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Robert Ashley 1930–2014

The American composer Robert Ashley has died of cirrhosis of the liver, aged 83.

Ashley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1930. He attended the University of Michigan and Manhattan School of Music, then – after a stint as a US Army musician – he returned to work at the University of Michigan's Speech Research Laboratory. In the early 60s, he composed numerous works using tape and voice, some that included his own distinctive drawl.

Through the 60s Ashley helped organise the ONCE Festival of experimental music in Ann Arbor, and in 1966, co-founded the Sonic Arts Union with fellow composers Gordon Mumma, Alvin Lucier and David Behrman, all part of the so called post-Cage generation. The Sonic Arts Union was active until 1976, during which time it provided a support network and thinktank for live experimental music. In 1968, after several upsets, Ashley gave up composing for five years, but continued to perform via the Sonic Arts Union. In 1969 he took the job of Director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Oakland's Mills College.

Ashley extended his work with electronic music into more theatrical compositions for voices, dancers and tape. He became interested in making extended opera works for television, and in 1976 created the video work Music With Roots In The Aether – a 14 hour TV opera/documentary featuring the work and ideas of seven American composers: Behrman, Philip Glass, Lucier, Mumma, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley and Ashley himself. This was followed by several other long form television operas, including 1983's influential Perfect Lives.

Much of Ashley's work was released through his own label, Lovely Music. He was busy up until the end of his life, completing a new opera, Crash, in December 2013, as well as premiering a new work Mixed Blessings, Indiana at New York's Roulette. Three of his operas will be performed at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.