American avant-garde composer Robert Ashley died March 3 at age 83 of natural causes. A key member of Sonic Arts Union with Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, and David Behrman, Ashley is renowned for his operas and theatrical pieces marked by imaginative, minimalist use of electronics and emotionally resonant deployment of language. My introduction to Ashley was Automatic Writing. “Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon” particularly struck me as one of the most disturbing musical pieces I’ve ever heard, despite being so sparse. In it, the combination of a traumatized woman’s stunned recitation of a twisted sexual encounter with beautiful yet sinister bells and strained groans is indelibly compelling.

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