The Green Integer Blog supplements our Green Integer website with essays on various cultural topics by editor/publisher Douglas Messerli, along with a listing of Green Integer titles and information on our new books. Please note that all essays and commentary are copyrighted by the author, Douglas Messerli, and may not be republished without permission.
"An American Original" (on the death of Robert Ashley)
an american original
2014 My Year volume, subtitled
“conversations with nature,” was originally perceived as a forum to focus on
the issues of global warming and to more closely observe the natural world
around me (including the nature of the human mind and heart). But it is
gradually turning into a kind necrology—a momento
mori, if nothing else, perhaps appropriate given what mankind is doing to
the earth. Today I heard of the death of yet another acquaintance, the noted
American composer Robert Ashley who passed away on March 3rd. The
cause of death, at age 83, was cirrhosis of the liver
I did not know the man or his music well.
I had listened to his “Automatic Writing” of 1979, in which he used a backdrop
of electronic sounds upon which he projected his involuntary speech—somincomprehensible—caused by a mild form of Tourette’s Syndrome, from he
suffered. And I listened to parts of his TV opera Perfect Lives (1977-80), where again he used a background of
electronic drones, this time along with Indian tabia drums over which a voice
recited a kind of Raymond Chandleresque story-like chatter.
I wish I’d been able to witness some of
his several notable operas, which included In
Memorium…Kit Carson (1963), The
Morning Thing (1967), Atalanta (Acts of God) (1982-1991), the Now Eleanor’s Idea tetralogy of
1985-1994, Balseros (1997), Your Money My Life Goodbye (1998), Dust (1998), Celestial excursions (2003), and Concrete (2006). He had also just completed a piece titled Mixed Blessing, Indiana before his
death. I do plan to visit several sites this week to hear more of his fascinating
With Gordon Mumma, Ashley also co-founded
the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music in 1958.
I met the man once, and we had a short
conversation, when he won the John Cage Award for Music from the Foundation for
Contemporary Performance Arts in 2002, the same year I won the Foundation’s
award for poetry.