Fleischer
Photos by Austin Young
Lighting by Alison Brummer

 

DEFIXIONES: ORDERS FROM THE DEAD
by DIAMANDA GALÁS

THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES
THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES
THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES
THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES

But these flames are NOT new
To OUR dead
OUR dead did cry their final prayer in those flames
Our dead did sing their last lullaby in those flames
Our dead prayed to our infidelite GOD in those flames
Our dead whispered a last goodbye to their mother IN THOSE FLAMES

THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES

OUR dead clawed their children close in
THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES

OUR dead watched their daughters
16 times
RAPED AND BEATEN
in the still-burning of THOSE FLAMES

OUR dead watched an ax remove their
mother’s skull
and crown a wooden spit
in the continuous burning of THOSE FLAMES

OUR DEAD watched while Chrysotomos
eyes and tongue were pulled out,
teeth and fingers broken, one by one,
in the laughing and the cheering OF THOSE FLAMES

OUR DEAD watched their sisters drenched with gasoline
and scream with melting skin
“THE WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES”

OUR DEAD gave birth to Turkish victories
the gurgling and then dying trophy.
on a bayonet which marked the borders of
THE WORLD WHICH IS GOING UP IN FLAMES

OUR DEAD WERE DRAGGED IN MARCHES
THROUGH THE DESERT SUN
FOR WEEKS UNTIL THE SUN BURNED OUT THEIR LUNGS

and when the desert sun which was burning them like flames
ripped apart their lips, we heard the final prayer
LORD GOD HAVE MERCY LORD UPON OUR SOULS!

They saw the WORLD IS GOING UP IN FLAMES
buried, not yet dead inside the pits
engraved:

“GIAOURI, INFIDELI:
OUR GOD HAS CHOSEN YOU TO DIE”

And now the unblessed dead have ordered us to say:

THIS is my GRAVE, MY HOLY BED
YOU CANNOT take it

YOU can NOT ERASE MY NAME
YOU can NOT ERASE OUR DEAD

YOU CANNOT ERASE THE DEAD
Because we have been ordered now
to list their names, their numbers,

to give their date of birth, their earthly city,
their father’s name, the sweetness
of their mother’s eyes

GOODBYE

GOODBYE

GOODBYE
and forevermore
We’ll see you when the desert meets the sky
But do not FORGET MY NAME

And so these were the orders from the dead
said without a word but with a final glance:
the 

SECOND

granted to the Infidel

since an Infidelite Hell
should NOT require a prayer
should NOT require a silent moment

And now the Infidel is told
to forgive and to forget
to understand :

Advance into a paradise of Dead Memories,
of Living Death, the Old Folks Home
of Catatonia
of Madness
and Despair.

“Do not ask me for the NUMBER of that Grave:
It has been stolen.”

“What IS this love for bones and dirt?
 Put this ancient thing behind you, Infidelite
You HAVE no claim to GOD
You Have no claim to PEACE
YOu HAVE no claim to JOY

YOU HAVE NO CLAIM

YOU HAVE NO CLAIM

YOU HAVE NO CLAIM

GIAVOURI!!!!

Remember just how lucky, sperm of Satan,
that you are:
to even BE
alive.

NOW!

HERE!

ACROSS THE SEA!

GIAVOUR!

You HAVE no God.

A man without a God
Can NOT be burned ALIVE
He never WAS alive,

not as a MAN, giavour,
but as a DOG.”

[PAUSE]

BUT I HAVE orders from the Dead
that warn me:

 “DO NOT FORGET ME:
  My blood will fill the air you breathe
  FOREVER.”

“MY DEATHBIRD is Not DEAD

HE CARRIES ALL MY TEETH:

MY SMILE OF UNFORGETFULNESS,

MY LAUGH!

VRYKOLAKA!

I am the man unburied
who CANNOT sleep
IN FORTY PIECES!!!!!

I am the girl,
dismembered
and unblessed,

I am the open mouth
that drags your flesh
and will never rest

until

MY DEATH IS WRITTEN
IN A ROCK THAT CAN
NOT BE
BROKEN!”

And these are the orders
from The Dead.