Collection: Sam Ashley

Sam Ashley (February 9, 1955 - May 13, 2021) devoted his life to the invention of an experimental trance-mysticism, and for more than 30 years he used trance in music and art. Sam’s work is often about luck, coincidence and hallucination.

Much of Sam’s work featured the use of authentic “spirit possession”.  Everyone Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano, A Fish Clinging to Water, Every Heaven is the Best One, I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good, among others, each explores a different form of spirit possession applied to performance. 

Sam used to bring the mystical theme into collaborations too, sometimes performing his solo works in parallel with the work of various contemporary geniuses who he occasionally was privileged to work with. He co-founded the acclaimed Cactus Needle Project, a computer and electronics ensemble that performed around the USA for five years, and AA Bee Removal, a long running experimental LO-FI electronic duo. 

Sam developed an unusual Animal Magnetism vocal technique derived from trance, which he applied to the performances he gave as a singer. He had principal roles in eight contemporary operas by Robert Ashley, with whom he regularly performed and recorded. 

Sam’s installations (and harder to define things) also reflected the mystical theme. The sound works are often about finding ways to amplify “hallucinatory” or otherwise otherworldly sounds.  Ghost Detector, Swept Off My Feet, The Truth About Matter and Listening for Bats would be a few examples of sound art or installation works about this. He and I collaborated on the piece we called Gated Ghost Detector for multiple radios and eight channels of gated audio which we toured in Germany in 2005.

In The Oracle Series, also known as The Source of Life is an Absolute Mystery, in which he strives to present artistic works with a practical purpose: “oracles which transmit messages from the soul that can help us in everyday life.”

Sam performed solo and in collaboration, or presented other kinds of works, all around the USA and Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, in several Japanese cities, in Indonesia and in Cuba.

— Gustavo Matamoros

Sam Ashley

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