Perfect Lives
March 4, 2014 10:18 PM   Subscribe

"And let it be set down, Bob was one of the most amazing composers of the 20th century, and the greatest genius of 20th-century opera. I don’t know how long it’s going to take the world to recognize that. And it hardly matters. He knew it. That the world was too stupid to keep up was not his problem." Robert Ashley dies at 83. posted by roll truck roll (14 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Automatic Writing from 1979 is one of the most beautiful and creepy electronic compositions I've ever heard.

posted by mediareport at 10:56 PM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another gem: Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon, which one review described as "essentially one-upping Throbbing Gristle’s 'Hamburger Lady' 10 years before they wrote it."

I knew very little about Ashley before he died, but exploring his work in his absence has been a lot of fun. Highly recommended.
posted by mediareport at 11:02 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


A very good friend introduced me to his work about a decade ago. I remember thinking that it made more sense than almost anything I had ever heard in my entire life. Extraordinarily beautiful sounds made out of the ordinary of everyday life. An immense intelligent talent and staggeringly generous with that gift.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:52 AM on March 5, 2014

This is very sad. In 1984 I had the privilege of working with Robert Ashley on Perfect Lives as the editor, vfx and post supervisor. We remained friends ever since and last I saw him in January he was quite ill, but still working on a new opera that will premier at the Whitney in NYC next month.

For an artist of his immense talent he had none of the ego problems that often go with lack of widespread recognition. On the contrary, his delight in the world around him was infectious. Rather like Nam June Paik in that way.

Perfect Lives is a seven act opera that is part of a seven opera set. The narrative is, shall we say, a bit hard to follow in that “when in doubt, make more obscure” way of the Avant garde. But his proto-rap style of narration is remarkable, and if you allow yourself to flow with the lyrics there are gems of wisdom that come through with each listening or viewing.

Here is a brief excerpt from four of the acts in Perfect Lives. (Mods: please forgive me if this violates the no self-promotion rule.) Have a good journey Bob – it will be a very long time ‘till another like you comes along.
posted by Dean358 at 5:24 AM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I learned about Ashley in a class i took with Alvin Lucier back in the 80's. Wonderful and often eerie, his music added a perspective to art and life I hadn't realized existed. Highly recommended
posted by vicusofrecirculation at 7:23 AM on March 5, 2014

posted by Bistle at 8:47 AM on March 5, 2014

When I heard this yesterday I was quite bummed out. Really like Robert Ashley. Seems like we've lost a lot of great composers in the past few years.

posted by Lutoslawski at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2014


My breathe is not indifferent to itself.
posted by a person of few words at 3:44 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The news really hit me this morning. I've been a fan of Robert Ashley's since a friend introduced me to Improvement. I finished reading the biography Robert Ashley not too long ago, and it's inspired me to revisit his pieces with a new appreciation for his work. A huge loss.

Improvement has always been my favorite and these two passages, delivered by Robert himself, feel fitting somehow:

I used to smoke cigarettes
I used to love dancing
I used to stay up late
Then gone

And that's the end of Linda's story
Playing bridge with friends
Sharing pictures from the past --
Too complicated for photography

posted by Otherwise at 6:03 PM on March 5, 2014

The Bar was the first Robert Ashley composition I ever heard, and I'm still fond of it.
posted by the Real Dan at 8:22 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I first encountered Ashley back when the world was young, and we were doing college radio. I think it was one of my roommates who turned me on to Private Lives (Perfect Parts) - - and I dropped by here to find that my old college roommate was already here in the thread.

It's a very MetaFilter moment. (Hi, Dean358!)

"Television is neither true nor false: it's an industry."
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:37 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:44 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Greetings AsYouKnow Bob! It's a small (MetaFilter) world. The "Television is neither..." quote is a good one. "Oh, boy." There's a wonderful book of the Perfect Lives libretto which is handy if you like quoting Ashley-isms.

Thanks for the UbuWeb link media report. Very cool that it's all there on line but I wish the quality of that posting was better. Speaking of which:

In 1991 Bob went back and re-mixed the sound track for the CD release. It's a big improvement and much more satisfying to listen to than the TV mix. When we created the DVD masters we married the remixed CD sound to the video and so I highly recommend watching Perfect Lives from the DVDs if you can.

One more quote: "Long live the Avant, the Avant garde!"
posted by Dean358 at 6:05 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Unknown Ownership   |   Children of Music Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments