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Electronic and Experimental Music History, Instruments, Technique, Performers, Recordings _1985 Thomas B. Holmes Charles Scribner's Sons 447w

= 184,185,186 =

In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women (1973), Cramps Records Nova Musicha N.3 CRSLP 6103

Private Parts (1977), Lovely Music LML 1001

Automatic Writing (1979), Lovely Music VR 4904

The Bar (1980), Lovely Music VR 4904

Music Word Fire and I Would Do It Again (1981), Lovely Music VR 4908

Robert Ashley has a prolific recording career. In addition to the albums listed here dedicated entirely to his work, many of his pieces are found on collections. Ashley's influence is vast, especially with the younger breed of composers and video artists reared with television.

Ashley turned to video work around 1970 at a time when most of his peers were either still tinkering with studio synthesizers or turning back to instrumental music after having experienced frustration with electronics. He is an archetype of the avant-garde artist, etching out an existence in New York and performing vigorously around the world to keep his work in top form. He is an unusual and gifted talent, managing to combine the most abstract and experimental tendencies of the avant-garde with strains of popular culture. He has accomplished this without losing respect for popular music and medial arts. He is the living embodiment of Charles Ives in the modern day.

Ashley is adept at dipping into American culture and extracting genuine moments of art and energy for use in his own work. He does not deal in imitations. He calls himself a songwriter. The Source recording of The Wolfman features a performance by Gordon Mumma and Ashley. This is the famous theater piece in which Ashley uses the cavity of his mouth to modify feedback in the performance space while he delivers a nightclub act. The ESP disc features an earlier version of the piece by the Bob James Trio, a jazz outfit.

In Sara, Mencken, Christ is a text-sound work for voice and electronics. The version featured on the Cramps disc from Italy is the only remaining mix put together by Ashley and Paul DeMarinis. The original tapes were stolen from Ashley's car, so the only remaining material was a rough mix which Cramps decided to issue (a story not related in the liner notes to the album). The text is by John Barton Wolgamot. It features the rapid delivery of a text in a rather monotone fashion accompanied by indeterminate moments of electronic sound. A lovely piece of stream of consciousness.

"Private parts" was the first segment of Ashley's video opera Perfect Lives Private Parts to be issued on disc. It features the sound of tablas, the tinkling of a piano, and the droning of an electronic keyboard. Then the voice, somber and monotone, carries on a desperate monologue. A character develops and other personalities are introduced, rather like James Joyce in New York City. This record is much more forbidding than the other sections of the opera released later.

The Bar is a zoom-out from the perception of the character and contains a kind of social stream of consciousness that is manifested by the jocular behavior of the various characters. Music Word Fire and I Would Do It Again is Ashley's soundtrack for The Lessons, a set of brief vignettes produced as backup material for the main opera itself. It is the most rhythmic and kinetic of the opera albums. The good humor that is expressed by the boogie-woogie chorus and the jumping percussion makes it most enjoyable. I have always wondered what kind of party I would have to throw in order to play this record.

Automatic Writing is altogether different from the opera works. It is an effective bromide for those who have had a steady dose of pulse and minimalist music. It is a quiet album featuring the amplified sounds of the vocal cavity (tongue, lips, breath, etc.) set against a distant Polymoog track by Ashley. The synthesizer spatters a pattern of rhythm, melodies, and chords. The spoken words lose all meaning because of the way they are amplified. Ashley complicates the sounds by providing sparse echo effects and playing voice sounds in reverse and simultaneously. In so doing, he strips the words of any significance and permits them to exist as pure sound events.

Typed by Cheryl Vega 6-17-95


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