Ashley studied at the University of Michigan and at the Manhattan School of Music. The main influences on his composition were Mumma and Cage.
Together with Mumma and visual artist Milton Cohen, the artists created Space Theater, multi-media works that utilized dance, sculpture, light projections, and electronic sound. Mumma and Ashley also worked together to found the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music and helped establish the ONCE Festival and the Sonic Arts Union. Ashley began to compose video operas in the late '80s, one of which is Perfect Lives (Private Parts).