Remembering composer Robert Ashley

Avant garde composer Robert Ashley passed away Monday, March 3.

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.

Ashley 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.

In his American Composers series book Robert Ashley, Kyle Gann writes:

Ashley is not only an opera composer but the greatest opera composer of the last half-century and the most innovative opera composer since at least Harry Partch, if not Moteverdi. . . . Ashley’s operas overload the senses. They are mesmerizing.  They are as familiar as a conversation at the local diner yet sometimes (equally) incomprehensible.

Gann writes reacts to the news of Ashley’s passing on his ArtsJournal blog.


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