Robert Ashley (American Composers)
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Mean Something 42 GREY AND GREYERTHAN BITTERER A MOTHER’S CUNT The other text, for It’s There, has variants: for instance, the first line can be “Recently I’ve found it,” “More frequently now I’ve found it,” or “Just after waking I’ve found it.” In either piece the speaker is supposed to read the text repeatedly, as the cassette-player operators record him. Every time he stumbles or stutters, the cassette-player operators play back the mistake, or, in the case of It’s There, they play
music, between the right-brain enjoyment of sound for its own sake and the left-brain perception of meaningful content: Take a word. It accumulates an image. Go as quick as possible to the next word. A little moving picture show. Here comes politics. Right after the recent craze for freedom— He’s talking about a hundred and fifty years ago— came the problem of how fast to go. He’s talking about moving through the story. It started slow. The way it did in the old country. Notice that slow
spiritual release, but the characters are somewhat humorously self-aware and self-effacing, Buddhistic in their willingness to accept events as they come. Ashley’s profundity and his laid-back cynicism complement and need each other. The too-literal listener may sometimes be frustrated. The fan willing to enter into the personal mythology will be delighted by layers and layers of new meaning. In addition, let me confess that I have not myself consistently found Ashley’s works easy to approach.
cultural relevance, and who acknowledges a deep debt to Ashley as inspiration and predecessor. Ashley remains the one major composer who has envisioned a new future for opera, its reincarnation into a world of mass media rather than in an opera-house tradition sometimes seen as perhaps moribund even by its promoters. For Ashley’s fans, those other operas (except for Rouse’s and Machover’s) seem like an optimistic, possibly shortlived attempt to reinvigorate an older form. At some point, opera in
percussionists, and string quintet 1963 Boxing, for sound-producing dance 1963 in memoriam . . . ESTEBAN GOMEZ (quartet) for four players 1963 in memoriam . . . JOHN SMITH (concerto) for three players and assistants 131 r o b e r t a s h l e y | Chronological List of Works by Ashley 132 1963 1963 1963 1964 1964 1964 1964 1964 1964 1964 1964 1965 1965 1965 1965 1965 1965–78 1966 1967 1967 1967 1968 1968 1968 1968 1969 1969–71 in memoriam . . . CRAZY HORSE