A bold innovator who redefined contemporary opera
This book explores the life and works of Robert Ashley, one of the leading American composers of the post-Cage generation. Ashley's innovations began in the 1960s when he, along with Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, and David Behrman, formed the Sonic Arts Union, a group that turned conceptualism toward electronics. He was also instrumental in the influential ONCE Group, a theatrical ensemble that toured extensively in the 1960s. During his tenure as its director, the ONCE Festival in Ann Arbor presented most of the decade's pioneers of the performing arts. Particularly known for his development of television operas beginning with Perfect Lives, Ashley spun a long series of similar text/music works, sometimes termed "performance novels." These massive pieces have been compared with Wagner's Ring Cycle for the vastness of their vision, though the materials are completely different, often incorporating noise backgrounds, vernacular music, and highly structured, even serialized, musical configurations.
Drawing on extensive research into Ashley's early years in Ann Arbor and interviews with Ashley and his collaborators, Kyle Gann chronicles the life and work of this musical innovator and provides an overview of the avant-garde milieu of the 1960s and 1970s to which he was so central. Gann examines all nine of Ashley's major operas to date in detail, along with many minor works, revealing the fanatical structures that underlie Ashley's music as well as private references hidden in his opera librettos.
"There is unlikely to be a better book that, confined by the limitations of mere words, can provide a comprehensive review of the many things Ashley has achieved. A real page-turner"--Examiner.com
"Gann's new book, without removing any of the essential mystery of the work, ably lays bare Ashley's immense achievement: the discovery of a new paradigm for opera."--MAKE magazine
"Gann makes a persuasive case that Ashley's genius resides in his acute perception of speech as music, and in his rare ability to draw American language into constellations that not only embody musical form but touch listeners in intimate and profound ways."--The Wire
"Robert Ashley is one of the great living American composers, and Kyle Gann is one of the most active and vital commentators on the wider scene of which Ashley is a part. Informative and entertaining, occasionally even shocking, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in Ashley, his life and times, and his music."--Bob Gilmore, musicologist, editor of Ben Johnston's "Maximum Clarity" and Other Writings on Music
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