Automatic Writing by Robert Ashley

Robert Ashley | Automatic Writing
Lovely Music (LP/DL)

Lovely Music is finally presenting a reissue of Robert Ashley’s classic 1979 album Automatic Writing. A 45 minute-long piece exploring the subtlety of unintended vocal materials and a precursor of ambient music. Ashley was an American composer known for his efforts in the field of experimental music, including the use of electronics and extended techniques, and opera. His theatrical and staged works feature therefore a great attention in the utilization of voice which he often operated in an unattainable limbo of complex ethereal narratives and surrealism. 

In his work Automatic Writing, the automation lays in the process of text forming. He was in fact affected by a light form of Tourette’s Syndrome that would result in long streams of involuntary speech.  In an interview from 1998 Ashley stated that the condition had to do with “sound-making and because the manifestation of the syndrome seemed so much like a primitive form of composing whether the syndrome was connected in some way to his obvious tendencies as a composer”. The recordings of his voice were then treated to be made unintelligible and therefore used as pure sounds.

In the final version of the piece, this material is used together with soft far organ pads, a synthesis of sounds made with a Polymoog and recordings of the French translation of his own involuntary speech. All together they result in a dreamlike stream of (un)consciousness that flows, becoming more dense or sparse at times. Building and collapsing, folding into itself and taking the listener in many different spaces without actually moving.

Despite the piece being first released in 1979 and taking five years to be finished, it still sounds amazingly fresh nowadays, mostly due to the harsh sound quality of the old technology applied to “ambient” music, which avoided the cliché of what ambient music has become nowadays and the fact that the genre itself hadn’t yet crystalized in the form we all know and experience today. Listening to such a brilliant classic could represent a way to imagine a place where to restart with a genre that too often doesn’t bring anything really new and lingers around the same structures and patterns again and again. 

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