A native of Northwest Ohio, Ashley grew up in a home constantly filled with music. His parents, while not themselves musicians, were devotees of opera and baroque composers—an influence that continues to shape Ashley's musical interests.
As a student of the cello in elementary school, Ashley began almost immediately to create his own compositions with a fellow orchestra student. Piano studies followed, along with choir and music theory in secondary school.
But despite this heavy involvement, music was little more than personal amusement for Ashley—until 1976, when he heard the Robert Fripp / Brian Eno recordings, Evening Star and No Pussyfooting. “So that’s what a guitar sounds like!” is how he describes the experience, which quite literally changed the course of his life. Inspired by the synthesis of classical form and rock instrumentation in Fripp and Eno's work, Ashley returned to composition in earnest. Within months, he had acquired a Freeman string ensemble, Fender Rhodes electric piano, an Arp Odyssy, a Mini Moog, along with assorted effects pedals and two TEAC 1/4" two-track tape units and a TEAC 4-track to record his earliest works.
In 1981, Ashley experienced a major setback in his recording career. Lightening from a freak thunderstorm struck his recording studio, a facility so new, it had yet to be insured. Virtually nothing was left after the fire that ensued, and it took Ashley the better part of the '80s to recover financially.
But this difficult decade ended with a new direction for Ashley, thanks to a chance reunion in 1988 with Tim Story, a high-school-era acquaintance with whom he'd briefly worked in a record store. While visiting a photographer in a neighboring studio, Story happened to hear a composition Ashley had recorded for a local area design firm's noisy, fan-filled, warehouse-district office. Soon, the two were collaborating on compositions—which eventually led to the 1991 release of their first joint production, A Desperate Serenity, on Multimood Records.
Also in 1991, Ashley joined with Story and sound engineer James Kenzie to establish the commercial audio studio Zeta Recording. The second Ashley/Story project, Drop, was created at Zeta. However, the increasing commercial activity at the studio left the two artists little available time to work on their own projects, and eventually both Ashley and Story left the partnership to form their own private recording studios. This presented Ashley with an opportunity to move his instrumentation in new directions with additional guitars, an NS Design bass cello, and a greatly expanded collection of audio processing tools.
Drop was ultimately released in 1997 on the U.S.-based Lektronic Soundscapes label to critical acclaim. But the six-year wait for outside label interest convinced Ashley of the merits of creating his own record label. In 2004, Ashley released Discrete Carbon, his first published solo work on his new label, Nepenthe Music, and shortly thereafter released a third Ashley/Story project, Standing and Falling, and Story’s soundtrack to the Spanish film, Caravan, in 2005.
Now, almost three decades after the devastating loss of his first recording studio, Ashley’s label has now grown to offer a catalog of nearly 20 recordings by eight different artists or ensembles, including two additional Ashley solo works. Nepenthe has released a number of Ashley’s collaborations as well, the latest of which is an as-of-yet untitled project with Cluster’s Deiter Moebius, scheduled for release in late 2012.