Mixed media: music

Louise Gray and Malcolm Lewis weigh up the latest in alternative music releases.


De-formation: Piano Variations

De-formation: Piano Variations

by Diamanda Galás

(Intravenal Sound Operations LP, CD + digital)



If ever there was an artist for these strange times, then truly Diamanda Galás – singer, pianist, composer – is the one. That said, Galás has never stopped being relevant. Ever since 1981’s The Litanies of Satan, her highly idiosyncratic setting of Baudelaire’s poem, Galás has established herself as a voice that calls for the restoration of humanity to the oppressed, the marginalized and the plague-ridden.

She has done this by using plague as a metaphor for outsidership. This was most explicit in relation to the HIV/AIDS crisis: The Masque of the Red Death remains a cri du coeur that was picked up by a large audience. De-formation, Galás’ first new recorded work for many years, is a formidable solo piano piece that reminds us that she was first a concert pianist. A shade over 21 minutes long, it’s part of a work in progress that jumps off from Das Fieberspital (The Fever Hospital), a fin-de-siècle poem by Georg Heym, and then continues to an imagined post-1918 landscape that takes in the sufferings of shattered soldiers, so many shut away lest their ‘deformities’ upset the general public.

Thoroughly tonal in its presentation, the work is suitably sombre in its mood and pacing; there are moments in which broken dances, emblems of polite society, are summoned and then thrown down. It is stark and lyrical. Even though there is no libretto, there is a joined-up history to all of Galás’ work: where anything calling itself civilization goes, she’s there to remind us of its flipside. LG

From Isolation 3

by Keeley Forsyth, James Johnston and Ross Downes

(Trestle Records, digital)



Like any other creative industry, the music world relies on long lead times in which to write, produce, manufacture and promote its material. At times of crisis, it has shown itself responsive to change (big fundraising events are a good example), but these occasions are the exception to the rule. The Covid-19 pandemic is such a crisis, but, interestingly, it is the musicians themselves (as opposed to the major record companies) who are making the running to keep their industry and livelihoods going. Global lockdown has produced a yearning for togetherness and the powers of digital conferencing platforms such as Zoom or music-sales sites such as Bandcamp are the new technologies to reach for.

From Isolation is a simple response to the issues of writing, collaboration, production and marketing. A series of three-track EPs available from Bandcamp, From Isolation began in April 2020, as a way of bringing new collaborators together in fruitful and surprising ways. The premise is elegant: three musicians come together as a trio to deliver the whole package of songs, from inception to upload. Files are shared digitally. This, the third EP so far, offers beautiful songs, vignettes of ordinary life that, as vocalist Keeley Forsyth so rightly says, ‘reframe the day’. Her smoky voice, showcased to perfection on ‘Bounce’, stops time in its tracks. Orchestration is minimal – drone textures are provided from Forsyth’s harmonium and James Johnston’s violin and keyboards, while Ross Downes’ electronics offer a warm wrapping. The series will continue for as long as it has to and is well worth dipping into. LG