By David Cleary from the November 2001 issue of 21st Century Music.

Robert Ceely's BEEP CITY provides a representative overview of its Boston-based composer's worthy output, containing a generous helping of both purely electronic and purely acoustic works as one which combines the two approaches.

Spanning a period of nearly 40 years, Ceely's tape pieces constitute one of the most underrated - and significant - bodies of work in this medium. Common to all are an excellently gauged feel for long-range structure and a vibrant, colorful sound palette. certain of his works, like Vonce (1967), would not be equaled in sonic vividness by anyone else for several years, many tape pieces contemporary to these by other composers sound white-bread bland in comparison. The earliest electronic selections, Stratti and Elegia (both 1963), share a certain leisurely unfolding and austere, mysterious feel (mildly reminiscent at times of Varese) that prove most compelling. The latter work, completed soon after the assassination  of John F. Kennedy, winds down to a coda suggestive of bleak, icy Arctic winds. Mitsyn (1971) and Vonce bristle with fast, angular gestures containing a wide variety of timbres. But Ceely is careful to anchor these jittery confections within a larger structural overlay - they do not whirl aimlessly or fly off into space without seat belts. Frames (1978) explores intriguing ways of combining these two extremes. It bubbles like a witch's cauldron for the first two-thirds of its duration, meanwhile often grounding these manic figures within larger planes; the final section states the long-duration idea more baldly, festooning it with only occasional active filigree. Mutual Implications (1999) is in some ways a return to the highly charged, tragic feel of the earliest compositions, but here Ceely builds his edifice from bell-, and gong-like sounds that embellish more his traditional electronic material. All are intense, substantial listens, very highly recommended.

The works utilizing acoustic instruments exhibit a wide range of styles and moods. Dialogues (1983), despite featuring a solid amount of textural variety, flows attractively from start to finish and contains fetching solo flute writing. By contrast, Slide Music (1973) for four trombones projects an abrupt manner of speech and organization that might have proven off-putting save for its composer's liberal injection of jazzy or humorous elements and keen ear for special effects, somehow, it works well enough. A certain affinity for the mercurial keyboard oeuvre of Milton Babbitt pervades both the Piano Piece (1980-81) and Rag (1985). But like this vanguard serialist's works, Ceely's piano entries project a larger sense of shape that infuses their small, craggy gestures with a sense of direction. And latter indeed contains audible, though subtle, seeds of Joplin lurking within its busy textures. Solo clarinet and tape coexist enjoyably in Synoecy (1986) without losing their identities. Here Ceely  manages the neat trick of writing an East Coast style duet without sounding like a slavish Mario Davidovsky imitator. In fact, there's a good bit of goofy humor indulged here, the piece's rondo conclusion contains passages in a triadic vein that poke fun at the work's more clangorous sections.

Performances by clarinetist Beth Wiemann, flutist  Julie Darling, pianists Rebecca LaBrecque and Timothy McFarland, and trombonists Thomas Everett, Nathaniel Gurin, Robert Moir, and Donald Sanders, range from good to excellent. Sound is splendid on the tape pieces, of more variable quality on the acoustic entries; most of the latter exhibit decent sonics, though the recording of Piano Piece by the long inactive, now deceased LaBrecque is of archival quality.  With the exception of one noticeable splice in Slide Music, editing is fine. The CD booklet is attractively laid out and contains good program notes, though a composer bio, track numbering, and easy-to-find performer listing would have been helpful. Highly recommended.

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