Robert Ashley Automatic Writing
Published Nov 21, 2019Having been around since 1978, the Lovely Music imprint is one of the longest-running sources for independent and adventurous avant-garde American music. The label, which was founded by Mimi Johnson, is also the prime landing spot for the works of the label head's husband, renowned experimental composer Robert Ashley.
The first two LPs to grace the Lovely Music catalogue were Ashley's Private Parts and Automatic Writing, both of which have been reissued on vinyl this year. The former release excerpts an opera, and contains a libretto rife with wry non-sequiturs; the latter is an investigation into the human capacity to produce language itself. Ashley pairs his own vocal quiver with a whispered French voice (courtesy of his spouse, with translation provided by Monsa Norberg). What begins as short snippets of human-produced sound eventually morphs into hushed phrases passed back and forth between the performers.
Accompanying the muted vocalizations is scrappy electronic scribbling and a bass groove that replicates the effect of hearing a neighbour's garage band rocking out a few houses away in some nameless American suburb. If one listens astutely, it is possible to discern a lonely organ melody sliding around underneath the proceedings. It's as if Ashley is attempting to layer a series of ever-quieter elements over each other to create what can be considered a proto-ambient masterpiece.
Incredibly compelling, Automatic Writing is an essential release for fans of the American avant-garde, and a perfect entry point for those who have yet to experience the works of this multifaceted composer. (Lovely)