The Squid's Ear Magazine

Ashley, Robert: Private Parts [VINYL] (Lovely Music)

A reissue of Robert Ashley's 1978 release "Private Parts", presenting an unvarnished exposition of the inner workings of a man's mind through narrative, read by Ashley over the piano & synth of "Blue" Gene Tyranny and tabla player Kris, as Ashley describes two lives in an abstract narrative of keen observation and inside jokes; baffling and spellbinding.

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product information:

UPC: 745295100119

Label: Lovely Music
Catalog ID: LML 1001LP
Squidco Product Code: 26777

Format: LP
Condition: New
Released: 2019
Country: USA
Packaging: LP
Recorded at The Recording Studio, Center for Contemporary Music, at Mills College, in Oakland, California, in July, 1977, by Robert Ashley and Robert Sheff.


Robert Ashley-voice, composer

'Blue' Gene Tyranny-piano, synthesizer, clavinet

Kristoffer Berre Alberts-tabla

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Lovely Music presents a reissue of Robert Ashley's Private Parts, originally issued in 1978. This newly mastered LP release is a must-have for aficionados as well as a perfect introductory work to Ashley's oeuvre. Among Lovely Music's first six releases, it came to be known as "the yellow record". No one had ever heard anything like it; Ashley presented an unvarnished exposition of the inner workings of a man's mind. And on the other side, those of a woman. These two episodes were the foundation for Ashley's seven-part opera, Perfect Lives (LCD 4917CD, 2017), which was performed by his ensemble throughout the 1980s and was completed for television broadcast by Britain's Channel Four. New arrangements of Perfect Lives, notably Varispeed's site-specific version, continue to intrigue and enchant."-Lovely Music

"Words like "confounding" and "singular" and "visionary" get thrown around a lot and can sound like hype, but they actually apply to Robert Ashley. A true pioneer of the American compositional avant-garde, Ashley's work stretches logic and fogs genre. It's funny, freakish and wild in ways that polite "new music," and especially the more domesticated forms of American minimalism, are not. Loose and flexible along some parameters, tightly controlled along others, the Private Parts LP, which first came out in 1978 and is being reissued by Lovely Music on February 1, is a paradoxical combination of elements.

The music is mostly realized by other people, though according to Ashley's instructions: delicate synth chords and sprays of piano arranged by "Blue" Gene Tyranny and tablas by the mononymous Kris hover and flutter as a quiet speaking voice pointedly declaims a rambling, poetic libretto that turns tight corners between philosophical abstraction, dirty jokes, and some kind of implied but partially obscured narrative.

Ashley's voice is a hybrid wonder of Michigan vowels and demi-Southern-drawl timing whose odd cadences and spurts can sound off the cuff but on closer examination reveal the subtle through-composed trellis on which his seemingly free-associative utterances are strung. As "The Park" libretto puts it: "He has a special way of speaking, but it seems only to make him more like other men." There is a slight resemblance to the liquid Cheshire cat purr of John Cage's speaking voice, but Ashley has a more wayward and flexible instrument (check out "The Wolfman" for howling, screaming feedbacked evidence of Ashley in sicko mode).

Here, Ashley is mixed at a delicate threshold of audibility. You can always hear what he's saying, but his words are delivered with a vulnerability that makes you want to slow your own breathing down and lean a little closer to the speaker. The work thus has certain calming physiological side-effects that feel similar to guided meditations or ASMR videos, but instead of dolphin vision-quests or "caring friend" roleplay, the libretto of Private Parts eludes easy description.

So what is he talking about? In its final form as the full seven act panorama, Perfect Lives describes, in a highly oblique and roundabout manner, a bank robbery in a small Midwestern town. Bookending that narrative, the two sides of the Private Parts LP presents the alpha and the omega of Ashley's larger work. "The Park" attends to a male figure sitting in a hotel room anxiously planning something to come, and "The Backyard" focuses upon a woman standing in the doorway of her mother's house, looking retrospectively back upon an unexplained act that has entered local folklore and is distorting into the past. But they almost never reflect in a direct way upon the "story" of the opera, instead meandering across ephemera involving a bewildering array of content: masturbation, solitary drinking, out of nowhere ruminations on Renaissance heretic Giordano Bruno, breakfast, desert mirages, lists of numbers, passing clouds of trivial observation, jarring descriptions of camera movements for the video realization of the opera itself. These dreamy non-sequiturs offer an intermittent ticker tape of consciousness in repose.

The bracketing of the core narrative means that "The Park" and "The Backyard" complement each other and, in their relative distance from the turbulent center of the opera, they travel light outside the context of the larger work that grew around them. They have added resonance in the context of the opera, but they can be savored on their own as examples of Ashley's weird magic trick: turning a voice talking about everyday life in a Midwestern town into a rich, strange music.

Everyone who is exposed to Private Parts for any extended amount of time starts quoting its cryptic, poetic phrases ("two gs in eggs" will get instant recognition from some, and blank looks from everyone else). For me, the line "Short ideas repeated massage the brain" from "Perfect Lives" became a mantra that at once exemplifies the compositional promise of minimalism and sends it up: what if all those conveyor-belt hammerings of ostinatos were up to nothing deeper than massage? There's always a curious mixture of celebration and satire in the way that Ashley's work laps like an ocean at the passing phrases which bob across its currents. One can see the possible influence of his poetics upon a later generation of askew populists from David Byrne and Laurie Anderson to Jenny Holzer and David Lynch. Everyday life in the USA is deeply odd, full of potential that swims beneath its flat surfaces, and its clichéd fragments take on a talismanic power when cropped and framed in just the right way. Private Parts is a magpie nest of language: allusive, glittering, broken.

But in concentrating on the clipped, dry fragments of everyday dialogue in a small town, Ashley's work is also democratic to its bones. We live in an era in which the question of who speaks for the "real" America has become horribly vexed by Fox News and the Trump administration's appropriation, projection, and manipulation of a mythologized white working class at the expense of seemingly everyone else. It's not an easy situation. Against that backdrop, it is worth re-examining what Ashley achieved. The poetics of everyday speech in small town America is encountered anew by the estranging effects of Ashley's sly interventions as ready to hand phrases become magnified and loaded with increasing subtlety. Ashley can load a simple phrase-"working against time," "fight like a man," or even a single word like "etcetera"-with a loaded, arch pileup of implication.

In an interview about "The Future of Music," Robert Ashley predicted that "music will get much faster and much slower." This forecast has already come true: sequencer technology and digital audio manipulation allow for both faster-than-human playing and the absorption of increasingly dense amounts of information (see the "black MIDI" craze) and has enabled the languorous extension of increasingly longform works (from the Paul Stretch plug-in remixes of Justin Bieber's "Baby" to Jem Finer's 1000 year long algorithmic composition "Longplayer").

This playful stance towards the meaning of "fast" and "slow" is, I think, also true of the twin poles of Private Parts as an LP. Heard at the level of the arrangement, there is a deeply self-similar flatline of formal sameness to each of these pieces, which is why, if you stand at a certain distance, one can receive them as more or less workable examples of "ambient" music. Heard at the level of language and the individual breathing and speaking of Ashley as he colors his prickly text with contrary gusts of thinking and feeling, the music is continuously and rapidly changing its mind.

Asking "how can we pass from one state to another?," "The Park" tries to square the circle of stillness and change through expansive abstraction and moody stasis. But Ashley's album comes to rest in something more grounded and every day. The final line of "The Backyard" is the quiet declaration that "I'm not the same person that I used to be." By the end of listening to this LP, you may not be either."-Drew Daniel, Vice

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Artist Biographies

"Robert Ashley (1930-2014)

Robert Ashley, a distinguished figure in American contemporary music, holds an international reputation for his work in new forms of opera and multi-disciplinary projects. His recorded works are acknowledged classics of language in a musical setting. He pioneered opera-for-television.

The operatic works of Robert Ashley are distinctly original in style, and distinctly American in their subject matter and in their use of American language. Fanfare Magazine calls Ashley's Perfect Lives "nothing less than the first American opera...", and The Village Voice comments, "When the 21st Century glances back to see where the future of opera came from, Ashley, like Monteverdi before him, is going to look like a radical new beginning." A prolific composer and writer, Ashley's operas are "so vast in their vision that they are comparable only to Wagner's Ring cycle or Stockhausen's seven-evening Licht cycle. In form and content, in musical, vocal, literary and media technique, they are, however, comparable to nothing else." (The Los Angeles Times).

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1930 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.

During the 1960s, Ashley organized the ONCE Festival, the annual festival of contemporary performing arts in Ann Arbor which, from 1961 to 1969, presented most of the decade's pioneers of the performing arts. He directed the highly influential ONCE Group, a music-theater ensemble that toured the United States from 1964 to 1969. During these years Ashley developed and produced the first of his mixed-media operas, notably That Morning Thing and In Memoriam...Kit Carson, and he composed the sound tracks for films by George Manupelli.

In 1969, Ashley was appointed Director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College (Oakland, California), where he organized the first public-access music and media facility. From 1966 to 1976 he toured throughout the United States and Europe with the Sonic Arts Union, the composers' collective that included David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma. With the support of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, Ashley produced and directed, Music with Roots in the Aether: video portraits of composers and their music, a 14­hour television opera/documentary about the work and ideas of seven American composers, which premiered at the Festival d'Automne à Paris in 1976 and has since been shown worldwide in over 100 television broadcasts and closed-circuit installations.

The Kitchen (New York) commissioned Perfect Lives in 1980, an opera for television in seven half-hour episodes. The opera was co- produced with Great Britain's arts network, Channel Four, in August 1983. First broadcast in Great Britain in April 1984, Perfect Lives has since been seen on television in Austria, Germany, Spain and the United States and has been shown at film and video festivals around the world. It is widely considered to be the pre-cursor of "music-television."

Staged versions of the operas Perfect Lives, Atalanta (Acts of God), and the tetralogy, Now Eleanor's Idea, have toured throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. Ashley and his company have been presented at the Avignon Festival, the Festival d'Automne à Paris, Musica Strasbourg, the Almeida Festival (London), the Festival de Otono (Madrid), New Music America (New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia), the Inventionen Festival and the Hebbel Theater (Berlin), by the Gaudeamus Foundation (The Netherlands), the USIS Interlink Festival (Japan), the Next Wave Festival (New York) and Site Santa Fe.

The Florida Grand Opera, Miami-Dade Community College and the South Florida Composers Alliance commissioned an opera, based on the experiences of the Cuban "rafters"). Balseros, was premiered at the Colony Theater, Miami Beach, on May 16, 1997.

Other commissioned works include operas Now Eleanor's Idea (1993) and Foreign Experiences (1994) for his own opera ensemble, with funds from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and Meet the Composer's Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Commissioning Program; Van Cao's Meditation (1992), for pianist Lois Svard; Outcome Inevitable (1991), for chamber ensemble, by Philadelphia's renowned Relâche Ensemble; Superior Seven (1988), for flute with orchestra and chorus, by Barbara Held and the Bowery Ensemble; eL/Aficionado (1987), opera, by Mutable Music for Thomas Buckner; Atalanta (Acts of God) (1985), by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, for its anniversary celebration; Odalisque (1984), for orchestra, solo voice and chorus, by The Arch Ensemble, Musical Elements, Alea III, and The Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago; Music Word Fire (1981), for television, by Channel 13/WNET.

Ashley's When Famous Last Words Fail You, for voice and orchestra was commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra on December 7, 1997. Your Money My Life Good-bye, a radio production for Bayerischer Rundfunk, in English and German, has been completed and will air in early 1999. Dust, an opera commissioned by the Kanagawa Arts Foundation, Yokohama, Japan, premiered on November 15, 1998.

Ashley has also provided music for the dance companies of Trisha Brown (Son of Gone Fishin', 1983), Merce Cunningham (Problems in the Flying Saucer, 1988), Douglas Dunn (Ideas from The Church, 1978) and Steve Paxton (The Park and The Backyard, 1978.)

Robert Ashley is the subject of a film by Peter Greenaway, one of a series entitled Four American Composers, Transatlantic Films (London) and Mystic Fire Video (New York). Perfect Lives was published by Burning Books (San Francisco) with Archer Fields (New York), October 1991. Ashley's recorded music and videotapes are available on Lovely Music, Ltd., Nonesuch/Elektra, New World Records, Mainstream, CBS Odyssey, O.O. Discs, Koch International and Einstein Records."

-Lovely Music (

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"Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1945, "BLUE" GENE TYRANNY has lived in each of the four corners of mainland USA. During the late 50's he studied with pianists Meta Hertwig and Rodney Hoare, composers Otto Wick and Frank Hughes, and organized new music events in Texas with composer Philip Krumm, including several festivals at the McNay Art Institute, premiering works by Cage, Corner, Maxfield, Ono and others. After earning a BMI Student Composers Award in 1961, he moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan. He performed there in his work and in many other events at the legendary ONCE concerts, while also working as a waiter, sales clerk and statistics coder. During the 60's and 70's, he toured with jazz and rock groups (Carla Bley Band, Iggy Pop, The Prime Movers Blues Band, etc.). From 1971 to 1982, as a Lecturer and Instructor in Music, he taught "Recording Studio Techniques", "Harmony and Counterpoint" (three levels), "Jazz Improvisation and Literature" and served on graduate committees in the Music Department of Mills College in Oakland, California. He also worked as a Technician at The Center for Contemporary Music, a non-profit, community-access facility located at Mills College. He moved to New York in 1983, where he is a self-employed composer/performer: solo and group concerts, audio consultancy, film/video/CD-ROM soundtracks, commissioned work. He has performed extensively in hundreds of concerts throughout the US, Canada and Europe, and also in Mexico and Brazil.

Tyranny has produced, recorded and performed on many albums of other composers' music (Laurie Anderson's "Strange Angels", David Behrman's On the Other Ocean, John Cage's "Cheap Imitation" and "Empty Words", etc.) and he composed the harmonies and piano improvisations for Robert Ashley's opera-for-television "Perfect Lives" (Channel Four, London). He has created over 40 soundtracks for film and video, collaborating on projects with video artists Kenn Beckman and Kit Fitzgerald.

His theater and dance collaborations include works with the Talking Band, Pat Oleszko (Nora's Art, 10 film scores), dancers Timothy Buckley (Proximology, Breakneck Hotel, the PBS-TV short, Endance, etc.), Rocky Bornstein (Labor of Love), the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (The History of Collage), the Creach/Koester Company's I Witness (1995), live electronic music for Stefa Zawerucha's The Black Box (1993) and Curve Ahead (1994), and many of the Otrabanda Company's plays including Brain Café, Re Room and Simpatico. He received a Composer Award at the Bessies (NY Dance and Performance Awards) in 1988, and a Composer Fellowship from the NY Foundation for the Arts in 1989. He was an Artist-in-Residence at Bucknell University in 1992.

His articles on contemporary music include "Music Beyond The Boundaries" with Mark Slobin (Generation, Univ. of Michigan, 1965) and the "20th Century Avant-Garde" section of the All-Music Guide (Miller Freeman Pub., 1993, 1995). His work is the subject of chapters in Cole Gagne's Sonic Transports (DeFalco Books), Soundpieces 2: Interviews With American Composers (Scarecrow Press) and William Duckworth's Talking Music (Schirmer Press). His music in analyzed in Kevin Holm-Hudson's Music, Text and Image in Robert Ashley's Video Opera "Perfect Lives" (unpublished doctoral thesis, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). He also recently completed translations for Kevin Lally's Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder (Henry Holt & Co.), was interviewed for Paul Trynka's Lust for Life: The Iggy Pop Story (Box Tree, London) and appears as a character in Kathy Acker's I Dreamt I Was A Nymphomaniac: Imagining (in Portrait of an Eye, Pantheon Books).

His recent recordings include Country Boy Country Dog / How To Discover Music In The Sounds Of Your Daily Life, a 25-year project for electronics, orchestra and environmental sounds (Lovely Music), Nocturne With and Without Memory recorded by pianist Lois Svard (Lovely Music), The De-Certified Highway of Dreams recorded by the piano duo Double Edge ("U.S. Choice", CRI records), Somewhere in Arizona 1970 for baritone and electronics ("Imaginary Landscapes", Elektra/Nonesuch) and several works on Free Delivery, a selection of his keyboard concerts (Lovely Music). Other recent works include The Driver's Son (1989 work-in-progress), an audio-storyboard for voices and orchestra commissioned by "The Electrical Matter" for the Benjamin Franklin bicentennial celebration, His Tone of Voice at 37 (Empathy) commissioned by baritone Thomas Buckner, The Forecaster for double orchestra, decoding chorus and time-transposing pianist, and The Drifter commissioned by pianist Joseph Kubera.

Other selected compositions include: Three Begins for voice and tape (1958), How Things That Can't Exist May Exist (pieces for alternative spaces, 1958 to the present), Ballad (graph score, 1960), Meditation (graph score, 1961), Diotima for flute, household percussion and electronics (1963), Just Walk On In (theater piece, 1965), Closed Transmission for IBM 7090 computer (1966), "The Bust" from Viet Rock (1967), Archaeoacoustics (1973), A Letter From Home (1976) for voices and electronics, PALS / Action at a Distance (1977), Harvey Milk/Portrait (1978), The White Night Riot (1979), The CBCD Variations for Soloist and Orchestra (for The Arch Ensemble 1980), The Intermediary for piano and computer (1982)."

-Lovely Music (

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"Pianist-composer Kris Davis has blossomed as one of the singular talents on the New York jazz scene, a deeply thoughtful, resolutely individual artist who offers "uncommon creative adventure," according to JazzTimes. The Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-residing Davis was dubbed one of the music's top up-and-comers in a 2012 New York Times article titled "New Pilots at the Keyboard," with the newspaper saying: "Over the past couple years in New York, one method for deciding where to hear jazz on a given night has been to track down the pianist Kris Davis." Reviewing one of the series of striking albums Davis has released over the past half-decade, the Chicago Sun-Times lauded the "sense of kaleidoscopic possibilities" in her playing and compositions.

Long favored by her peers and jazz fans in the know, Davis has earned high praise from no less than star pianist and MacArthur "Genius" Grant honoree Jason Moran, who included her in his Best of 2012 piece in Art Forum, writing: "A freethinking, gifted pianist on the scene, Davis lives in each note that she plays. Her range is impeccable; she tackles prepared piano, minimalism and jazz standards, all under one umbrella. I consider her an honorary descendant of Cecil Taylor and a welcome addition to the fold."

The newest album from Davis as a leader is Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2013), with the pianist joined by kindred spirits Ingrid Laubrock (tenor saxophone), Mat Maneri (viola), Trevor Dunn (double-bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). Davis made her debut on record as a leader with Lifespan (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2003), followed by three progressively inventive and acclaimed albums for the Fresh Sound label: the quartet discs The Slightest Shift (2006) and Rye Eclipse (2008), then the trio set Good Citizen (2010). Davis's 2011 solo piano album on Clean Feed, Aeriol Piano, appeared on Best of the Year lists in The New York Times, JazzTimes and Art Forum. Davis wrote the extraordinary arrangements for saxophonist-composer Tony Malaby's nonet project Novela, with the album Novela released by Clean Feed in 2011 and appearing on Best of the Year lists in DownBeat and JazzTimes. The pianist is also part of the collaborative Paradoxical Frog with Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey; their eponymous 2011 album on Clean Feed was included on Best of the Year lists by National Public Radio, The New York Times and All About Jazz.

In addition to her work as a leader, Davis has performed with such top figures as Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, John Hollenbeck, Michael Formanek and Mary Halvorson. Davis started playing piano at age 6, studying classical music through the Royal Conservatory in Canada and formulating her desire for a life in music by playing in the school jazz band at age 12. She earned a bachelor's degree in Jazz Piano from the University of Toronto and attended the Banff Centre for the Arts jazz program in 1997 and 2000. The pianist received a Canada Council grant to relocate to New York and study composition with Jim McNeely, then another to study extended piano techniques with Benoit Delbecq in Paris. She holds a master's in Classical Composition from the City College of New York, and she teaches at the School for Improvised Music.

The Jazz Gallery has given Davis a commissioning residency to write for her trio with Rainey and John Hébert to take place in May 2013, and the Shifting Foundation awarded her a grant to compose and record a large-ensemble project. About her art, JazzTimes has declared: "Davis draws you in so effortlessly that the brilliance of what she's doing doesn't hit you until the piece has slipped past." "

-Kris Davis Website (

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Track Listing:


1. The Park 21:32


1. The Backyard 23:56

Related Categories of Interest:

Vinyl Recordings
Compositional Forms
Spoken Word
Piano & Keyboards

Trio Recordings
New in Compositional Music

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