Diamanda Galas does not presume to speak for others. But people with AIDS have occasionally told her that she speaks for them. She is an instrument in tune with their rage and despair. And she has a voice trained to explore the emotional extremes, to approach the cultural alarm box and break glass....Her brother, the playwright Philip Dimitri-Galas, died of AIDS in 1986. "When I think of my brother, I never think of him sleeping. I think of him as screaming, snarling, raising his fist. The murdered do not rest in peace."
As she began composing "Masque of the Red Death" in 1984, she was unaware that her brother-her "earthly twin"- had been diagnosed. She simply decided it was time to start when, one day at a friend's house in San Francisco, she opened the Bible at random to Psalm 88: "I am counted with them that go down into the pit. I am as a man that hath no strength. Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more." Shortly after, she visited a dying friend, Tom Hopkins, who told her--through an amplifier connected to his single remaining vocal chord--how his Southern Baptist family had disowned him when they learned of his diagnosis.
To Hopkins, then, Galas dedicated "The Divine Punishment", first part in the "Masque" trilogy. It incorporates God's law on "the unclean" found in Leviticus and what Galas calls "cries to a God invented by despair," like the language of Psalm 88. The music, though, is far from liturgical. Changed harangues, wordless croaks, eerie screeches and whispers--it sounds like the voice of one possessed. Galas stands in the fire and brimstone and outburns it.