Robert Ashley: Foreign Experiences

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  • Foreign Experiences (1994) opera for two solo voices, prerecorded orchestra and electronics


Foreign Experiences was commissioned by Performing Artservices, Inc. (1993) with funds from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust. The opera was premiered by the Robert Ashley Ensemble at the Festival d’Avignon in 1994.

This realization is a duet version by Sam Ashley and Jacqueline Humbert. The pre-recorded voices of the Ashley ensemble are the background chorus.

Robert Ashley's Now Eleanor's Idea is a quartet of short operas based on the notion of a sequence of events seen from four, different points of view. At the same time, each opera is an allegory, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, for an individual’s self-realization within the context of a major religion found in the United States. Improvement takes its imagery and plot from Judaism, Foreign Experiences from Pentecostal Evangelism, eL/Aficionado from Corporate Mysticism, and Now Eleanor's Idea from (Spanish) Catholicism.

The inspiration for these works came specifically from four sources: the work of the historian, Frances A. Yates (1900–1983), whose specialty of interests included the influence of Kabbalistic mysticism on the birth of modernism and scientific philosophy in Italy in the sixteenthth century (as a result of the expulsion of Jews from Spain during the Inquisition); the writings of Carlos Castaneda (and the arguments about him as a writer and about the intentions of his work); Low Rider Magazine, the fan-cult magazine of the Low Rider movement in the Southwestern United States; and finally, corporate vocabulary, what it sounds like and how it is used in popular publications, like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or Fortune Magazine.

The story, as Robert Ashley tells it —

Don Jr. has come to California with his family—Linda and Jr. Jr.—and his friend, “N,” to take a job at a small college. They have moved from the Midwest of fractured identities to the world of no identities. California is the end of the Earth. That feeling is passed on from generation to generation without anyone recognizing that it is part of them. And it is passed on to the most recent arrivals. Even today in the precious palaces of Malibu, in the vast developments between Los Angeles and San Diego, in the spreading domestic comfort of the San Francisco Bay area it’s there. It poisons our movies and TV shows. It generates the most violent and interesting mystery novels. Even now jet travel doesn’t cure it. It comes down on you hard when you get off the plane and step outside the terminal. It drives some people mad.

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