Robert Ashley Private Parts
Published Feb 06, 2019It is incredibly hypnotizing to listen to American composer Robert Ashley's monotonous drawl incant the two long-form text pieces that comprise Private Parts. Accompanied by the lush keyboard work of "Blue" Gene Tyranny and a roiling tabla rhythm courtesy of an individual named Kris, the absurdist pseudo-narrative unfurls calmly and deliberately, belying the idiosyncratic nature of the text itself.
A man might be disconsolately unpacking his luggage in a motel room; the man seems to want to use the phone but hangs up; the phone rings. A whole confounding series of thoughts, events and observations occur before Ashley intones: "This is not a record. This is a story." Obtusely enough, the narrator has just finished telling his audience that there are "two gees in eggs."
Originally released in 1978, this record laid the foundation for Ashley's immense, seven-part opera Perfect Lives. The piece about the man, entitled "The Park," opens the opera, and is contained within the first side of the LP. On the flip, "The Backyard" describes a woman who "stands there in the doorway of her mother's house." and we seem to see her from many different angles. This piece is the conclusion of Perfect Lives, and the enigmatic man who kicked off the narrative noticeably makes no appearance here. Giordano Bruno is accounted for, however, and is shot for heresy.
Charming, mysterious, and utterly hilarious, Private Parts is a tour de force from one of the more singular personas in the American avant-garde. This delightfully assembled and long-overdue reissue thankfully includes a copy of the libretto so one can attempt to follow along, or work at cracking the narrative enigma of this brilliantly crafted piece of text. (Lovely Music)