Robert Ashley (born March 28, 1930), is a contemporary American composer, best known for his operas and other theatrical works, many of which incorporate electronics and extended techniques. Along with Gordon Mumma, Ashley was also a major pioneer of audio synthesis.
Ashley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He studied at the University of Michigan with Ross Lee Finney, at the Manhattan School of Music, and was later a musician in the US Army. After moving back to Michigan, Ashley worked at the University of Michigan's Speech Research Laboratories. Although he was not officially a student in the acoustic research program there, he was offered the chance to obtain a doctorate, but turned it down to pursue his music. From 1961 to 1969, he organised the ONCE Festival in Ann Arbor with Roger Reynolds, Gordon Mumma, and other local composers and artists. He was a co-founder of the ONCE Group, as well as a member of the Sonic Arts Union, which also included David Behrman, Alvin Lucier, and Gordon Mumma. In 1969 he became director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. In the 1970s he directed the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music. His notable students include Maggi Payne.
The majority of Ashley's recordings have been released by Lovely Music, which was founded by Performing Artservices, the not-for-profit management organization which represents Ashley and other artists. Ashley's opera Perfect Lives was featured in Peter Greenaway's documentary 4 American Composers.