Magazine article New Internationalist

(Galas, Diamanda. Masque of the Red Death)

Magazine article New Internationalist

(Galas, Diamanda. Masque of the Red Death)

Article excerpt

KNEELING BY MY BED as a child I would rip through my prayers. What came out was a rapid - fire mumble, an evaporation for a hazy God. From such shaky beginnings came years of agnostic search. Post - modern ideas about the God - concept seemed to be frozen by notions of terminal cool. The bleakness of life has become an artistic cop - out and catch - all. God is now either passe or a fascist. Neither attitude implies dialogue. Most of us uneasy with the constraints of formal religion prefer not to let the idea of God bother us unduly.

It is in this context that Diamanda Galas's Masque of the Red Death makes an unsettling challenge, though its concerns, at first sight, are very different.

Diamanda Galas is a Greek - American diva with a three - and - a - half octave vocal range. This fact in itself is not so remarkable, but within her larynx dwell notes that aren't on any octave: they're the missing keys of the keyboard, fierce, visceral, tormented sounds - growls, whispers, shrieks, death rattles, unctuous cooing, soprano glissandi, shamanic slithers. Members of the audience have been known to faint and have panic attacks during live performances. Her piano style, honed whilst playing with jazz legend Ornette Coleman in the 1970s, is lean and aggressive, carving out an aural space for this voice.

Galas's entire body of work is a blast against complacency. Its provocations are often misinterpreted her records have been exorcised by right - wing Christian groups and the Italian press denounced her for blasphemy. But it is exactly the kind of hardline religiosity that brooks no challenges, that condemns people to be either devout or pariahs, that she so effectively attacks.

Masque of the Red Death is a trilogy in response to the bigotry that some sections of the church displayed in the face of the AIDS crisis. But it also deals with the age - old questions of the meaning of human suffering.

The first part - The Divine Punishment (1986) - is derived almost entirely from Old Testament texts and exposes the kind of medieval loathing of the body that some sections of the church regressed to when faced with AIDS, transforming their God into a blind and merciless tyrant that would punish 'perverts'. Interspersed are texts from the Psalms where the innocent cry out, forsaken by God and surrounded by enemies. Galas creates a bleak and merciless wasteland from these sacred texts, exposing the lack of Christian charity of the religious Right. …

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