Ashley, Robert (Reynolds)

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Ashley, Robert (Reynolds)

Ashley, Robert (Reynolds), pioneering American composer, performer, director, and writer; b. Ann Arbor, Mich., March 28, 1930. He studied theory at the Univ. of Mich. (B.Mus., 1952) and piano and composition with Riegger at the Manhattan School of Music in N.Y. (M.Mus., 1954); then returned to the Univ. of Mich., for further composition study with Finney, Bassett, and Gerhard (1957–60), where he also took courses in psychoacoustics and cultural speech patterns at its Speech Research Laboratories and was employed as a research assistant (1960–61) in acoustics at its Architectural Research Laboratory. He was active with Milton Cohen’s Space Theater (1957–64), the ONCE Festival and ONCE Group (1958–69), and the Sonic Arts Union (1966–76), touring widely with them in the U.S. and Europe; also served as director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills Coll. in Oakland, Calif. (1970–81). As the first opera composer of the post-proscenium age, Ashley is one of the most influential and highly acclaimed artists in the 20th-century avant-garde music and experimental performance tradition. He has produced several hundred music and music-theater compositions for live performance as well as audio and video recordings and broadcast television series, which have been performed throughout the world. In his compositions from the mid-1970s, often experimental, technologically driven, and collaborative, he has developed a complex, episodic treatment of his materials, marked by striking imagery, textual multiplicity, and a graceful and highly individualized integration of speech and song. Ashley has also provided music for the dance companies of Douglas Dunn (Idea from the Church, 1978), Steve Paxton (The Park and The Backyard, 1978), Trisha Brown (Son of Gone Fishiri, 1983), and Mercé Cunningham (Problems in the Flying Saucer, 1988). He was married first to the artist Mary Ashley, with whom he collaborated; then to Mimi Johnson, director of Performing Artservices in N.Y. Ashley is one of four featured composers (with Cage, Glass, and Anderson) in Peter Greenaway’s video series, Four American Composers. His Perfect Lives was published, in book form, in 1991.


DRAMATIC: Opera: The Wolfman for Amplified Voice and The Wolfman Tape (1964); That Morning Thing for 5 Principal Voices, 8 Dancers, Women’s Chorus, and Tape, in 4 parts: Four Ways, Frogs, Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon, and She Was A Visitor (1967; Ann Arbor, Feb. 8, 1968); Music with Roots in the Aether, television opera for Voices and Electronics (Paris, 1976); Title Withdrawn, television opera for Voices and Electronics (Paris, 1976; from Music with Roots in the Aether); What She Thinks, television opera for Voices and Electronics (1976; from Music with Roots in the Aether); Perfect Lives (Private Parts), television opera for Voices, Piano, and Electronic Orch. (1978–80), in 7 parts: The Backyard, The Bank, The Bar, The Church, The Living Room, The Park, and The Supermarket); Music Word Fire And I Would Do It Again Coo Coo: The Lessons, television opera for Voices, Piano, and Electronic Orch. (1981); Atalanta (Acts of God), television opera for Voice, Chorus, and Instruments (Paris, 1982; concert version as Atalanta (Acts of God), aka Songs from Atalanta for Voice, Chorus, and Instruments, 1982); Tap Dancing in the Sand for Voice (1982); Atalanta Strategy, television opera (N.Y., 1984); Now Eleanor’s Idea, tetralogy: I: Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) (1984–85), II: Foreign Experiences (1994), III: eL/Aficionado (1987), and Now Eleanor’s Idea (1993); Yellow Man with Heart with Wings for Voice and Tape (1990); Love Is a Good Example for Voice (1994); When Famous Last Words Fail You for Voice (1994); Yes, But Is It Edible? for Voice (1994); Dust (Yokohama, Nov. 15, 1998). electronic music theater: # + Heat (1961; Public Opinion Descends Upon the Demonstrators (1961; Ann Arbor, Feb. 18, 1962); Boxing (1963; Detroit, April 9, 1964); Combination Wedding and Funeral (1964; N.Y., May 9, 1965); Interludes for the Space Theater (1964; Cleveland, May 4, 1965); Kitty Hawk (An Antigravity Piece) (1964; St. Louis, March 21, 1965); The Lecture Series (1964; N.Y., May 9, 1965; in collaboration with M. Ashley); The Wolfman Motorcity Revue (1964; Newport Beach, Calif., Jan. 11, 1969); Morton Feldman Says (1965); Orange Dessert (1965; Ann Arbor, April 9, 1966); Night Train (1966; Waltham, Mass., Jan. 7, 1967; in collaboration with M. Ashley); Unmarked Interchange (Ann Arbor, Sept. 17, 1965); The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer and Unknown Accomplices for Crimes Against Humanity (Shegboyan, Wise, April 30, 1968); Fancy Free or It’s There (1970; Ann Arbor, April 1971); Illusion Models (1970); It’s There (Brussels, April 1970); Night Sport (L’Aquila, Italy, April 1973); Over the Telephone (N.Y., March 1975). INSTRUMENTAL: Piano Sonata (Christopher Columbus Crosses to the New World in the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria Using Only Dead Reckoning and a Crude Astrolabe) (1959; rev. 1979); Maneuvres for Small Hands for Piano (1961); Fives for 2 Pianos, 2 Percussion, and String Quartet (1962); Details for 2 Pianos (1962); In Memoriam...Crazy Horse for 20 or More Wind, String, or Sustaining Instruments (1963); In Memoriam...Esteban Gomez for 4 Instrumentalists (1963); In Memoriam...John Smith for 3 Instrumentalists (1963); In Memoriam-...Kit Carson for 8-part Ensemble (1963); Trios (White on White) for Any Sustaining Instruments, Gongs, and Voice (1963); The Entrance for Electric Organ (1965); Waiting Room for Wind or String Quartet (1965; rev. 1978); Revised, Finally, for Gordon Mamma for Pairs of Bell-like Instruments (1973); Odalisque for Voice, Chorus, and 24 Instruments (1973); Basic 10 for Snare Drum (1988); Superior Seven for Flute, Chorus, and Instruments (1988); Outcome Inevitable for Chamber Orch. of 8 or More (1991); Van Cao’s Meditation for Piano (1991); Tract for Voice and String Trio or 2 Keyboards (1992); When Famous Last Words Fail You for Voice and Orch. (N.Y., Dec. 7, 1997). With Electronics: Something for Clarinet, Pianos and Tape (1961); Complete with Heat for Instruments and Tape (1962); In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women for Voice and Electronics (1972); String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies (1972); How Can I Tell The Difference? for Violin or Viola, Electronics, and Tape (1974); Automatic Writing for Voices, Keyboards, and Electronics (1979); String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies for String Quartet and Electronics (1972); In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women for Violin and Electronics (1972); Automatic Writing for Violin and Electronics (1979). Tape: The Fourth of July (1960); Big Danger in Five Parts (1962); Detroit Divided (1962); Heat (1962); The Wolfman Tape (1964); Untitled Mixes for Jazz Trio and Tape (1965); Interiors without Flash (1979); Factory Preset (1993). Film (in collaboration with G. Manupelli unless otherwise given): The Image in Time (1957); Bottleman (1960); The House (1961); Jenny and the Poet (1964); My May (1965); Overdrive (1967); Dr. Chicago (in 4 parts: Dr. Chicago, Dr. Chicago Goes to Sweden, Ride, Dr. Chicago, Ride, and Cry Dr. Chicago; 1968-70); Portraits, Self-Portraits and Still Lifes (1969); Battery Davis (1970; in collaboration with P. Makanna). Video: The Great Northern Automobile Presence (1975); What She Thinks (1976). Television: Music Word Fire (N.Y., Channel 13/WNET, 1981). Radio: Your Money My Life Goodbye (1999).


T. DeLio, Circumscribing the Open Universe: Essays on Cage, Feldman, Wolff, A. and Lucier (Washington, D.C., 1984).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Ashley, Robert (Reynolds)

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