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Robert Ashley (American Composers) Paperback – November 30, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"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

"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"

"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

About the Author

Kyle Gann is an associate professor of music at Bard College and the author of several books, including Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice and John Cage's 4'33".


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Product Details

  • Series: American Composers
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition (November 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 025207887X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252078873
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,155,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. M. Sienko on April 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
I'm a self-confessed Robert Ashley fanatic. I've listened to "Perfect Lives" time after time, during which paragraphs of esoteric text and cadence have melted over my brain. I've read the story of John Barton Wolgamot a dozen times or more. I want "The Wolfman" played at my funeral. For those reasons and more, I was just a smidge disappointed with Kyle Gann's excellent book.

Though I love Ashley's earlier, more abstract work ("The Wolfman," "In Sara, Mencken, Christ & Beethoven..."), the decision to make the operas the central focus was a good one. The first chapter in particular did a great job explaining why Ashley's take on the Opera form is so radical, and yet so natural for the times we live in. He also provided me with several fresh insights into works I've heard (and read) over and over, so I would never call this book a failure. If anything, I think it's a bit skimpy in its analysis.

Last year, I gave Gann's "No Such Thing As Silence," a comprehensive, hyper-detailed analysis of the roots of John Cage's most infamous composition, 4'33", a 5-star rating. One of the reasons was Gann's tight focus -- examining just one piece of the Cage puzzle with a critical eye, expounding over 200+ pages of influences, strategies, live performances, reactions, and other research -- which made for a great piece of investigative journalism.

With "Robert Ashley," Gann takes roughly the same amount of pages and applies them to dozens of hours (and tens of thousands of words) of Robert Ashley's recorded works, giving us a Cliff's Notes version of each opera, offering many genuine insights and some solid journalism, but also tantalizing us with a burning need to go further.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I first encountered the work of Robert Ashley in the early 1980s when I purchased the Lovely Music vinyl LP titled 'Private Parts: (the record)'. It contained two tracks, one on each side, called, respectively, 'The Park' and, 'The Back Yard' (which happen to be the first and last acts of 'Perfect Lives'). I took to the music rather quickly listening to its various layers of musical sounds and Mr. Ashley's unique voice intoning the equally unique and unusual texts.

That record earned a special place in my mental favorites library (iTunes had yet to be invented) and spurred me on to the purchase of more of Ashley's music. But other than the liner notes (which I read closely and repeatedly) there was surprisingly little information on this mysterious and wonderful composer whose music and words so captured my sensibilities. The publication of this volume, 'Robert Ashley' (one of a great series of books on contemporary composers from the University of Illinois Press) fills this long standing void in the realms of music scholarship and biography.

I encountered the author's work at about the same time as I did Ashley's. He was writing fascinating and accessible reviews in the local (Chicago) free newspaper, 'The Reader'. He would later be selected as classical music reporter for New York's 'Village Voice'. Kyle Gann, composer, critic, musicologist and new music raconteur contributes a most essential work to help fill that void. His biographical sketch, analysis, bibliographic and discographic references serve also as a much needed exegesis of Robert Ashley's work.

As it happens, the author was involved in the premiere of 'Perfect Lives' when he was a student at Northwestern University in Illinois in 1979.
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