The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Corey Dargel and the Artsongwriters 

Spotted by Kyle, there's an excellent article by Corey Dargel on the current generation of nonpop singer-songwriters - or 'artsongwriters' as Dargel calls them - who are "moving away from the operatic influences that have too heavily affected the development of traditional art song". Dargel himself is a prime practitioner - samples of his work are here and here.

Which gives me ample premise to tell you that if you do nothing else today download 'Superhero on the Ground' and treasure it close; this song has been haunting me for days and is the most heart-aching thing I've heard all year. And if you're already bored of Brokeback Mountain, 'Gay Cowboys' is a very good alternative.

Twelve-Tone Masters 

'How many times have we been stunned by the virtuoso violin writing in Alban's Violin Concerto?'


UPDATE: Felsenmusick has some background info.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Golijov: Pasión 

Plenty of blog love for Golijov in USA-land at the moment: see Steve Smith and Alex Ross (with a little counterpoint from Jerry Bowles). Somehow, I don't think it will be the same here when Pasión hits London on Friday. We shall see.

Well, I won't, since photocopying in the British Library today has eaten all my concert budget for the week. :(

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Classical music mp3 blogs 

hills | flickr | 20th February, 2006

Finding the classical mp3 blogs so you don't have to.

I've pulled some of these names from the (surely exhaustive?) list at Hype Machine, and I can't say I've checked every link there - only the ones that look plausible. So if you run a classical mp3 blog called 'Nu Metal is Rad' and haven't linked you, please pardon me not spotting your ironic tone, and drop me a line. I'll see that you get your link.

First up, you all know cacophonous and Trrill - if you don't, you should - so they're a good place to start. Trrill is a great source for all you opera diva needs, Cacophonous for independent new music composers. I can't be sure there's not any overlap. (Incidentally, Cacophonous is also a great place to start looking for individual composer mp3 blogs.)

ANABlog is the unofficial blog of the Analog Arts Ensemble, and recent posts include Webern, Tippett, Maderna, and Lutosławski's Les espaces du sommeil, which is alright by me,

Electric Strings is a relatively new blog by cellist and composer Philip Sheppard which includes a few mp3s of his music.

Dave Seidel is a 'droney, ambient' composer who has a sideblog, mysterybear productions where he posts his new works.

No doubt there are more than this, and more will emerge. So assume that this post is a work in progress...

Links for the week 

Indie music web portal Brainwashed have published a call for the dismantling of the RIAA.

This poorly-researched, innuendo-ridden piece on pirate radio in Friday's Guardian has rightly annoyed the Dissensus crew; Blackdown's Pitchfork interview with the Rinse management is a valuable counter.

Roots People Music has a two part interview with Kode 9.

Canoe Jam has a one part interview with Philip Glass.

Andante sort of looks like it's back - well, as a static site at least (thanks Felsenmusick for the spot).

Ostalgie fans should head over to WFMU's big bloc of East German mp3s and vids.

WFMU also point up an Sony ad, first noticed in the NY Times looking for unpaid interns to fill MySpace, blogs and other social networking sites with plugs for Sony CDs. In no way is this spam. Oh, and the ad is no longer there, so prospective applicants will have to dirty their hands elsewhere...

And everyone agrees that this sucks.

Urban Classic: the Reception 

Some of the Urban Classic aftermath:

Photos at 1Xtra: "It's the night everyone's been waiting for"

Bun-U: "Hey tonight we've made history, cuz we've made posh people say GET ME"

Neil Fisher in The Times: "one left feeling that the orchestra had been asked to travel so far from their world that the product they were offering was largely superfluous."

Robert Maycock in the Independent: "the biggest noise at the Empire was the squeal of institutions jumping into a fashionable bed."

Peter Aspden and Alistair Macaulay in the Financial Times: "mostly a case of thumping backbeats receiving an unsophisticated melodic accompaniment, to perfectly pleasant effect."

The show is now all up on 1xtra's Listen again, and will be until the weekend. After that it should be somewhere on Radio 3's pages.

The grime crowd are giving biggest props to Bruza - as by far the biggest name on the night, this is fair enough. He did sound the most comfortable MC too, although Tor wasn't far behind - here's hoping we hear a lot more from her.

I can't say the same for Pase and Purple though, who come over as the sanitised, sanctioned, product that Urban Classic always threatened to become.

Not surprisingly, the broadsheet critics (coming from a more 'musicianly' angle) are most impressed by Faith SFX. Concerns over 'what's the point of beatboxing' notwithstanding, it's good old-fashioned virtuosity that wins them over. Even a cynic like me has to admit that simply on the level of pure entertainment, it's pretty bloody impressive. And the Faith SFX bits of the show came closest to a truly grimey sound - but this only left me wondering what might have been achieved if a proper drum track had been laid down for both orchestra and MCs to work against.

This revealed the show's biggest weakness - everything that finally made it onto stage had been worked through an exclusively classical paradigm (and the dread 19th-century classical paradigm at that) that regards musicianship, virtuosity, live performance and a hierachical structure between composer, conductor and performers as the principal standards by which to judge music. An orchestra has to work very hard to break out of such conventions - and top marks to Bruza for trying to break those conventions in calling for the reload! Faith SFX and the four MCs were cast as concerto-esque soloists whose role was to confront the orchestra in only the narrow confines of a concertante format. Naturally, when the one individual with the most apparent virtuosity - Faith SFX - does his thing, the set up works best; he was also the most comfortable player in his role, with the four MCs sounding, on the whole, somewhat overwhelmed.

Faith SFX demonstrated that even if the night wasn't a complete success, at least there is mileage in beatbox with orchestra. However, this seems doubly perverse; next time this classical vs electronica/urban crossover is attempted, could someone please bring some sequencers with them?

Spurious conspiracy theory 

"Why is one of the world's top opera directors going into musicals?" asks the Guardian of Francesca Zambello, at the same as film director Zhang 'House of Flying Daggers' Yimou is booked to direct at the Met. Coincidence? Probably, but if Hal Prince directs any historical kung-fu films in the near future remember that you heard it here first.

Monday, February 20, 2006


river | flickr | 20th February, 2006

Still testing out posting digital photos from flickr...

Seem to have got something that works, anyway. Expect a bit more decoration round here from now on.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Links for the week 

Popular music is popular because it's popular: proven by science.

Danceblogga points up the ironies of EMI earning a fat load of dosh out of the Paul MacCartney/Jay-Z Grammy collaboration. "Who is this Danger Mouse of which you speak?"

Kid Kameleon draws attention to Golden Era Jungle - a vast forum, info site, and *licks lips* repository of 100+ classic jungle sets. Yowzer.

And Londonist points to an unusual wedding at the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore. The punchline's worth a snicker - and it's not the one you're thinking of.

Shamed by my referrals 

I notice in my referrals this morning a Google for 'critics Phillip Neil Martin', a composer I mentioned in a review of the Elysian Quartet last year. Well, since someone is looking, it behoves me to mention that I saw another work of Martin's, Standing Water in concert on Saturday, and thought it probably the best work of the concert. Martin is deeply interested in gagaku, and this work is a splintered take on the Japanese court music (with some effective imitations of sho and hichiriki). Plus, I'm very sympathetic towards the spatial, non-developmental perception of time, and I think Martin got this aspect of his Japanese influences across well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Music Since 1960: Pärt: Cantus In memoriam Benjamin Britten 

Index here.

Yikes - I definitely remember at some point deciding that I was going to steer clear of too-familiar choices here, and look what's come up, one of the most well-known slabs of modern classical soundtrack music there is. This piece really is up there with the second movement of Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs as a short-cut route to post-religious grief, isn't it?

Well, of course it is, but I like to cling to the idea that it's also a bit better than that as well.

Pärt is one of those composers who everyone pretty much 'got' in the early 90s, swept up by the dread 'holy minimalism' banner that someone must have thought was a compliment once. Terrible term as it is, if it applies to any of the three composers it's most commonly pinned to - the other two being Górecki and Tavener - it's easy to concede a fair cop in Pärt's case. His music since 1976 has been defined by a number of minimalist-like strategies for composing large amounts of music with small means. With the right compositional procedure, six bars of material and a Latin copy of the Gospel of St John you can pretty much recreate his hour-long Passio in your own home. Sounds like minimalism to me; and it doesn't take much reading of his workslist to spot that this is a man whose faith is extremely important to him.

Except that there is much more to Pärt than the 'holy minimalism' tag will allow. As well as being a deeply spiritual man, it is worth remembering that this is the composer who first introduced - in defiance of Soviet doctrine - 12-tone composition into Estonia in 1960 with the orchestral piece Nekrolog; rather than the monk-like character of his popular portrayal, in the studio he is known to challenge those around him to press-up contests. And his music is as frequently secular as sacred.

Cantus is perhaps the most minimal, most process-based of all his works, yet in defiance of the 'holy minimalism' tag, it is also one of his secular ones, being a lament for a fellow composer. To quote the composer himself in the sleevenotes to ECM 1275 817 764-2:
Why did the date of Benjamin Britten's death - December 4, 1976 - touch such a chord in me? During this time I was obviously at the point where I could recognize the magnitude of such a loss. Inexplicable feelings of guilt, more than that even, arose in me. I had just discovered Britten for myself. Just before his death I began to appreciate the unusual purity of his music - I had had the impression of the same kind of purity in the ballads of Guillaume de Machaut. And besides, for a long time I had wanted to meet Britten personally - and now it would not come to that.
The other aspect to Pärt's work that is often overlooked is the awareness within his music of the rest of the musical world. This is not something that, for example, might be claimed for much Tavener's music, which for many years found its only sustenance in Greek Orthodox chant. Once again, the popular perception of Pärt as a solitary composer writing sacred chants to the exclusion of the external, secular world doesn't fit. Witness, for a start, the numerous quotations - Bach in particular, but also Tchaikovsky and others - in his music. It is to this side of Pärt's nature that Cantus belongs.

Lamenting his personal grief at the loss of a lately discovered and greatly respected colleague, Pärt chose to distill this grief - "just before his death I began to appreciate the unusual purity of his music" - into the purest music he could find capable of sustaining the weight of serious expression: an A minor scale, an A minor arpeggio and a tolling bell. Western music has few more funereal materials than these. (Except, perhaps, C minor...) If you want to see how the piece is put together, Paul Hillier's excellent book on the composer is highly recommended, but what you need to know is obvious enough from a first listen: the descending scale is layered several times across the whole string orchestra, in different tempi, so that the whole effect is of one long drag down the scale, eventually coming to rest on a great fat waft of A minor. Glenn Branca has done similar things in his later symphonies, replacing guitars for strings.

What I admire most about the work is the fact that it is such a beautifully pure exposition of material. The whole is simply one sound, one mechanism for 5 minutes, but the mechanism unwinds itself in an infinitely subtle and variable way. Rather than any of Tavener's works, or even Górecki's, Cantus deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Ligeti's Lontano and Lux aeterna. Yet where Ligeti couldn't resist the lure of Mitteleuropan developmental forms - and thus built signposts and points of tension and release into even his most amorphous forms - Pärt leans back and rides the sound out. Surfing on sound waves. By the end, as the whole structure breaks over you, you can't help taking a very physical, secular pleasure in the whole thing; Pärt's masterstroke, and perhaps a key to the man, is to leave the final leaden circles of the funeral bell hanging in the air as you open your eyes again.

Sidebar News! 

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you... a list of people who should have been in my sidebar for months and months by now (I've been reading y'all in Bloglines, honest), but I've been too slack to add them in. Sorry about that.

So please give it up for:

Avant Music News


Deceptively Simple




Iron Tongue of Midnight

Kid Kameleon

The Living Composer

The Measures Taken

Music for Maniacs

Night After Night

the riddim method

Sequenza 21

Sequenza 21/Composers Forum

Think Denk

uTopian Turtle Top


Friday, February 10, 2006

Why 2006 is not 1994 

Picking up my recent predilection for comparing now with then, I've toyed for a while with the idea that now (with indie rock on one of its cyclical highs, and grime and dubstep keeping the underground/urban/pirate scene fresh) is a bit like the mid-90s (where grime = trip hop, dubstep = jungle and indie rock = er, indie rock). Well, no more.

This silly, tunnel-visioned article in the Guardian today made me rethink my theory. Suddenly, it's clear to me that something of a clash of aesthetics has been raging in the British music press for the last few months. Flick through any broadsheet's music coverage (and today's Friday, so it's a good day to be doing that), and you'll see a thick black line scored down the middle of the page. On one side are the Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Pete Docherty (and Paul Weller). On the other Kano, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Sway.

Both sides have vocal advocates, who are granted frequent space to open their hearts to the nation. One side takes the opportunity to hyperbolise absurdly, the other frets at the failure of the wider public to hear what they hear.

And never the twain shall meet. Whether her intention or not, articles such as Natalie Hanman's, linked above, unconscious of almost the entire musical universe apart from the four records nearest the door in HMV, sound almost deliberately ignorant. They doth protest too much. Much as I enjoy my pop rockers as much as the next man (except the Kaiser Chiefs - in whose case the next man is a fool) I'm utterly baffled by the exaltation these bands receive. Arctic Monkeys the fifth best British album of all time?! Lots of journalists are buying wholeheartedly into their own myth, and the only reason I can find for this extreme historicism is fear.

It seems to me that recent rise in public awareness, press coverage, and downright talent, within the British urban scene has prompted a sort of seige mentality amongst rock critics. What's more, even the non-rockers have started to buy the hype.

So, is 2006 like 1994? Well, no. In the mid-90s, as a regular reader of NME, Melody Maker and Select, I don't believe there was the same ideological divide between the guitaristas and everyone else. Tricky, Goldie and Massive Attack appeared on the same page as Manic Street Preachers, Blur and Pulp. I heard as much electronica at my indie club as I did grunge or britpop. Eclecticism, non-tribalism (big beat's greatest gift to the UK music scene, incidentally) was the way to go. Now, the opposite is the case, and we keep digging the trenches deeper.

UPDATE As has been pointed out to me, Natalie Hanman also wrote this astute piece on grime at the end of last year, so regardless of the flaws in her more recent article, I concede that she subscribes more to the broad church approach that I admire than I gave her credit for. Sorry.

Whether this completely kills my argument or not, I'm not sure - I need to give this half-baked notion some more thought...

More Urban Classic 

Yeah, I'm gonna keep picking at this because it sort of does (and doesn't) have my name written all over it.

Two articles in the Guardian and the ever-grime-friendly Independent take a peek at rehearsals for the upcoming Urban Classic event (Hackney Empire, 16th Feb; broadcasts on 1Xtra on the 18th, Radio 3 on the 24th). And both come out pretty enthused by the whole thing. The UK press is generally supportive of grime in any case - witness the steady stream of articles, which completely outweighs any commercial success to date. I take the enthusiasm here pretty much at face value but I'm a little surprised that it comes as a result of the decision to fully orchestrate the instrumental tracks, rather than including at least an electronic beat. This is a tactic I'm instinctively cautious about, because I've never yet heard it done effectively. Phrases like 'the electronic loops and samples of grime tracks have been painstakingly recontructed' make me wince. Not since Philip Glass's pointless orchestration of Aphex Twin's already orchestral-sounding Icct Hedral have I come across anyone prepared to grasp the nettle and actually write electronically for an orchestra, rather just transcribe. New instrumental tracks, written for the orchestra, would surely be better than something that is, from the first, a compromise.

But both writers suggest that in Urban Classic's case it's a move that works; fair enough, I'm happy to be surprised. Expect more on this space once I've pulled the 1Xtra stream to my minidisc next week...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

William Bolcom wins three Grammys 

Well, since the official reports aren't going to mention it, I will: congratulations to William Bolcom, whose Songs of Innocence and Experience picked up Grammys for Classical Album, Choral Performance and Classical Contemporary Performance, a three-out-of-three clean sweep. (The recording in question was recently reviewed at ionarts.)

A full list of winners is here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Links for the week 

Some of these are pretty cool.

Dorian Lynskey's Tube-Map-as-Music-History [pdf of the whole thing]

I disagree with Matt, though, on The Great Bear (if I read him right) - one of the most appealing things about that is figuring out if there isn't some mad meaning behind the interchanges. Rhizomes, eh?

The Independent, fittingly, ran a recent special on independent music (more links from that page); all a little predictable, unfortunately, but this article on the UK's thriving urban scene is a nice addition, and a timely counterpoint to this confused bumbling.

Oh, and indie labels rule.

Mmm - Sonic Youth are to continue their re-releasing binge with Sonic Youth, The Whitey Album and Thurston's Psychic Hearts. Goody - I can get a nice replacement for Whitey since my LP got scratched in my parents' loft.

eMusic sales are to be included in the chart reckonings.

Blackdown has a spanking new Dizzee interview, including a likkle taster for the new album.

This is a really excellent New York Times article on classical music and the net, prompted by the recent demise of Andante. Alex Ross has some additional comment. (And if that NYT piece was a new theme of sorts, here's this week's ground bass.)

And finally, Matmos are cool. Believe.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Osvaldo Golijov reaches London 

For a few months now I've harboured a suspicion that Osvaldo Golijov is to the 2000s what Krzysztof Penderecki was to the 1960s. Both composers rapidly developed a worldwide, word-of-mouth enthusiasm for their music, which was seen by some as a new hope for a contemporary music that speaks to the heart as much as the head. That enthusiasm grew immensely with the composition of a Passion by each composer: Passio et mors Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundam Lucam (1967) by Penderecki, and La Pasión Según San Marcos (2000) by Golijov. By the time each composer's music reached the UK, an almost unsustainably high level of expectation had been set up; what's more, to borrow some reception theory, a particularly focussed horizon of expectation now existed, which the work in performance was unlikely to be able to meet.

The arrival of Penderecki's Passion was his first big shot at breaking the UK; despite much intelligent and enthusiastic previewing, the work didn't have the desired impact - in this case because of the choice of the acoustically dry Festival Hall for the first performance, which pretty much killed the nebulous washes of sound that the piece relies so heavily on. A few weeks later, at the Albert Hall, the piece was better received, but suspicions had already been sown amongst the British press. The patchy opera the Devils of Loudon also failed to seduce the critics a year later, and Penderecki's reputation in London never recovered.

Golijov's first major impact in the UK bears a similar stamp. Enthusiastically previewed, last week's concert pretty much bombed amongst critics for the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian and Times. Some of the comments bear comparison too - perhaps an opera house would have been a better venue, for example.

Having not seen last week's Golijov concert I can't pass judgment on his music; but I will note that even if Penderecki has pretty much lost the goodwill of British critics, after studying his Passion for several years now, I can say that it, in spite of its major flaws, that work continues to impress me. See what you make of Golijov's own Passion, which will be at the Barbican on 24th February, but if Penderecki's example is anything to go by, it had better be good.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Andante shuts up shop 

Here's some sad news: classical music web portal Andante.com has shut down for good. That's a pity. Although I wasn't a frequent user of Andante, their news pages were often useful, and it was one of only a small handful of well-presented, informative, mature websites on classical music. It's a shame, therefore, that the project has become no longer viable.

Soundscapes conference, Goldsmiths 

Heads up, soundscape fans: next weekend (11th and 12th Feb) Goldmsiths College are hosting Sound Practice 2006, a conference on Some details are here, the full conference programme is below, and includes soundscape installations around the college. The whole thing is free:
Saturday, 11th February
9.30am [Small Hall]
John Levack Drever (Goldsmiths College)
Introduction: UK's Pre-History of Acoustic Ecology

10.00am [Small Hall]
Key Note 1.
Catharina Dyrssen (Chalmers School of Architecture, Göteborg, Sweden)
Model-to-model. On Design Based Experimentation With Sound Environments.

Coffee Break

11.00am [Small Hall]
Developing Policy Context And Potential Futures
Max Dixon (Greater London Authority)

Ximena Alarcón (De Montfort University)
An Interactive Sonic Environment Based On Commuters' Memory Of Soundscape:
A Case Study Of The London Underground (work in progress)

Tsai-wei Chen (Goldsmiths College)
On the Way Home: Taipei Sojourners' Sonic Constellations in London

Peter Cusack (London College of Communication)
Soundscapes of London, Beijing and Places Between

12.45pm - 1.30pm

1.30pm [Great Hall]
Phonography Concert
Yannick Dauby, Nick Fells, Pete Stollery, Bill Thompson, Lisa Whistlecroft,
Robert Worby & Philp Tagney

3.00pm [Recital Hall]
Julian Henriques (Goldsmiths College), Nick Gillieron (Paul Gillieron
Acoustics), Martyn Ware (Illustriuous)
The Sonic Space Ship (SSS)
4.00pm [Small Hall]
Louise K Wilson (University of Derby)
A Record of Fear: Sounding Out the Cold War

Dr Paul Moore (University of Ulster)
Cross (refernc)ing the Namib

Tony Whitehead (RSPB), Becca Lawrence (Sonic Arts Network)
Sonic Postcards: A Sonic Arts Network National Education Programme Using
Our Sonic Environment As A Springboard For Creative Arts

Simon Keep
Radio Taxi

5.45pm - 6.30pm [Small Hall]
Key Note 2.
Nicolas Rémy (CRESSON: Centre de Recherche sur l'Espace Sonore et
l'Environnement Urbain, École d'Architecture de Grenoble, France)
To Design Ambiences

Concert [Great Hall]
Donald Bousted, Disinformation, John Levack Drever, Rob Godman, John Lely

Installations during Saturday [Locations tbc]
Thanos Chrysakis (Goldsmiths College)
Thomas Kitazawa (Goldsmiths College)
Robin McGinley (Interactive Agents)
Neil Webb

Sunday 12th February
Sound Walk of Deptford.
[Meet by front of the Goldsmiths College Library. We will finish near at a
local establishment for those who may be interested in a hot breakfast.]

9.30am [Small Hall]
Andre Castro (Middlesex University)
Suite Vénitienne- Tuesday

Mikhail Karikis (Slade School of Fine Art)
The Acoustics of the Self

Tom Rice (Goldsmiths College)
Stethoscapes: Soundscapes Of The Body

Coffee Break

11.30am [Small Hall]
Ruth Hawkins (Goldsmiths College)
Bodies, Distances, Double Recordings

Adrian Newton
Finding An Audience For Soundscape Composition: Working With Community-Based

Anita McKeown (Art Services Un-incorporated)
Memphis 45s


2pm [Small Hall]
Joe Banks
Rorschach Audio

Concluding Remarks & Discussion for UKISC members. [Small Hall]

Installations during Sunday [Locations tbc]
James Bull (Goldsmiths College)
Thomas Kitazawa (Goldsmiths College)
Dave Lawrence (Middlesex University) & GÈNIA (Markson Music Centre)
Mary Yacoob (Central St Martins College of Art)

Useful Information
All events are free!
Closest Underground Station is New Cross Gate or New Cross.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Links for the week 

Pazz and Jop 2005 is out, of course. Plenty of comment through the link.

The Guardian on the BBC's Classical Grime project;

The Independent on Kano;

Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph sees in Iran's recent ban on Western music vindication for the view (which I share) that music is a very real, concrete influence on how people live their lives. "Part of me has a sneaking respect for a world-view which gives music such massive importance. Sometimes it can seem as if our freedoms merely bring on a satiated feeling, and make music just another pastime."

Greg Sandow eulogises over the Northern Sinfonia. Fair enough - the Sage is a world-class building, if surprisingly compact inside; it does house the country's only ten-sided performance space too. And the Northern Sinfonia is a top-notch band with a refreshingly open-minded approach to programming; my parents, in Carlisle, see about as much new music as I do thanks to the NS. Their only gripe is that now that the Sage has taken over all of the Newcastle-Gateshead's musical life, the Sinfonia hardly seem to tour the North as much as they did; and they certainly don't advertise it too well.

Oooh, who remembers Nirvana miming 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' on Top of the Pops? I do. And WFMU (and others) are hosting a 28MB mpeg of the whole thing. I also remember the band smashing their instruments in the background while a hapless presenter went on and introduced the next act, regardless of the mayhem unfolding behind them. (Sadly, this bit's not on the video, although there is a stage invasion.)

Here's an article on Frank Zappa's yet to be released Varese recordings [via Avant Music News]

And finally, some great thoughts from Alex Ross on the recent Mozart demi-quintennial. Damn right.

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