THE DARK SIDE OF THE NEW MUSICS
By: Emma Dors.
Diamanda Galas: An enigmatic, defiant woman, a talented, versatile composer and artist, whose exceptional voice has such a wealth of nuances and registers not very often found in the world of the alternative musics, has been described by John Gill in "Time Out London" with these words: "Whore, saint, demon, lover, madwoman or angel, there is no other voice in rock, jazz or the avant-garde with her violence, consuming passion and pure elemental force." And it's true. Diamanda, "femme fatale", has such a vital energy that appears to be truly unquenchable no matter what, and she transfers all of it to each and everyone of her creations, her challenging public appearances and her shameless nerve, notwithstanding absolutely capable of being dead serious about certain issues in the different interviews she has agreed to throughout her career. She has been accused of being a blasphemous singer, she admits to her obsession with vampires, she is an active spokesperson for and defender of the seropositive collective, and her nonconformism as well as her wondrous inner strength have led her to explore all the possibilities of artistic expression fully committed to the cause of the outcast groups in our society, to express her rebellion against the status quo and her peculiar conception of art by means of a sinister, darkish atmosphere, rarely understood by the general audience.
Diamanda Galas (Photo: Tower Records © 1996)
Diamanda Galas was born in San Diego, California, within a family of a Greek origin. Diamanda has occasionally visited her Greek relatives at Athens and Manati (near Sparta) - she also has relatives in Smyrna, Katarsos, Egypt and Turkey -. About her ancestral culture, the artist comments on its hard nature, its renowned tradition of "vendettas", a culture where the masculine power predominates, and it is precisely this trait, the one she draws on in her performances. Another trait typical of her ancestors she mentions is that of materialism, one she does not possess, which is why her family do not understand the gipsy-like lifestyle she so much favors, always being on the move, engaging herself in world tours, not saving her money for tomorrow.
Her father, a professor of Greek myth, used to play the bass and the trombon at a jazz band, and it would be he the one to introduce her to the music world, especially traditional Arab and Greek music, aside from jazz, as she used to play with him. In those times Diamanda used to play the piano, not to sing, as her father always claimed that "Only idiots and hookers are singers." This is why she would not study opera till much later, given the absolute rejection her father had towards opera singers most specially. Nevertheless, she did have an extensive musical education. Thanks to her innate musical skills, she would soon get a Master in Music, and at age fourteen she becomes a member of the Symphonic Orchestra of San Diego. Besides, she studies the performing arts at the University of California. Soon her musical interests shift towards blues and free jazz. From the classical piano she turns to keyboards. However, it would still take her some time to discover her voice. This happened in 1974, at a time when she was working on things unconnected with music, when she was questioning everything she had done before. She used to sing as she worked in the street, together with a gang of transvestite friends at Oakland, and it was then when she began to take an interest in her vocal skills. Her first steps in this direction would take her to Gospel, and later she moved on to a deeper exploration of this vocal aspect of hers in several other fields. Galas began her vocal career performing at mental hospitals and asylums in San Diego between 1975 and 1977, but she left that activity then as she does not consider herself to be a therapist. Nonetheless, this experience would be very interesting for her. It was then when she would develop her vocal technique, breaking every established rule in music, using her voice as a fundamental response of her body and soul to express herself as a human being.
When her brother Philip Dimitri Galas (1954-1986), then already a famous playwright and theater producer, is diagnosed with HIV, Diamanda feels it very deep inside, since both of them are very close indeed. He was a brilliant actor as well, whose work he financed through Galas Exotic Cards, a business he had started in San Francisco in 1978, and he had inspired his sister in her teenage days. It was he the one to take her interests from free jazz to cabaret music, to get an interest in the works by Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud, Gerard Nerval Artaud, Gore Vidal, Baudelaire, and Lautreamont, amongst others, and the one to share with her a taste for Edgar Allan Poe. Such readings would no doubt have a marked influence in her work.
Since 1983 Diamanda has undertaken a crusade to promote the cause of all those patients suffering from AIDs, and not just because of her brother's illness, as she herself claims, since already two years before Philip had been diagnosed the virus she had become a fervent activist in this field. Her true concern about this outcast collective is clearly, unmistakably reflected in her masterpiece, The Plague Mass, a controversial oratorio-indictment. Many people in the artistic circles pressured her against her project. Despite all these pressures, the artist continued to work in her original trilogy, The Masque of the Red Death, in London, and she did not care if they called her weird. Diamanda denies the charges that this work is but a piece of sentimental rubbish, according to, to her, some "misogynist idiots", who trivialize her message. Even if she is a seronegative woman, Diamanda has involved herself in the cause of the seropositive, not in an insincere way, but truly working side by side with them. She devotes her time to those patients of AIDs who have been abandoned by their families. She advocates tirelessly to achieve an adequate development of research into this illness as well as the legislative improvements to protect this collective. Nonetheless, she has occasionally been rejected by some of the affected, perhaps because of the aggressive attitude she has in her performances, in some occasions understood as a provocation rather than as an indictment. It is not strange, therefore, that her attitude has shocked even some of the seropositive. Yet Diamanda points out that her intention has never been therapeutical, but merely artistic. In spite of her personal concern in these issues, the terms must not be confused. This does not mean that her preoccupation about the people suffering from AIDs is not real and true.
Certainly, the people who are not infected with the virus will have difficulty to truly comprehend what these who are affected will ultimately feel deep inside, yet Diamanda believes in the power of empathy, in the human capacity to contribute to this collective. So she does not limit her interest to the seropositive alone, but her sympathy extends to other collectives. In her works the artist explores the world of schizophrenia, aphasia, mental illnesses, visualizing such behaviors as an almost rational response to situations of extreme isolation, of an intolerable, even irrational nature, in terms of a personal catharsis. Diamanda understands this isolation, since she felt it herself in her childhood, and even today she consciously often looks for loneliness for herself. After having been affected with Hepatitis C for about four years, she also understands the despondency affecting any collective of sick people, be it AIDs, hepatitis, certain types of cancer or any other illness having no cure today, and she denounces the tendency of the medical class to refuse a cooperation with their patients to find adequate treatments, or their reluctance to admit to their ignorance with respect to these. To her, the most dangerous thing with respect to the AIDs epidemic is the way we are conditioned to think of this illness, as if it were something that inescapably leads to death. She thinks that treatments with alpha-interferon and/or placebo drugs are absolutely wrong and inadequate, when what the doctors should do is work together with their patients and try to find the way to stimulate the immune system by means of combined therapies, even experimental ones, instead of rejecting such initiatives, not to mention alternative therapies, so that if one is diagnosed some of these viruses, the only thing left for the patient to do is prepare for their funeral. What annoys her most is the attitude society has before such epidemics as that of AIDs, as given the fear of contagion, it isolates and outcasts a whole collective, cowardly trivializing what should affect each and every one of us. To her, such an attitude is but a sign of a social mental disorder, typical of those who understand the world in a simplistic, childish way. The misinformation that causes such an isolation and confusion is likewise found in the research in the field of mental illnesses, and both the AIDs patients and those suffering from mental disorders are powerless, outcast from society; and should they comment anything on their illnesses, they immediately become suspect, if not undesirable.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE ARTS
Besides representing the seropositive and the mentally sick, Diamanda also denounces the situations leading many innocent people to death. Separation and death are themes she explores in her works with the same passion she has explored other situations since she began her career. In her second work, simply called Diamanda Galas, released in 1984 under the label Metalanguage Records, there only appear two pieces, the first one of which is "Tragouthia apo to Aima Exoun Fonos" ("Canticle for the Blood of the Assassinated Prisoners"): This anguished piece deals with the political prisoners tortured and brutally killed by the Greek Junta; and the second piece, "Panoptikon", ("Many Eyes"), reflect models of claustrophobia and paranoia. Her work is always related to a person in a situation of forced isolation, be it imposed from without or from within, from the biochemical or the social perspective, whether it be caused by schizophrenia or not. A greater part of her work is centered om this dark side of the person. As she claims, the fact that we become aware of this dark side of the psyche allows us to face the difficulties and the sorrows of life. For instance, in his last two years of life, her brother Philip, instead of chickening out and giving up the struggle, worked very hard to see his work completed, with the illusion that it was to survive him.
In her work Insekta, the artist deals with the issue of isolation once again, with a vocal treatment that reveals the viewpoint from both sides of the cage of the forced isolation of the individual. In her performance at the Lincoln Center, the cage hangs from the ceiling. This is a tortured piece on the treatment suffered by certain anonymous communities, such as the people who have been caged within mental institutions, whose relatives cannot or will not save them. Insekta gives her voice to the situations in which the patients are raped and/or beaten in the middle of the night. For these people, the only freedom they can enjoy is that of their thoughts.
In Vena Cava, the artist deals yet once more with a person in a situation of absolute alienation, in some sort of solitary confinement. In it the vocalizations become more subtle than they are in her trilogy, the text reflects a greater introverted character, and the voice portrays a greater dose of awareness, one of a more internalized nature than in the Plague Mass. This work, also considered to be of a satanic nature by some, meant that Diamanda Galas had her work vetoed by the Church as well as on the part of some groups in favour of euthanasia in the tape version of Final Exit, so she could not include all the material she had prepared for Vena Cava the way she had wished to do.
ONE VOICE, A MYRIAD OF GENRES
Diamanda has not limited herself to an only musical genre, but has explored all of them: she has sung Puertorican music, Salsa, Cuban music, blues, and even flamenco. Her strength on the stage as well as her versatile work in the musical aspects of her performances have attracted the attention of such composers as Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis and Vinko Globokar, to name but a few. The latter invites her to collaborate in his work Un jour comme un autre. Diamanda also collaborates with Test Department, Einsturzende Neubaten, Nick Cave, D. Thomas, and Henry, among many others.
Likewise, she has performed in punk clubs such as Club Lingerie in Los Angeles, as well as at other clubs, like I-beam, Club Nine and Danceteria in New York City. Few artists can claim to such a wide range of activities. Her introduction in the world of the new musics came to happen through her own improvisations, although she also admits to the influence that John Coltrane had in her work.
In the development of her voice Diamanda also admits to having received a certain influence by Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, or Artaud, although, to her, such influences are marginal at best. Despite the fact that she has her Master in Music as stated before, Galas used to think of herself as some sort of outcast from the usual academicist levels, which is why she ended up abandoning the academic institution, as she felt that this would not allow her to develop her creativity as freely as she wished. The artist works very hard indeed to develop her voice, comparable to that of Meredith Monk, Joan LaBarbara, María Callas or Fatima Miranda, not to mention Cathy Berberian, a virtuoso of avantgarde voice, whose vocal experiments would inspire Diamanda. Yet, at the same time, Galas surpasses such virtuosity as she develops new vocal techniques of her own, in which she builds up vocal groups or episodes adding musical meaning to the whole, either in the form of short movements or in an uninterrupted flow of strikingly pure voice, also improvising new vocal effects, always in an innovative way, never adapting to the reiterative vocal traditions of the classical method for the production of conventional themes, nor does she conform to the minimalist techniques so typical of Philip Glass, or to the modular method also developed by Steve Reich, so that the artist appears to be emphasizing vocal discontinuity instead of vocal continuity. Furthermore, her treatment of the oral text or speech in her compositions follows an irregular pattern in which the text comes to be disintegrated, in a distorting way, so that language is not so much a vehicle to transmit any coherent information per se, but rather a sonic presence which turns out to be cryptic, powerful, mysterious, where the emphasis between what is purely musical and what is speech keeps shifting its focus, resulting in a sort of sonic collage whose aural meaning is innovative, shapechanging, and all that comes out synthesized in a series of subtle metamorphoses which vary with each performance.
Diamanda has been working for long years with her teacher of bel canto, Frank Kelly, and she has been able to reach up to three and a half octaves with absolute ease. Her understanding of the electronic medium allows her to control her performance at all times. To her, the stage is holy ground, and this fact requires of her to give the best of herself in each occasion. This is why she usually takes care of the staging of each one of her performances even to the minutest of details, as is the lighting, the technical aspects of the electronics, the tapes, in a word, everyhting. She likes to control each and every one of the elements involved in a performance so as to guarantee the best professionality she can afford. Diamanda believes that a live performance is not the time to experiment or look for a catharsis, but a sacrifice and a rendering of her art that requires a very accurate preparedness. Her works reflect a sinister atmosphere, devilish, dark, disquieting. In her wish to explore all musical fields, she produces performances in which she includes dismal staging atmospheres, disturbing electronic sounds, sometimes inspired by a somber romanticism of an almost hypnotic nature that transmits pain, anguish, terror, powerlessness or despair. Her works include the use of different languages, such as English, French, her native Greek or Italian, and she even comes to create her own languages by means of utilizing complicated onomatopoeias and distorted pitch. This latter aspect can be seen in her performances in the world of terror movies, the most remarkable of which is the Drácula by Coppola, where she impersonates one of the brides of the vampire, at the same time as her voice participates of the original soundtrack, contributing to the terrorific atmosphere in her particular rendering of voices from beyond the grave. Galas has always been fascinated by the vampire theme, yet not even herself knows the reason why she feels so much fascination on it. One of the vampires that has most inspired her, for instance, to perform her role in this movie, was precisely the character of the Countess Bathory, a well-known lesbian vampire who, at age five hundred, used to seduce young virgins so as to rejuvenate herself by drinking their blood.
With respect to the way Galas writes her music, the artist explains that her scores are more like cinema notes. Although she did not receive an adequate education in composition, she is perfectly able to read a score, and she dislikes the musicians who claim they don't. Even if she is not quite able to write music, as she centered her skills in experimental performance, and especially, given the circumstance that what she does truly is so weird, so quickly changeable, she believes that it would be very difficult to write her creations making use of conventional musical notation. In some occasions she has done so for certain people, yet she does not think of it as being essential. She prefers to write her music her own way, noting modulation and spatial manipulation, the timbre she uses at each stage, the linguistic aspect to develop at each modulation, the pitch and range of these, some symbols to note vocal links, silences, pauses, reverberation, even lighting for each performance, the electronics, everything, rather as if it were a theatre play or a movie script and not a traditional musical score at all. Her peculiar way to understand musical notation is cinematic, closer to poetry, and includes every vocal aspect, every gesture, every technical and dramatic nuance that her complex stagings require.
Diamanda views herself as some sort of an electroacoustic actress or performer, since she utilizes her voice with four of five microphones, two delay units, sometimes two harmonizers, selective stereo equalization for certain parts, etc. That is, her voice becomes thus a new instrument that belongs into an electronic whole. In such a way that it no longer is a mere voice sounding with electronic instruments but it truly becomes electronic voice in a literal way. Diamanda Galas emphasizes the distinction between the acoustic and the electronic qualities of her voice. To her, the three and a half octaves in the vocal register she has so long struggled to achieve, are the acoustic part of her repertoire, whereas the electroacoustic part is the interface she establishes between the possibilities offered by the human voice, the strange sound effects the electronic medium offers in the manipulation of this voice by means of delay lines, and the digital or analogic processing of each signal. Diamanda explains an example of this process in the production of any vocal sound which is then processed with a delay of, for instance, 250 milliseconds which turns this sound into a chorus, in which the new instrument is vocally produced, turning the whole room into an instrument at the same time, since the resonance of this voice changes with the use of the entire equipment, as the electronic support creates a new sound. The difference would be equivalent to that existing between an acoustic and an electronic guitar. In her particular version, her "guitar" are her vocal cords, and it is not that easy to achieve such effects with her voice precisely because of that fact.
Diamanda's recording production is as eclectic as her spectacular live performances. Her first record, released in 1982, was Litanies of Satan, a work where Dave Hunt collaborates, one of whose compositions is an adaptation of one of Charles Baudelaire's works, the Poems of the Revolt, specifically his poem Les Litanies de Satan, dedicated to those who because of the opression on the part of the government are condemned to isolation and social alienation. This album also includes tape, electronic manipulation and voice. The second and last theme, "Wild women with Steak Knives", expresses nasty human relationships and mean souls, with her resourceful voice. Diamanda comments that because of this recording, her concerts were cancelled due to the social pressure of different morality groups. No doubt, this album would contribute to her being considered a satanist, a blasphemous, ungodly outcast. About her second recording, Diamanda Galas (1984), we have already talked.
Another work by this charismatic, controversial artist, is for instance, The Singer, a work where her vocals skills turn to old blues songs, written by Willie Dixon, M. Bloomfleid, Jay Hawkins and Roy Acuff. In this album Diamanda also includes a number of more or less traditional arrangements she made herself, accompanied by her piano or Hammond organ. Only the last theme, "Judgement Day", was written by Galas. Les Yeux Sans Sang is another work composed by this artist, which she developed based on her previous work at Wild Women With Steak Knives, and which premiered in 1984 at the New York Philarmonic's Horizon's Festival.
THE "PLAGUE MASS"
But it is no doubt her trilogy The Masque of the Red Death, referred to in a generic way as the Plague Mass, her most important work. The Plague Mass, as stated before, is some sort of oratorio in which, as explained in the New York Times, the author denounces the people who consider AIDs as "divine retribution", and the Observer claims this is "the most profound musical contribution yet made to the support of the AIDS community". In this work the author expresses her ideas through an individual who becomes the spokesperson for the groups of outcast people, many of whom can no longer speak for themselves, in the context of society. Likewise, it involves the individual who opposes other social groups. In the Plague Mass the texts are recited rather than sung. Diamanda utilizes here the Biblical Psalms as well as the Book of Leviticus, the texts of the Law of Moses in which the procedures to declare a quarantine must be followed according to the ancient traditions, in the terms that the priests usually refer to homosexuality, as well as the rituals to ask God for protection. For instance, in Psalm 88, the ritual begins with the phrases: "O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee... incline thy ear unto my cry." In fact, The Masque Of The Red Death, directly inspired on Poe's writings, although containing many other sources as well, and related to a number of convictions and ways of thinking, consists of three different albums, to which a fourth part would later be added, each one of which reflects a different perspective of the crisis of AIDs. This trilogy plus its conclusion constitute the Mass of the Plague, a musical documentary of the epidemic in our present days. The first part of this saga was to be premiered at the Ars Electronica Festival in 1986, a performance which took place at the Linz Shipyards in Austria, that in fact turned out to be an ideal location for such an ambitious work, in which the author herself performed each and every one of the instruments used, plus the pre-recorded voices and her live voice as well.
This first part was The Divine Punishment, dedicated to Tom Hopkins (who died in 1985). It is based on texts from the Old Testament, and includes two pieces in the style of classical suites: "Deliver Me from Mine Enemies" is a track in which the voices denounce the plague in a pulsating way, while at the same time a nebulous order, "This Is The Law of the Plague", contributes to creating a terrible, ominous atmosphere: "And the priest shall look upon the plague for a rising, and for a scab, and for a bright spot. And the priest shall shut up he that hath the plague. He shall carry them forth to a place unclean. He shall separate them in their uncleanness. This is the law of the plague: To teach when it is clean and when it is unclean..." Next, the victim claims with the words of Psalms 59, 22 and 88: "Why hast Thou forsaken me?", just as Jesus Christ had done later, on the Cross, at his dying moments; continuing with the prayer, "Deliver me from my enemies, oh my God", and ending with the anguished question: "Shalt Thou show wonders to the dead?", a mournful imprecation of the condemned. At the same time the listener hears suffocating onomatopoeias, echoes of the ancient Greek legends, tortured fits of rage, voices seemingly coming from will'o'the'wisps, screeches as if they were caused by creaky doors achieved in a vocal way, terrifying sounds that resemble those of creeping creatures coming up to the surface from a dreadful abyss... Diamanda defines this album as a geography of the plague mentality. To her it is the accursed voices of the accusers the ones to condemn the victims of the plague as "unclean". In this segment the artist recites parts of the Leviticus, especially a text that passes judgement on the afflicted ones without compassion. The God of the Old Testament does not offer redemption or salvation whatsoever. The Plague is the Divine Punishment, as it is understood by those who defend such views nowadays, the modern day evangelists and moralists. Diamanda claims that the God of these homophobic accusers is a malignant, treacherous God, and in this sense the actress stands against him, siding with those who rebel against such a cruel God. If this means that she is siding with Satan, so what? Taking Milton's point of view in Paradise Lost, she subscribes to the idea that it is "better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven". Naturally enough, such ideas had her, once again, called a blasphemous satanist, a witch. Galas is proud of this, since witches were but people who had rejected to side up with the religious powers of their times, having been executed for independent thought. In this album, with the second suite, "Free among the Dead", a piece with complex vocal stretchings, as well as blues-like inflections, Diamanda turns around this old vengeful God and recites texts of the Psalms and the Lamentations to an emerging God, this time of a more compassionate nature: "Deliver me from mine enemies, oh my God. The mighty are gathered against me". This fragment makes it clear that the author is not to be considered a satanist, since the fact that she rebelled against the God of the accusers does not imply such a thing. Jesus Christ himself, she points out, rebelled against the old order. The conclusion, "Sono L'Antichristo," is a truly shocking piece written by Galas herself. In it the condemned embraces all the damning epithets and throws them into the faces of the judges: "I am the Scourge. I am the Holy Fool. I am the Shit of God. I am the Sign. I am the Plague. I am the Antichrist." Sung in Italian, the way Diamanda sings this Letany, the word for the plague (pestilenza) has a stronger semantic charge than in English. The organ sounds louder and louder, in a cacophonic crescendo that incorporates sounds resembling those of a rattlesnake, and the voice of the artist makes the listener's hairs stand on end. The listener experiences then pure nerve, such an affliction and a defiance that reach deep into the furthest recesses of the very soul, in a disturbing, terrifying atmosphere, despairing, apocalyptic, horrible. This work merited the award it was given at the Ars Electronica Festival held in Linz, Austria, in 1986.
In the second part of this complex trilogy, Saint Of The Pit (1986), Diamanda speaks for those who, like Jesus Christ, were crucified because of their beliefs. The artist gives her voice to those who are afflicted with this slow, agonizing death. Together with her own texts, she includes others she takes from the French symbolist school, from poets of the nineteenth century, such as Baudelaire, Corbiere and Nerval, to the insidious, insistent rhythm of Gregorian chants. The inclusion of these poems could respond to a sentimental need on the part of the artist, since she explains that her brother gave her his favourite book of French poetry in his deathbed. To Diamanda there is no better homage to his memory, as well as to that of those who have suffered the same kind of martyrdom, than to include these poems within her work. Actually, Diamanda sees the victims of the AIDs plague as present day saints who have been abandoned by a cruel, compassionless society. The album shifts from the outer viewpoint of the community to the inner one, the state of mind of the victim. The work opens with an ominous introduction, "La Treiziemen Revient," a solo played on a Hammond organ. In this moment a spiritual transformation takes place, one in which pain cleanses the soul, this fact being reflected in an archetypical octave, where the intense, powerless rage of the afflicted gets gradually weakened. This piece is followed by "Deliver Me," a vibrant solo that resembles a moan typical of the Middle Eastern countries, as anguished as to move the listener deep within the soul. The wails of the singer resemble burning arrows aiming for the deepest recesses of the very essence of the human being. The last section of this part, sung in French, is a poem by Baudelaire, Self-Tormentor, which begins: "No rage, no rancor: I shall beat you as butchers fell on ax. As Moses smote the rock in Horeb -- I shall make you weep". The end is no less expressive: "I am the vampire at my own veins, one of the great lost horde doomed for the rest of time, and beyond, "to laugh -- but smile no more"". The second part of this album begins with a Greek theme, as a homage to her brother, where the singer explores her inner self, meditates on her situation, and reflects a deep feeling of sadness. This theme, "L'heautontimoroumenos", contains suggestive voices of a darkly erotic nature and returns to Baudelaire's poem, this time adapted with crazed modulations in a surreal dialogue between children and witches, at the same time pointing to an archetypical response: the nobility of accepting one's own fate, even from the pit of suffering. Then, the artist gives us a traditional operatic version of Nerval's poem, Artemis, with which she develops tortured metaphors, where the soul self-evaluates and reaches up to renunciation, and even to excommunication. The theme is concluded with Corbiere's poem, Cris D'Aveugle ("The Cry of the Blind Man"), where a sustained wail that reminds the listener of the screeches of bats, slowly gives way to a cacophony of voices which drowns the "Deus Misericors" sung by the choir: we can hear the creaky voice of an old person, an innocent, childish whispering voice, hardly audible muttering sounds mixed with creaking sounds, arias that sound now from nearby, now from very far away, squeals and growls, unearthly rustling sounds reminding of the air escaping from an inflated but punctured wheel or perhaps a balloon, agonizing sighs... It looks as if all the monsters of a hellish abyss had suddenly acquired a voice of their own. When the listener is brought to the limit of resistance, a pause is produced and the final text is heard: "Pardon for praying hard, Lord, if it is fate, My eyes two burning holy water fonts, The devil has but his fingers inside, Pardon for crying loud, Lord, against fate; I hear the north wind which bugles like a horn. It is the hunting call for the kill of the dead. I bay enough on my own, I hear the north wind, I hear the horn's knell..."
The third part of this trilogy uses the music of Swing Low Sweet Chariot to introduce a bloodcurling call as confronted to a stalking death. Likewise, we can hear a fragment of the Glory Mass in the piece "Double-Barrel Prayer", whose aggressive rhythm transforms this work into a strangely avant-garde mass, full of life and challenging. Two additional psalms are included, the gospel-blues "Let Me People Go" and "The Lord Is My Shepherd", in whose rendering the voice of the artist acquires a sickly quality, disturbing, agonizing, as if it were at the limit of its strength. With "You Must be Certain of the Devil", Diamanda abruptly ends up with her solemn lamentations and issues a furious call to arms, so that the condemned defend themselves. "Direct action is essential," states the artist, "it's to kill or be killed. I know it's not `politically correct' to advocate the use of guns, but we're talking about survival." On the cover of this record we can see her with a .38 special. Now Satan has become the enemy. And this time the Devil is impersonated by those pious Christians and homophobic government officials whose policies with respect to AIDs have declared war on the homosexual community. Diamanda resorts to her Greek heritage, namely the Spartan tradition according to which women turn their mourning into an oath of vengeance for their dead, their knives at their hands. True, the text is no doubt far more warlike than any texts before, yet from a musical point of view this album is the most accessible one of the three, perhaps because it has a more rhythmic character, and it also portrays a more sarcastic, more critical aspect of Diamanda's.
Later Diamanda adds a new part to the Plague Mass, called There Are No More Tickets to the Funeral. The final version of the Plague Mass premiered on October 12th and 13th, 1990, at the impressive cathedral of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, New York. According to Diamanda Galas it was an authentic "Missa solemnis" (a solemn mass) for the disinherited, at a church that proved what true compassion is. Such an event was certainly recorded, and the music has been released under the label Mute Records. As usual, the artist makes extensive use of her wide range of musical resources as well as her acute intelligence. Her piano background is evident, and her vocal skills, which have nothing to envy from the best opera singers all over the world, turn her performance into something to be remembered. Furthermore, given its contents, just like any other of her former performances, this Mass is a slap on the face of society at large, given its controversial criticism and its undeniable charge that denounces what is obvious. No matter what pressures she received to hush her project, or at the very least to tone it down, Diamanda fearlessly calls things by their name. Which has once more incensed the morality groups against her, accusing her of outrageous blasphemy, most especially when this work was performed in Italy, near Florence. Since several parts of the Mass are sung in Italian, it was perceived by the Italians as a sacrilegious mass. Even though her supporters cheered her, mostly aware of the work and its meaning thanks to an article appeared at a gay zine (Babilonia), the representatives of the Town Hall who had attended the premiere felt outraged at such impudence as the actress had in presenting her blasphemous work. The bourgeois community was deeply offended, and the media called her "Voice, Sex and Sacrilege", with such headlines as "Furious Controversy Surrounds "the Accursed" Artist"; "Diamanda, to Hell and Back", etc. The Christian Democratic Party politicians were truly infuriated, and for weeks blamed her satanic insult to all that is sacred, her affront to the community and to morality. The actresss had never intended to offend the Italian society, however. She was hurt to see how her true aims had been misinterpreted so thoroughly. At the very least she had hoped it would be merely tolerated within the context of her being famous as a respectable avant-garde artist and performer. Yet those who had taken her to Italy and introduced her there had to suffer the aftermath of the scandal. She did not find this out till much later, as at that moment she had left for another country soon after her performance in Italy, since she had been engaged in a world tour at the time.
OF FESTIVALS, FURY AND SCANDALS
Galas has performed in different festivals throughout her career, among which most memorable were her participations in The Holland Festival, Festival Donaueschingen, Festival Avignon, El Cuarto Foro Internacional, The New Music American Festivals 1981 and 1983, the New and Unusual Music Series by the Symphonic Orchestra of San Francisco, and The Voice Festival held in Rome, among others. Likewise, this artist has been awarded several grants in her career, among them one Producer's Grant by the American "National Endowment for the Arts" (Opera/New Music/Theater Program), who collaborated in her production of the Plague Mass, together with "The Kitchen" (of the City of New York) and "Intravenal Sounds Operation".
The fury that Diamanda expresses in her performances, as for instance we can see in the Plague Mass, acquires legendary dimensions, which no doubt affect her emotions, her psyche, her entire body. The actress admits she has to be strong in what she does, by exercising her technical discipline, looking after her health, her cardiovascular system, her diaphragm, her general physical status,so as to be able to express the powerful emotions that pervade her work, as the strength she uses to denounce AIDs, mental illnesses or germ warfare demand such an effort on her part. The fact that she does what she has to do gives her as much energy as she needs. Her work is very athletic indeed, which means she has to take care of her health. Since she cannot tell whether anyone else would be willing or able to do what she does, she is aware that at her death her work dies with her. Even if she is aware of her own mortality, she dislikes talking about this. Once she confessed that she finds the concept of mortality insulting. She prefers to be herself the one to determine the moment of her death. She claims she has planned to have her syringe ready, so that she will be the one to laugh at death, to laugh at the gods of fate. And, even if her work may be lost when she dies, she feels uterly unable to write it down so that others can perform it. She expects to continue with her own performances for as long as her body will allow her to, despite all the voices that tell her she won't be able to continue for many years. She takes it as her duty and a challenge to look after her body so she can continue doing what she believes she must do.
With respect to her acoustic aspects, Diamanda has worked in the opera world singing for instance, Lady MacBeth; Norma; Tosca; Erwartung, by Schoenberg; as well as other classical works, even if this is not her primary interest. This is why she has never entered the scene of traditional opera. Yet, her special operas, in which she utilizes her voice in an eminently unconventional, innovative way, have been christened by the German critics as "Schrei-Oper" ("Shriek-Operas") as they in a way follow the pattern set by late German expressionist theatre, even if the term that would describe them best would be the one coined by Arnold Schoenberg, that is, "monodramas". The artistic worth of this exceptional woman, even though, as already stated, could well disappear with her at her death, is truly a strong influence in the world of art based on Time. From her most remarkable innovation, in which the artist develops her voice by extending her vocal techniques till they become full monodramas, to her peculiar way of implementing the techniques of sonic collage with her exploration of body ressonance, through new techniques for breathing, the texts of sonic poetry developed in what she herself calls "electroacoustic theatre whose nucleus is the voice of the actor", including the visual elements, always implemented in a shocking way, with her complex lighting games and her shapeshifting colors which emphasize the hallucinating intensity of the sounds she creates, the texts fitting this ensemble, at the same time integrating expressionist as well as symbolist traits, all that will certainly ensure Diamanda Galas and her art an unforgettable post in the history of the scenic arts, with her peculiar tapestry of visual media, theater and sound which tend to the globalization of the Arts into a whole that will not die in the memory of the universe of Artistic Creativity.
Diamanda does not believe that her perfomances have a markedly European or American character, as she perceives herself as a product of both worlds. Her voice brings us the voice of the dead, the oppressed, the isolated, the outcast, she awakens us from our lethargy and forces us to think and react to what she denounces. In the words of Peter Frank, a music critic for Flash Art, Galas is a Meta-Musician holding the same category as Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono or Brian Eno, fully capable of undertaking what can be referred to as the "total overall Work of Art", a work which will never be a sort of pastiche but one which reflects her visionary stylization in a wonderful combination of all the aspects of Art itself. In a few words, Diamanda Galas is a versatile artist whose art arouses deep passions in the audience, whose spectacular performances can scandalize to certain hypocritical sectors of our society, yet she will never go unnoticed, whether we like it or not.
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