robert ashley

                         : maneuvers for small hands   [a film-set]






ROBERT ASHLEY (1930-2014) was a pioneering composer, writer, performer, who made innovative pieces with hitherto unexplored phenomena like feedback, noise, involuntary speech, drone, numbers, electronics and theatrical elements.

MANEUVERS FOR SMALL HANDS (1961) is a key-piece in his work. Initially it was written as a kind of piano-game for his five year old son, playfully inviting him in the new soundworlds of his father, but over time it turned into a fundamental puzzle for the contemporary musician. A prima vista performance is impossible, because one has to think about all the questions posed, make choices and solve impracticalities.

There are some 110 Maneuvers, printed on 93 cards that are assembled in ten thematic decades that are spun out of the first ten maneuvers. These address the fundamental questions relating to the happening of a piece of music - not only with regard to composing, but also to performing and listening. Often the environment, the dimension of the space, the acoustics, the audience, the material at hand and the placing of the musician are also determining factors in the musical choices to be made. 

In MANEUVERS Ashley highlights all the choices already implicit in one played tone, for instance by asking the performer to vary these until there are no options left. Or make choices inter-dependent, for instance when dynamics determine durations or durations determine dynamics. Other addressed issues are body movements and hand gestures (sometimes involuntary), distances (on the piano, distance from the piano, the hearing distance around the piano) and sympathetic vibrations. By radically expanding the compositional choices to the realm of performance and listening Ashley proves sonic identity to be an ephemeral concept ambiguously affirming itself in the impossibility of repetition.

ASHLEY imagined the score to be a possible storyboard and the performance a kind of film-set, working towards a possibility for the audience to get close-ups, scorefragments and a ticker running on the side, keeping track with the progression through the 110 Maneuvers.