robert ashley

︎Artist, Art, Video, Music   
︎ Ventral Is Golden

"He is at the centre of a ball of hot stuff, that we haven’t put our minds to yet, and, sitting on the bed in the motel room is no different. "

Robert Ashley was educated at the University of Michigan and the Manhattan School of Music. At the University of Michigan, he worked at the Speech Research Laboratories (psycho-acoustics and cultural speech patterns), and was employed as a Research Assistant in Acoustics at the Architectural Research Laboratory. He was also considered a pioneer in bringing opera and contemporary music into multi-media formats especially via his most renouned piece, ‘Perfect Lives (Private Parts)’.

'Perfect Lives', which premiered on UK television, Channel 4, in 1984, is a TV Opera originally commissioned by Kitchen, New York. The opera itself is composed of seven, thrity minute vignettes, that follow characters from the Corn Belt and their interaction with two out-of-town musicians.
The opera is composed of a bank robbery, cocktail lounge conversations, geriatric love, adolescent elopement and other everyday events in the American Midwest that are both banal and surreal. Each narrative is interlaced with streams of consciouness that touch upon eastern philosophical concepts to giving running commentaries on modern capitalist culture. Typical excerpts from the opera are largely conversational, ranging from colloquial 'bar talk' to the more far reaching philosophical musings on Giordano Bruno, the Renaissance, phenomenology, and learning how to shave.

Ashley’s interests were far reaching, chaotic and disjointed. A sufferer of Tourette’s syndrome, this imbued his works with a familiar eeriness of an inner, sometimes sporadic, dialogue that takes place between ourselves and our environments.

Another release, recorded over a period of five years, entitled ‘Automatic Writing’ is the result of Robert Ashley's fascination with involuntary speech. He has recorded and analyzed the repeated lines of his own mantra and extracted four musical characters. The result is quiet, mysterious, melancholy and an early form of ambient music.” - Lovely Music (imprint).

In the theoretical undertakings of ‘Perfect Lives’, Ashley stated, "I put my pieces in television format because I believe that's really the only possibility for music. The American tradition”, Ashley added, “It is not tied to the great opera houses of Europe: La Scala's architecture doesn't mean anything to us. We don't go there. We stay at home and watch television."

The TV Opera is considered as one of the definitive text-sound compositions of the late 20th century, successfully augmenting operatic performances with state of the art video editing techniques of the 1980's. It has also been called a 'comic opera about reincarnation'.

Below are a selection of images, and the fourth recorded vignette, where at approximately seven minutes in, Ashley’s character ‘Buddy’, effortlessly leads us and the people at the bar through a process of enlightenment and self illumination, by describing the tree of life as a process of spiritual growth.

“Perfect Lives transforms familiar material into an elaborate metaphor for the rebirth of the human soul. It has been called a comic opera about reincarnation.”

Perfect Lives - The Bar :