Celestial Excursions

Robert Ashley

Text, music and direction by Robert Ashley
Singers: Sam Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara and Robert Ashley
Choreography: Joan Jonas
Electronic orchestra: Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton
Mixing and live electronics: Tom Hamilton
Piano: “Blue” Gene Tyranny
Lighting design: David Moodey
Technical coordination/sound system engineer: Cas Boumans
Stage manager: Melanie Lipka

“…hypnotic, James Joyce-like maximalist works…[words] snatched from high and low culture and set into tightly choreographed blends of speech, song, meaning and textural wizardry.”
Los Angeles Times

After the ground-breaking work, Dust, godfather of experimental opera Robert Ashley returns with Celestial Excursions. Ashley’s latest endeavor explores remarkably uncharted territory—the kind of language that is common among “old” people who talk all the time or not at all, to anyone passing by or to themselves.  The opera premiered at the Hebbel Theater in Berlin, before coming to The Kitchen for it’s U.S. premiere in April 2003.

Celestial Excursions delves into the wild intermingling of reminiscence, regret, love, nightmare, old sayings, and songs on the radio—all seemingly to no purpose, except for the operatic end of relentless speed and precision in ensemble singing and the possible stage magic inherent in illusion, hallucination, and a physically changed state of the senses. The opera’s originality lies in a use of a new vocal technique Ashley has built over the last 20 years, which enables several stories to be heard at the same time.  In an intricate vocal system, a principal voice is “chased” by other voices whose parts rotate in sequence in a given order. The result of this technique creates a complex jungle of voices, delivered with an extraordinary rhythmic intensity rarely heard in ensemble singing.

As for all of Ashley’s latest works, the orchestra music of Celestial Excursions was composed in the computer-synthesizer studio.  All the voices and the orchestra (on multi-track tape or on disc) are processed again during the concert in order to match the sound of the opera to the performance space.  And for this CD release, Ashley went back to the studio with live recordings to rework the piece, extending the orchestra in the final act.

“With the exception of a few condescending and silly movies, “old” people are one of the few “minority” groups basically unrecognized in the arts.  Not that they care, but among the “marginalized,” old people are the most marginalized, because, obviously, unlike racial or ethnic groups or the poor, they have no future.  Or rather, in the most important sense, their future will never change for the better.”
— Robert Ashley

“When has any other opera libretto ever hewn so close to the unselfconscious way people talk?  Language evolves, and each new century has to recapture anew some way to bring music and language into intimate contact. Ashley has always represented a new point of crystallization in that process…”
— Kyle Gann, The Village Voice (March 2000)

Celestial Excursions is a co-production of the Hebbel-Theater Berlin, MaerzMusik / Berliner Festspiele and Performing Artservices, Inc. Production support has been provided by generous contributions from The Phaedrus Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Multi-Arts Production Fund. Celestial Excursions was commissioned by Performing Artservices, Inc. as part of the national series of works of Meet The Composer/Arts Endowment Commissioning Music/USA, which is made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, and The Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation.

Album Notes

Disc 1:
Act I – "Is It Light Yet?"
1. Characters (5:10)
2. Alcohol (2:36)
3. Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. N (5:56)
4. Love Letter Part 1 (1:48)
5. Bruno Part 1 (3:26)
6. Love Letter Part 2 (1:48)
7. Bruno Part 2 (1:52)
8. Subaru (1:48)
9. Raoul (6:09)
10. Goodbye Walnut (4:07)

Act II – "Asylum"
11. The List (0:12)
12. Asylum/Depression (3:33)
13. Asylum/What About the Kids? (2:24)
14. Asylum/Baguette (1:44)

15. Asylum/Love That Stuff (1:09)
16. Asylum/I Had It and I Lost It (0:42)
17. Asylum/Before What? (0:24)
18. Asylum/Recent Attendance (0:40)
19. Asylum/After All the Stuff (1:00)
20. Asylum/Ghosts (1:52)
21. Asylum/It's Got To Be a Secret (0:50)
22. Asylum/It's Only Fun (0:26)
23. Asylum/I Like Q (0:50)
24. Asylum/Good Idea (1:02)
25. Asylum/Never on Your Mind (1:50)
26. Asylum/It's Almost 10 O'Clock (7:07)
27. Asylum/Ordinary Man (0:14)
28. Asylum/Years of Desire (0:58)

Disc 2
Act III – "The River Deepens"
1. Ozzie Smith (1:33)
2. Prelude to Therapy (5:57)
3. Therapy (7:09)
4. Prelude to Nightmare (6:31)
5. Nightmare (7:55)
6. Prelude to Grandmother (4:40)
7. Grandmother (5:49)
8. Prelude to Yes, I Know (4:27)
9. Yes, I Know (5:44)

Duration: 1 hour 51 minutes (2 CDs)
2-CD jewel box and 104-page libretto in slipcase.

CD 1007
List Price: $34.99