I want to say something about Robert Ashley’s death, but I am growing tired of memorializing. It’s not an easy situation.
Ashley’s voice always contained its own ghost anyway. I have played his Private Parts LP countless times, turning the record over and over. For an album so absolutely chock-full of words, I can hardly remember a single line. It has always been the entirety of the experience that has drawn me in. A seal of its perfection, as it were, is that it is so easy to forget. A sure sign of thoughtfulness about who one might have been.
It is a piece, much like his Automatic Writing, into which I tune in and tune out of at will, allowing it invariably to wash over me, rather than getting tied up paying close attention to the literal meaning of what is being said. The sound of his voice invokes a singular atmosphere. His voice itself is a testament to the very nature of speech (and, indeed, of all sound) as ethereal vibration. As I listen, my mind sees every aspect of my breath.
So much of what he created is extraordinary, but Private Parts is what I turn to when I want something I can get nowhere else, when I want a set of circumstances that is indescribable with my geometry. I remember, down to the smallest detail, the time I first heard it. It is one of the few records I know which, upon the initial listen, seems to have always existed, an explication of an emotional state I felt (and, in fact, still feel, even though I’m not the same person that I used to be) constantly but which had previously held no explicit form.
Robert, as it happens, is my middle name.
Robert Ashley 1930—2014
“He worked with the forwardness and the backwardness.”