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Our thoughts go out to Puerto Rico during this difficult time.

Varispeed: Robert Ashley, Crash

Varispeed Collective ensemble members Gelsey Bell, Paul Pinto, and Dave Ruder discuss their involvement with composer Robert Ashley and his final work, Crash, as they prepare to present the piece at Roulette 15-18 May, 2015. With musical excerpts from the piece alongside other Varispeed and Ashley recordings.

Scored for six voices and performed in six 15-minute acts, Crash (2014) is the autobiographic account of an older man from age 1 to 84 – his attitudes and prejudices as the member of a certain economic and social class. His thoughts are delivered through three levels of mediations, each featuring a different character and distinct vocal style.

This radio segment features five musical excerpts from:
Robert Ashley, Crash, Act I (2014), Varispeed and company, live at Whitney Museum
Robert Ashley, Crash, Act II (2014), Varispeed and company, live at Whitney Museum
Robert Ashley, eL/Aficionado, My Brother Called (1993) (with Thomas Buckner)
John Cage, Empty Words (1974), Varispeed, live at Roulette 2012
Robert Ashley, In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women, 1972

About the Crash production at Roulette:
Voices: Gelsey Bell, Amirtha Kidambi, Brian McCorkle, Paul Pinto, Dave Ruder, Aliza Simons
Music Director and Sound: Tom Hamilton
Photographs: Philip Makanna
Lighting: David Moodey
Projection Control: Katie Cox, David Gutkin, Andie Springer

Robert Ashley (1930-2014), one of the leading American composers of the post-Cage generation, is particularly known for his work in new forms of opera. In the 1960s, during his tenure as its director, the ONCE Festival in Ann Arbor presented most of the decade’s pioneers of the performing arts. With the legendary ONCE Group, he developed his first large-scale operas. Along with Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, and David Behrman, he formed the Sonic Arts Union, a group that turned conceptualism toward electronics. Throughout the 1970s, he directed the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College, and produced his first opera for television, the 14-hour Music with Roots in the Aether, based on the work and ideas of seven influential American composers. In the early 1980s the Kitchen commissioned Ashley’s Perfect Lives, the opera for television that is widely considered the precursor of “music-television.”

Varispeed is a collective of composer-performers that creates site-specific, sometimes-participatory, oftentimes-durational, forevermore-experimental events. Founded by Aliza Simons, Dave Ruder, Paul Pinto, Brian McCorkle, and Gelsey Bell, Varispeed came together in June 2011 to perform Perfect Lives Brooklyn, a 12-hour celebration of Robert Ashley’s landmark opera.


Clocktower Radio Profiles


The hosts of Clocktower Radio interview artists, writers, curators, producers, activists, thinkers and doers.

Experimental Composers


The object of this series is to invite emerging and established innovators to share their work. These programs are usually a combination of an interview with a far-reaching perspective on the artist's career, some recordings illustrating this history, and something new. Open territory. The unfortunate and unintended messages that come attached to a title like Experimental Composers are many. Still it is one of the few labels to come out of the world of music that has not been co-opted by promoters, corporations, journalists, or lawyers. This one just seems to have anti-market goo on it. Hooray. It's also just bad English (as if to imply that these poor souls are themselves, in their flesh and blood, some kind of experiment and, perhaps, even expendable). And then there is the spectre of defying the wisdom of the great Edgar Varèse who said something like, "I do not write experimental music. My experimenting is done before I make the music. Afterwards it is the listener who must experiment."