Monday, 20 November 2017

Robert Ashley - Automatic Writing (1979)

An absolute classic of avant-garde ambient, Automatic Writing was the result of Robert Ashley's fascination with 'involuntary speech', the mild form of Tourette's syndrome that he had.  Eventually getting some close-miked recordings of vocal sounds and phrases that he liked - more for their texture and cadences than any actual words - Ashley processed them electronically and built this 46-minute piece around them.

The result was this beautifully ghostly, formless drift in which Ashley's words are whispered back to him in French by a female voice, whilst sounds from a Polymoog chirp and click away in the background, and intermittent snatches of music from a Farfisa organ appear to be coming from an adjacent room.  Whether you listen to this on the threshold of audibility as ambient music, or turn it right up to study the details, Automatic Writing has a unique, hypnotic effect that makes it endlessly listenable.  It even inspired a 'tribute' piece by a certain SGTG regular - that'll be Wednesday's post.

For now, just enjoy one of Robert Ashley's finest ever extended recordings, plus a couple of CD bonus tracks that I've left in as they're quite interesting - both are from a 60's 'opera' project, That Morning Thing, which Ashley wrote in reaction to the suicides of three female friends.  She Was A Visitor, in which phenomes of the words are bounced around the voices of the performers, was actually featured right at the beginning of this blog.  Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon, with its tape hiss and extremely unsettling monologue (sampled at the end of Whitehouse's Ripper Territory, no less), will stay with you for a while afterwards - if you've been listening to Automatic Writing to chill out, perhaps best to hit the stop button at the end of it.