Archive for the ‘Daniel Alarcón’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with


DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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clowns SOUNDTRACK: LE FLY PAN AM: N’écoutez pas [CST031] (2004).

flypanam31N’écoutez pas (Do Not Listen) was the third and final full length album from Constellation’s Fly Pan Am (or in this case Le Fly Pan Am).  There are several short tracks on the disc as well as two 11 minutes songs

“Brûlez suivant, suivante!” (Burn Next, Next!) Opens the disc and hints that it’s going to be a standard rock album—4×4 drums and a dense buzzy electric guitar.  And even when the song proper starts, there’s chanted worded in French and some noisy guitar—its very far from the bass and funky glitchy stuff of previous albums.  The song has very conventional element—a drum break where one might clap along and what sounds like people singing lalalalalala, but all under a veneer of noise and decay that makes it anything but poppy.  There’s a deep voice speaking insistently in French and way in the background a person screaming.  So, really it’s rather unconventional, but within a relatively “normal” framework.  “Ex éleveurs de renards argentés” (Ex breeders silver foxes) is the noise of completely detuned guitars getting plucked and strummed for 30 seconds until a piano plays a chord and all else stops.  It seems like a song will begin but, no, more noises—industrial waves and cars honking takes over.  And then a cacophony of voices begins talking all over each other (including a couple in English).  It’s all over after about 2 minutes.

“Autant zig-zag” (As much zig-zag) is a totally apt name for this song.  This is the first 11 minute track.  After a minute or so introduction, the song comes in with a propulsive bass (not funky at all like the last album) and the song feels like it’s ready to rock.  And it does.  It keeps up this rhythm for a bit and then shifts to a new part with wordless vocals.  There’s even a call and response section with sung words and ooh ooohs as response.  The song shifts to a kind of pummeling section that continues for several minutes until the end.  It contains pretty much everything the band does.  “Buvez nos larmes de métal” (Drink our metal tears) is a noise collage with dramatic movie soundtrack type music played behind the static and distant voices and noises.

“Pas à pas step until” (Step by Step until) has a commanding one, two, three, pause, four, riff going on that is at once catchy and noisy.  The song proper comes in with whispered singing and a wild bass line.  Alexandre St-Onge contributes his wonderful chaos to this song which has some really catchy backing vocals in it

“…” opens side two with what sounds like a voice repeating Fly Pan Am over an over amidst the sound of someone else chewing.  It segues into “Très très ‘retro'” “Very Very ‘Retro’” is the other 11 minute song.  It has two guests, Dominique Petrin on vocals and Tim Heck on electronics.  The song opens with a high-pitched bass and some great counterpoint rhythms.   There’s more hidden vocals throughout the song  Around three minutes in, the bass gets funky.  This runs on for several minutes with some interesting sound effects thrown in until there’s a loud pop and silence.   And then another pop and organ music takes over.  At about 9 minute the song resumes the funky bass line. Again, the band has crammed a lot of stuff into this song.

“Vos rêves revers” (Your dreams setback) has a nice bass sound with some ringing guitar notes.  There’s whispered vocals that sing a melody of sorts.  It’s a fairly conventional song—catchy and bouncy with vocals and everything (true they are whispered and hushed vocals but they do follow a melody line).  At about 4 minutes (of 6), the songs crashes unto itself with the drums and the guitars seeming to fall apart

“Ce sale désir éfilé qui sortant de ma bouche” (This dirty tapered desire coming out of my mouth) has a deep echoing drum kick which keeps a beat.  In the distant background a keening voice kind of follows the melody.  The disc ends with “Le faux pas aimer vous souhaite d’être follement ami” (The false not love you madly want to be friend).  It’s a one minute song with sliding guitars and rock drums which propel this to as close to punk as the band has gotten.  There’s chanting and excitement and fun and then the whole song unravels after about 40 seconds at the end with a sloppy piano denouement.

And that was it from this avant-garde band. The members went on to make lots of other music, Jonathan Parant went on to form Feu Thérèse. Felix Morel has played drums with all kind of interesting bands including Et Sans.  Roger Tellier-Craig has been in Et Sans and Set Fire to Flames among others.  And Jean-Sebastian Truchy has played in several bands including Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche.

[READ: February 6, 2016] City of Clowns

In the afterword to this book, Alarcón explains how it as written.  He lived in Lima, Peru for a year, teaching.  But while he was there, he had writer’s block.  So he moved to a farmhouse in the middle of America–pure solitude.  And there he wrote the story “City of Clowns” (which I read back in 2013 in the New Yorker) in English.  Sheila Alvarado talked to him about turning the book into a graphic novel.  And so it was completed (after much labor, he says) in a slightly condensed Spanish edition to be released in Spain.  And then, eventually, it was translated into English again, from the Spanish graphic novel.

Since the story really doesn’t change from the short story version, I’m going to put my original comments here:

It opens with Oscarcito going to the hospital because his father died the night before.  He finds his mother mopping floors because his father’s bill was unpaid.  And in that very first paragraph, she introduces her son to Carmela—the woman whom his father left them for.  She was mopping the floor with Oscarcito’s  mother.  He is confused and enraged by this.

His half brothers are also there.  He had never met them before, preferring to stay away from his father’s other life.  But he saw them in front of him and clearly saw that they were related to him.  But the most galling thing was that although he was the oldest of all the children, they were clearly the chosen children—after all, his father stayed with them.

Then we learn about his father’s life.  He was born in Cerro de Pasco and moved to Lima when his young family was still young.  He worked hard in semi-legitimate businesses and then brought his family to the city.  Young Oscarcito, age 8, loved it.  But his mother hated missing her family in Cerro de Pasco.  And now they were living with his father who was practically a stranger. His father worked hard and succeeded, but he was rarely home.

Between flashbacks to his father’s story we see that Oscarcito is now a reporter for the local newspaper and he has been asked to write about the clowns that are prevalent around the city.  Oscarcito is on a bus when a clown approaches.  The clown is pelted by water balloons but still manages to climb aboard the bus and peddle his wares—gaining a few coins for his “act.”  Oscarcito is not interested in the subject and puts it off.

So he travels to his mother’s house to see how she is doing, but a neighbor there tells him she has been living with Carmela since his father got sick.  His mother was embarrassed by this and asked the neighbor not to say anything to him.

His mother had been a cleaning lady since they moved to Lima.  She worked for the Azcártes, a wealthy local family who treated her very well and treated Oscarcito practically like their own son.  Oscar was even sent to a nice school where he was welcomed until they realized where he was from.  Gangs would steal anything from anyone, and were called Piranhas.  And that became Oscar’s nickname at school.  And soon he was made fun of by just about everyone, but especially by one boy.

A flashback then shows that Oscarcito went to work with his father doing construction on a few occasions—they worked very hard on expansions of people’s houses—working hard and working well and making good improvements.  But all the while, they were waiting patiently until they could rob them of all of their fine things.

So when he found his father was working for the father of the boy who made fun of him, he wanted in, and he stole the boy’s suit.

Finally, after putting off his article for ages, Oscarcito meets and interviews a clown.  And that clown tells him how he started and invites him along.  And Oscarcito does.  He finds that he likes the anonymity of the job.

All of the threads come to a head as the story reaches its close—where Oscar will confront his mother and deal with his newfound joy at being a clown.

The ending was very powerful and I enjoyed this story immensely.

There are few details from the original story that have been changed (and I amended my comments accordingly).

There is also an extra scene added of him dating a girl named Carla who walked on stilts.  There’s an erotic moment which is really interesting and which brings a whole new level of fascination to Oscar’s clown life.

Obviously the biggest change is Alvarado’s illustrations.  She does an excellent job recreating these scenes much as I imagined them.  I really  enjoyed the way she worked within the mens’ professions–putting words on bricks as his father was laying them, hanging papers up to dry with text on them, and using excellent distinctions of black and white to show the different settings in Oscar’s life.

The biggest change I think is the depiction of Oscar in his clown suit.  It’s nothing like I imagined and is all the better for it.  Alarcón says that now this is “its true and definitive form” of the book, and I imagine that this is what I will think of when I think of the story.

For ease of searching, I include: Daniel Alarcon.


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tny6.16&23.03 cvrSOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do (2004).

babaI didn’t realize that this was a soundtrack to Merce Cunningham’s dance piece Split Sides.  That doesn’t really change my opinion of the music, although it does make me wonder just what kind of dance this would have been.

There are three tracks on this short EP.  The primary instrument seems to be the music box.  There are no real vocals on the album, except for what sounds like sampled children and a few spoken words in the final track (the words are the title of the EP sampled and thrown around, apparently spoken by Cunningham).  Of course, it’s not all music box, there are synths and interesting percussive sounds (what sounds like the winding up of said music boxes).  The first two songs are quite similar, with the second being a bit more fleshed out.

The final track, with the sampled words, sounds much different and feel a bit more aggressive, although that is all relative of course.  The whole EP is about 20 minutes long.  Of all of Sigur Rós’ varied output (singles and EPs) this is probably the least essential one that is all new music.

[READ: November 8, 2013] “City of Clowns”

I had printed out all of the New Yorker stories that Alarcón had written because I enjoyed his previous ones so much. This was the first and I was blown away by how good it was.

It is a long and somewhat complicated story.

It opens with Oscarcito going to the hospital because his father died the night before.  He finds his mother mopping floors because his father’s bill was unpaid.  And in that very first paragraph, she introduces her son to Carmela—the woman whom his father left them for.  She was mopping the floor with Oscarcito’s  mother.  He is confused and enraged by this.

His half brothers are also there.  He had never met them before, preferring to stay away from his father’s other life.  But he saw them in front of him and clearly saw that they were related to him.  But the most galling thing was that although he was the oldest of all the children, they were clearly the chosen children—after all, his father stayed with them.

Then we learn about his father’s life.  He was born in Cerro de Pasco and moved to Lima when his young family was still young.  He worked hard in semi legitimate businesses and then brought his family to the city.  Young Oscarcito, age 8, loved it.  But his mother hated missing her family in Cerro de Pasco.  And now they we reliving with his father who was practically a stranger. His father worked hard and succeeded, but he was rarely home (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: November 8, 2013] Daniel Alarcón reads “Gomez Palacio”

alarcon The New Yorker has a Fiction podcast of current authors reading a story from the New Yorker archives.  I was unaware of this podcast until I recently stumbled upon this Alarcón reading.  I am trying to find out the breadth and depth of this podcast, but I find the navigation really unclear.  It seems like there are a lot of stories in this series.  (You can see the archives list here, although I wish it was a little easier to navigate).

The podcast is 30 minutes long.  What you get is a brief interview with Alarcón, in which he talks primarily about his exposure to Bolaño and his interpretation of this story.  And then he reads the story itself.

The interview was very interesting.  He talks about reading Bolaño when 2666 had come out in Chile.  What I enjoyed hearing him talk about was the Bolaño universe and him “sampling himself.”  And also how the shorter works reference each other and different characters appear and reappear–that Bolaño has created an entire world in which all of his stories are set.  These are things that I noticed, of course, but it is always comforting to hear others confirm your ideas. (more…)

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TNY 10.6.08 palin cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: WEED-“Silent Partner” (2013).

weed-deserve-0f8161c881e522aba0f28701cda87e9a558f9727-s1This song started off a recent All Songs Considered podcast and it starts with a bang–a big wall of fuzzy guitars and the vocals mixed way back in the song.  It has a very early 90s vibe–a slow song despite the loud buzzy guitars.

It reminds me of a lot of bands from that 90s era–Swervedriver, Screaming Trees–although it has a few moments (bridges maybe) in which the guitars plays faster, almost a heavy metal riff.  And yet the chorus is expansive (if still distorted)–bringing together a lot of interesting elements.  And I love the way the song ends with nearly 30 seconds of feedback.

I definitely want to hear more from these guys.

[READ: August 9, 2013] “The Idiot President”

This story seems to be referenced in Alarcón’s recent short story “Collectors.”  In “Collectors” we meet Henry, the author of the play “The Idiot President” and we hear how he was jailed for performing the political piece.

In this story, apparently written five years before “Collectors,” we meet an actor who has worked with Henry and who has acted in “The Idiot President” (which was well received by audiences, especially the big reveal at the end).  They were in an acting troupe called Diciembre and for this “tour” three of them–Henry, the narrator and Paralarga–went to small villages to perform the play.

While Henry and Patalarga were in Diciembre for real, the narrator knew he was going to be leaving the country soon.  His brother lived in California and promised him a visa…soon.  So the narrator just assumed that nothing he did had any real consequence.  And while traveling around and acting seemed like a good idea, doing it in the winter with very little in the way of provisions was not the best idea.  He lost weight and was always chilled and sickly.

There are a number of brief episodes in this story (which I assume is actually an excerpt). The first involves Tania.  Tania is Patalarga’s second cousin and Henry’s ex-wife (from many years ago). After their performance in Tania’s city, she sings for them during the after party (with a beautiful voice that the narrator falls in love with).  It is clear that the narrator is bewitched by her–while the other two just seem bemused by everything.  She takes pity on him and walks him back to his bed.  And just when he thinks she is “interested,” she makes it clear that she was just walking him to his bed. (more…)

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Irs picked this song because I thought he had the same name as the character in this story, but he doesn’t.  Rats.

So this collaboration between electronic music pioneer (whom I’ve never heard of) Hans-Joachim Roedelius (who is 78!) and Stefan Schneider (who is much younger).  This piece is a largely a simple piano motif played over a pretty bassline.  (I assume this part if Roedelius).  Then after a few minutes come the effects and drums.  They are quiet and they add more texture than anything else.  But they also modernize this ambient track in a really interesting way–keeping it from getting too soporific (although the melody itself isn’t really soporific at all).  It keeps it lively and a little unexpected.

Although I’m not a huge fan of ambient music, I could see listening to more of this album.

[READ: August 5, 2013] “Collectors”

This story is constructed in a fascinating way.  Set in Peru, it opens with the story of Rogelio, a skinny boy who fails at school (later he is unofficially diagnosed with dyslexia).  He is unhappy at home, especially when his older brother Jaime moves to San Jacinto.  At age 13 Rogelio quit school and moved to San Jacinto to be with his brother.  They worked together making delivers and fixing up vehicles (and making a profit).  It slowly dawns on Rogelio that not everything they do is entirely legitimate, (especially since Jaime seems to have so much cash).  But he;s okay with that and asks no questions.

Then the story informs us in the middle of the second paragraph that Rogelio will wind up in Collectors prison (which I assume is infamous although I’m not actually sure if it’s real).   And sure enough about midway through the story we find out how it happened–Rogelio was carrying something (he didn’t know what) and he was searched by the police (who were looking for weapons).  We’re also told about Rogelio’s cellmate, Henry, who is nice to him.

Then we learn about Henry and how he wound up in prison.  He was a playwright.  And he wrote a (not very good) play called “The Idiot President” which the President (or someone) found offensive.  And soon Henry was regarded as a terrorist.  He considered it an absurd joke at first until the weeks turned into months and he was eventually shunted of to Collectors.

We learn about Collector’s prison, how Rogelio initially didn’t even have a cell–he slept under the stairs–until he was able to buy a cell (with money from Jaime).  Henry, because he had some money, was able to afford a cell and was very lucky to get a kindred soul like Rogelio.  The two actually become friends–talking and reading–and eventually become, dare they say it, lovers.

And they manage to survive in the prison by never upsetting the status quo and being able to read the feeling of the place (Rogelio grew especially good at that when he had nowhere to hide). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SURFER BLOOD-Live on KEXP, December 1, 2009 (2009).

This performance takes place before Surfer Blood’s debut album came out.  The DJ is amazed at the size of their following (which is indeed quite huge for a band with no record yet).  The band is young and fun and they engage her with stories and joke. They’re a treat to listen to.

And so is the music. “Floating Vibes,” sounds great and it flows seamlessly into “Swim” (their “hit”), which also sounds fantastic here live.

“Catholic Pagans” is a brief rocker which melds into “Anchorage,”  a 7-minute slow burner that ends with a noisy workout.  It’s always great to hear a new band who sounds awesome live.  Here’s where you can listen to them.

[READ: November 13, 2012] “Extinct Anatomies”

Daniel Alarcón is an author whom I feel has been around for a very long time, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  He was listed as a New Yorker 20 under 30 just two years ago, so he can’t be that old either.  (Indeed, he has released only a collection of short stories and a novel at this point).

Anyhow, this short fiction was really interesting.  The writing style was delightfully straightforward and compelling, despite the rather banal subject matter.  An uninsured musician is in Lima visiting his cousin.  Since he has no insurance in the States, and his cousin is a dentist, he decides to have extensive dental work done by his relative (he had broken his front teeth).  This cousin lived with them in Alabama when they were kids but they haven’t really seen each other much since then.

Back in Alabama, the cousin, who was older, was chasing after girls when the narrative was but 8 years old.  The narrator didn’t understand the flirting that the cousin did on the phone (“Oh, your hair”) and the cousin seemed exasperated about what American women might want.

But again, this somewhat banal story is filled with deception and intrigue.  He tells a lie to his cousin about how he teeth were broken.  And his cousin “ordered X-rays, as if to confirm my story.”   The cousin’s dental assistant is very nice and gentle but is always hidden behind a mask.  So the narrator imagines her as very beautiful.  And after a few sessions he has fantasies about her to take his mind of the procedure. (more…)

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The Yellow Tape is legendary in terms of demos.  It was an indie cassette-only release and it went platinum in Canada.

Before the internet, it was really hard to come across this cassette (again, even though it went platinum in Canada, I don’t know that it ever even made it south of the border).  Of course, now with the web, you can hear all 5 tracks on the cassette (thanks YouTube).

Four of the 5 songs appeared on their first album anyhow, and they don’t sound dramatically different from the “Yellow” versions (“Brian Wilson” still has that awesome bass from Jim Creeggan for instance). It basically sounds like an early live recording.  (The harmonies are spot on, the only difference is Steven Page’s vamping, which is a bit more than on the release).  Although I think “Blame It on Me” sounds a little less exciting than the Gordon version.

And of course, the final track is their original cover of “Fight the Power.”

It’s interesting that the band chose these 5 songs, two of which talk about famous people and are sort of funny. (And then a cover of a Public Enemy song!)  It really sets them up as a goofy band (which they are, although they are much more than that), but it kind of put them in a novelty niche right off the bat.   A niche which they never really outgrew, even if their later discs were much more serious.

[READ: August 17, 2010] “Second Lives”

Daniel Alarcón is another New Yorker 20 Under 40.

I love the way this story begins.  It informs us that the narrator’s parents had the foresight to have their first child in the United States.  His parents were in Baltimore on a visa.  His father enrolled in school and his mother worked in the health care profession.  They were comfortable enough in their lives to have their son Francisco there.  But then a coup broke out back home, their visas are not renewed and they were forced to return home.  Their second son, the narrator, with whom his mother was pregnant at the time wound up being born not in America.

And so, when your brother has American citizenship and can freely roam the American countryside, what exactly are you supposed to think when you are denied this freedom? (more…)

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This week’s New Yorker contains a list of the 20 authors under age 40 that they predict we’ll be talking about for years to come.  Their criteria:

did we want to choose the writers who had already proved themselves or those whom we expected to excel in years to come? A good list, we came to think, should include both.

They have published eight of these authors in the current issue and are publishing the remaining 12 over the next 12 weeks.  I’m particularly excited that they chose to do this now.  Since I’m currently involved in two big book projects, it’s convenient to be able to read a whole bunch of short stories to intersperse between big posts.

I’ve read half of the authors already (likely in The New Yorker and McSweeney‘s).  And have heard of many of the others.   The list is below: (more…)

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