Robert Ashley (1930 - 2014) was an US-American composer. He studied at the University of Michigan and the Manhattan School of Music and was afterwards a military musician in the US Army.
Ashley composed experimental and interdisciplinary operas and plays and is considered a pioneer of television opera, often collaborating with avant-garde musicians of his time. He ranks among the most important U.S. composers of the 20th century and is profiled in Peter Greenaway's film Four American Composers along with John Cage, Philipp Glas, and Peter Gordon. In the 1960s, he founded the ONCE Festivals and Ann Arbor's Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music, directed the ONCE Group theater ensemble, and served as director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center and Mills College in Oakland. He participated in Documenta 8 with his work Atlanta Strategy.
In 1980, Ashley developed the opera Perfect Lives in a series of live performances before it was recorded for television. It was first shown on television and at film festivals worldwide in 1984 and is considered the precursor to music television.
In 2002, Ashley received the John Cage Award for Music from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts and in 2008, the Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center.
Ashley was working on two new operas, Crash and Quicksand, when he died in New York City on March 3, 2014. However, both operas were completed and performed by collaborators.