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Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PROTOJE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #76 (September 7, 2020).

Protoje is another reggae singer (who I’d never heard of before this Tiny Desk) who seems to be breaking the mold of what reggae sounds like.

Protoje is a not-so-secret treasure who’s been a vital force in the reggae revival movement these last several years. Perched in the hills of Irish Town on the fringe of Kingston, Protoje welcomes us into his backyard (which doubles as The Habitat Studio) for a uniquely fresh spin on a Tiny Desk (home) Concert. With a custom-designed set flanked by lush greens and mountains in the distance, this creative backdrop complements the uplifting feeling of Protoje’s music.

He performs three songs from his fifth album In Search of Lost Time and ends his set with an older song.

“Deliverance” has a loud bassline from Donald Dennis and an electronic drum sound from Peter Samaru.  Protoje sings and raps with a really fast delivery.

He speaks to his spiritual philosophy and faith on “Deliverance” with a chorus stating, “I hold my order, give my praises / Oh Jah, deliver me through these days, Jah deliver me / Sometimes really hard to go and face it / Oh this life can truly be amazing, amazing.”

The song is catchy and uplifting.

I really like that Lamont Savory is playing an acoustic guitar.  It’s never obtrusive.  In fact it often fades into the background, but it’s always there keeping the rhythm and melody afloat.  As the song ends he walks over to Sean Roberts and starts messing around on Roberts’ looping box.

“Strange Happenings” opens with Savory’s quiet, pretty guitar melody.  I usually find reggae to be samey and kind of dull, but these songs have a lot of vitality.  And lyrically they are sweet and powerful.

to me life was easy, it was just fun and games
Until I saw that people were filled with so much pain
It’s harder to share sometimes, easier to pretend
The way we treat each other, I just don’t comprehend

And then it came as a surprise to me that Sean Roberts busted out a violin and began playing a kind of mournful solo.

“Same So” has the standard reggae rhythm but the bass line is a bit more interesting.  It feels warm and inviting–much like the place where he is playing (which seems so placid it almost looks like a photograph backdrop).

After joking that “this is awkward” he proposes one more song.

He wraps his performance with his most recognizable chart-topping hit, “Who Knows,” which featured Chronixx on the original recording.

This song also has a pretty guitar opening and Protoje singing in a high, soft register.

Who knows / I just go where the trade wind blows / sending love to my friends and foes.

A message of peace in a time of hostility,

[READ: September 5, 2020] “What is Remembered”

In this story Meriel and her husband Pierre are getting ready to go to a funeral.  They had to come travel to Vancouver from Vancouver Island and it was their first night in a hotel alone since their wedding night–they always traveled with their children.

This was their second funeral as a married couple.  The first was a fellow teacher of Pierre’s.  He was in his sixties and they felt that that was okay.  What difference did it make if you died at sixty-five or seventy-five or eighty-five?

But this funeral was for Pierre’s best friend Jonas–aged twenty-nine.  When she told Pierre that Jonas had died, Pierre immediately guessed suicide.  But no, it was a motorcycle accident.  Why had he been so certain it was a suicide?

They went to Jonas’ parents house for the reception.  There’s an amusing sequence with Pierre’s mother treating Pierre like a child.  But then Pierre’s mother and Jonas’ mother were distracted by the doctor who had looked after Jonas. They both approved of the man. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KIAN SOLTANI-Tiny Desk Concert #880 (August 16, 2019).

I feel like listeners are more familiar with a violin than a cello.  Violins are everywhere (they’re so portable), but cellos only seem to come out when you need a bigger string section.  I have come to realize that I much prefer the sound of a cello to a violin  The cello can reach some impressive high notes (check out about three minutes into the Hungarian Rhapsody) but its the richness of the low notes that really impresses me,  Or maybe it’s just the historical value of Kian Soltani’s cello

It’s not every day someone walks into our NPR Music offices and unpacks an instrument made in 1680. And yet Kian Soltani, the 27-year-old cellist who plays with the authority and poetry of someone twice his age, isn’t exactly fazed by his rare Giovanni Grancino cello, which produces large, luminous tones. (He also plays a Stradivarius.)

I love Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, and I love this one as well. What is it about Hungary that inspires such wild songs?

The Hungarian Rhapsody, by the late 19th century cellist and composer David Popper, traces its inspiration to similarly titled pieces by Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, but showcases a number of hot-dogging tricks for the cello, including stratospheric high notes, flamboyant slides and a specific high-velocity bouncing of the bow called sautillé. Soltani nails all of them with nonchalant elegance, backed with companionable accompaniment by pianist Christopher Schmitt.

He says that that piece was a very extrovert, out-there piece and so from this mode we take it more inward.

To prove he can make his instrument truly sing, Soltani worked up his own arrangement of “Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams) by Franz Schubert, replacing the human voice with his cello’s warm, intimate vocalizing.

It’s fascinating to think that this song was musically written for the piano and voice.  But he has taken the vocal track and turned it into a moving (possibly better?) version on the cello.

His parents emigrated to Austria from Iran in the mid-1970s.  He grew up in Austria and loved it as a locus of great classical music.  But he also hold on to his Persian roots.

And in the Persian Fire Dance, Soltani’s own composition, flavors from his Iranian roots – drones and spiky dance rhythms – commingle with percussive ornaments.

This is a wonderful Concert and Soltani’s playing is really breathtaking.

[READ: September 1, 2019] Middlewest

I had heard of Skottie Young as the author of I Hate Fairyland (which sounds like a children’s book but is definitely not).

This book is also definitely not for children (although I see some people think it could be for YA readers).

Abel is a young boy who lives with his abusive father.  His father, Dale, is a real piece of work. Abel’s mother left, so Dale blames Abel and is on him all the time.

As the first chapter opens, Abel has overslept his paper route (the second time in five years).  His father is very angry even if Abel has been getting up at 4:30 every day for five years. As Abel is running late delivering the papers, his friends tell him to blow it off–it’s too late anyway, just go with them to play video games. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIZZO-Tiny Desk Concert #872 (July 29, 2019).

Obviously everyone knows who Lizzo is.  I had only recently heard of her and had heard amazing things about her live show. I even tried to get us tickets when she played the TLA, but it was sold out (good for her..I’m quite certain she will never play as tint a venue again soon).

Once we opened the room, there were as many people as we’ve ever had at a Tiny Desk concert, hanging on Lizzo’s every word as she held court and waited for the cameras to roll. She literally needed no introduction; one of us usually says a few words and gets the crowd to applaud for the start of the performance, but Lizzo was master of ceremonies from the second she walked in. Naturally, she needed all of two seconds to blow everyone’s hair back once more.

She starts out saying, “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. So I think I’ll do it today.  At this Tiny-Ass Desk.”

Lizzo belted out “Cuz I Love You,” the title track from her wonderful new album, with nothing off her fastball; if you were standing six feet away at the time, you’d swear the gale force of her voice was blowing your hair back. She was the star and the mayor rolled into one, at once ingratiating and commanding.

Lizzo’s voice is truly amazing.  A powerful instrument in which she can hold a long powerful note for a really long time.

Lizzo usually performs with dancers and a backing track; the former, though much-missed here, stood in the crowd and bobbed along… [while the backing] band assembled, at Bob Boilen’s request, just for the occasion.

Lizzo looks back at keyboardist Devin Johnson and says “Devin’s into this shit.”

After the song she says,

I’m crying cuz I love you but sometimes I’m crying cuz you get on my fuckin nevres.  Niggaz ain’t shit sometimes.  Bitches ain’t shit sometimes too and all the nonconforming genders in between you can be ain’t shit too.

There’s some great funky bass (Vernon Prout) and drums (Dana Hawkins) during “Truth Hurts.”  Walter Williams adds some quiet but nice melodies throughout.  And her singing the deep bum bum bum dad bum bum is really fun.

Then came

the literal and figurative show-stopper, “Juice,” which gave her the opportunity to pick up the flute she’d been waiting the whole set to bust out.

I had no idea Lizzo played the flute but she plays an awesome solo that adds so much to a song that I’ve heard so many times.

Lizzo was a lot of fun and very funny and wow, did she impress me wit her voice.  I now wish more than ever that I’d gotten a chance to see her in the tiny club.

[READ: August 18, 2020] “Elliott Spencer” 

George Saunders tends to write things in rather unique ways.  Sometimes it’s just in the concept that he is working worth.  Other times it is the way he presents it.  In this case it is both.

This story starts out in a very hard-to-read fashion:

Today is to be    Parts of the   Parts of my

Sure, Jer  Please do  Point at parts of me while saying the name of it off our list of Words Worth Knowing

Agespot

Finger

Wrist

What the hell is going on?

It is clear that whoever the narrator is, he or she or it is learning.

Next, Jer teaches the narrator Bellow and then the words to below: bastard, Turd, Creep, Idiot.

Then Jer informs 89 that from now on, 89 will be known as Greg.

Then Greg is on Job One.  They go to trees, but something is wrong

Our tree.in our HandiPic has squirrel No squirrel at all near these trees!

Greg and the others line up to shout the four words at the others.  They are across the river.  This river is actually police looking nervous. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PRIESTS-Tiny Desk Concert #868 (July 19, 2019).

[UPDATE: Priests effectively broke up in December 2019, which is a major bummer].

I saw Priests live back in April and they were fantastic.  This Tiny Desk Concert was no doubt filmed around this time (although singer Katie Alice Greer’s hair wasn’t blue when I saw them).

This Tiny Desk really shows how different a band can sound in this setting.  When I saw them, they were loud and slinky, with a real punk flair.

This show is so much calmer.  The addition of their accompanist Mary Voutsas on piano really changes the whole sound of these songs.

Indeed, the request of an upright piano was the last thing I expected when singer Katie Alice Greer and guitarist G.L. Jaguar talked about doing a Tiny Desk Concert. But we wheeled the Yamaha upright in place and they invited their accompanist Mary Voutsas to join bandmates Daniele Yandel and Alexandra Tyson. What we have is a kinder, gentler and starker version of this great band.

Priests played only songs from their personally groundbreaking, genre-stretching album The Seduction of Kansas.

“Jesus’ Son” starts with Alexandra Tyson’s deep rumble of a bass.  She’s not their original bassist, but she fit in perfectly when I saw them and here.  Katie Greer’s voice sounds great and you can hear the lyrics more clearly here.  The biggest surprise is the subdued sound of guitarist G.L Jaguar.  He can play quietly but he also roars at times. But here, most of the melody comes from the delicate piano rather than his guitar.  Although he does get a quiet guitar solo.

“The Seduction of Kansas” sounds the most different here. It still opens with the great bass line, but the recorded version is very electronic and seductive.  This stripped down version sounds so much more clean, it’s odd but cool.

I’m glad that drummer Daniele Yandel was invited to come out from behind the kit to sing “I’m Clean” (with Greer on drums).  This song is slower with echoing guitars.  Yandel doesn’t sound dramatically different from Greer.  In fact, Yandel’s singer voice sounds a lot like Greer’s lower register.  In fact, when Greer sings the backing vocals (call and response), they sounds almost exactly the same.  It’s cool.

I’m so glad that I got to see them, and that they did this Tiny Desk before they broke up.

[READ: August 1, 2019] “New Things in My Life”

This is another of Davis’ short pieces that seem so much like Lydia just telling us her thoughts that I’m not even really sure what to call it (short story, memoir, thought.

Davis says it takes her a long time to get used to new things in her life.  So much so that, if she is tried, she will inevitably call her new husband by her old husband’s name.  And when she is very tired she can hardly remember the new husband’s and son’s names. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ENSEMBLE SIGNAL PLAYS JONNY GREENWOOD-Tiny Desk Concert #850 (May 20, 2019).

The blurb for this piece is actually by Jonny Greenwood (instead of an NPR staffer), so I’ll keep the whole thing.

I’ve watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It’s good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they’ve just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

Unfortunately, I was nowhere near Washington, D.C. for this recording. And I still find it bizarre that you can put a musical idea on paper and have it reproduced at such a distance — and with such added life. We’re used to sounds and images being shared as exact clones of one another, but the pleasure in using ink and paper is that the music is interpreted rather than just reproduced. All those years of practice, in all those players, distilled into 15 minutes of music. It’s a big privilege — and a continuing motivation to write the best I can.

The first piece, Three Miniatures from Water, was originally a sketch for an Australian Chamber Orchestra commission in 2014. I thought it’d be easier to approach writing for full orchestra by starting with a piano miniature and scaling it up. In fact, only some of the material made it to the final commission, and I always felt the original three miniatures hung together well enough as its own piece of music.

I’m a big admirer of composer Olivier Messiaen, and one of the musical scales he favored was the octatonic mode. It’s a lot like an Indian rag in that it’s a rigid set of notes, yet isn’t necessarily in a major or minor key. There are hundreds of rags in Indian music, but I was surprised to find that Messiaen’s octatonic scale isn’t one of them. Despite this, it sits nicely over a drone — and that was the starting point for this music. That and the glorious sound of the tanpura, the drone instrument that underpins everything in classical Indian music.

The piece is called Water, after the Philip Larkin poem with the same title, and was especially inspired by the final stanza:

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.

The second piece, called 88 (No. 1), is also in one of Messiaen’s modes in the first half, before becoming a celebration of the mechanical nature of the piano. The performer has to put fingerless gloves on halfway through, partly in tribute to the immortal Glenn Gould, and partly because the technique requires some painful hammering. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the music is dark or angry: It is — or is meant to be — joyful.

“Three Miniatures from Water” features lots of drones from the strings ( Lauren Radnofsky on cello and Greg Chudzik on bowed upright bass).  There’s also the excellent tanpura drones from Paul Coleman and Elena Moon Park. The violin from Olivia De Prato plays a slow melody that seems to appear and disappear while the piano plays a somewhat spooky pizzicato melody.

“88 (No. 1)” is a solo piano piece by Lisa Moore (who played piano on the other piece as well).  It does seem to use all 88 keys in various fashion.  Indeed, she does put on fingerless gloves a little more than half way through the piece where she does play quite possibly every note (I can’t imagine what that looks like on paper).  For the last 45 seconds, she seems to be banging relentlessly (but tunefully–are there chords?) all over the keys.

Neither one of these pieces seem particularly joyful to me–they both seem kind of scary, but I am fascinated at the kind of compositions the guy from Radiohead makes.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “Then Again”

This is an excerpt from The Other Half, a manuscript that Ciment is writing to rebut her own 1996 memoir, Half a Life.

In that original memoir, she wrote about meeting her husband.  At the time she was seventeen and he was forty-seven (and her art teacher).

She asks what should she call him now.  “My husband”?  Yes, if it is the story is about the man she married and lived with for forty-five years.  But what if it is about an older man preying on a teenager.  Should she call him “The artist” or “the art teacher.”

She says he didn’t know what to expect when he kissed her for the first time–she could have screamed or slapped him.  But she had fantasized about him for the last six months, so that was not going to happen. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS–Humanities Theatre Waterloo ON (January 24, 1997).

Just as I was finishing up all of the newest live Rheostatics recordings, Daron posted a dozen or so more.

This is a pretty awesome soundboard recorded show just following the Rheos tour with The Tragically Hip and about 4 months after the release of The Blue Hysteria. One of the best versions of A Mid Winter Night’s Dream I’ve ever heard. As you can see on the DAT it used to be called Winter’s Tale. People From Earth opened the show. NB both First Rock Concert and RBC are incomplete recordings.

People from Earth opened.

After listening to all of those new recordings, it’s fun to go back to 1997 before they had broken up, while they were touring The Blue Hysteria.  It’s also a little surreal to not really hear the crowd (because this is a soundboard).

This recording is 90 minutes (which means either they were playing shorter shows back then or a lot of it was cut off (which seem more likely).

Martin sounds great, playing a rather slow and hushed version of “California Dreamline.”  I like the way the washes of guitar noise segue in to the acoustic guitar of “Claire.”  Throughout the show I couldn’t help noticing how young Tim sounds (far more so than the other guys).

After a trippy “Digital Beach,” they segue into “Earth/Monstrous Hummingbirds.”  It’s one of their weirder songs with lots of different parts.  It sounds great–certainly a peak time for this kind of song.

There’s a fun boppy version of “Introducing Happiness”–Tim seems to be having a lot of fun with the song.

Dave Bidini says that last night, Martin talked the longest on stage ever in his life before introducing this next song.  “You probably read about it on the internet or something.”  Martin says, “I enjoyed it so much I can’t do it tonight.”  He says that the recording of “Motorino” features the host of channel 47 show Jump cut for young Italian Canadians.  That’s Felicia.  She spoke (rapidly) in Italian for the record.

It’s interesting that this is the first song they’re playing off of the new album and they don’t mention it as such.

“Four Little Songs” is still new so they don;t get too crazy with it, although Martin has fun singing his part.   Dave would like to dedicate his fourth little song to our backdrop the newest member of the Rheostatics.  It’s the angry chickadee or two fish kissing.  Dave asks Tim, “who would win in a fight?  Angry Chickadee or Monstrous Hummingbird?”  Tim: “How big is monstrous?”  Martin: “Like Mothra.”

After not playing anything from Blue Hysteria, the play six new songs in a row.  Martin introduces “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine” as a song “about trying to help someone that you’re in love with….stop killing themselves.  Sorry.”  It’s wonderfully intense and the harmonies are outstanding.  The sound of the guitar taking off half way through is tremendous and Martin hitting those falsetto notes gives me goose bumps.

“Fat” “is as song about having a best friend” (Dave says). It opens with a great slinky bass and Martin saying more drama on the lights–get rid of those white ones.   More great backing vocals from Martin.  It’s followed by Tim’s delicate “An Offer.”  Tim;s voice seems to be much higher than in 2017.

The band loves talking about playing in Kitchener (they are still doing it in 2017).  In 1982/1983 they played there at the Kent Hotel which was a strip joint.

“A Midwinter Nights Dream” is an absolutely stunning flawless performance.  The crowd is great, the band is on fire and it sounds amazing.  This has become one of my favorite Rheos songs and I love hearing it live (even if Dave doesn’t know what it’s called).

This song “Bad Time to Be Poor” is getting played on rock n’ roll radio (but it’s not its commercial radio).   We get invited to radio stations named after animals: The Bear, The Lizard, The Fox, The Marmot (that’s in St. John).  Now we’re getting a lot of guys dressed in denim coming to our shows.  So we’re broadening our horizons.   If someone sparks up a joint, don’t blame the song, blame commercial radio.

There is a rocking and fun “Dope Fiends” to end the set.

They come back for the encore and this recording cuts off the opening of “My First Rock Concert.”  But Dave has fun explaining a lyric.  When his friend was “on his back” it was a popular dance of the time called the worm.  Then they talk about people swan diving to them when they get famous.

The recording ends with “Record Body Count.”  It ends early, but has a nice fade at least.

This is, indeed a great show.

[READ: December 2018] Let’s Start a Riot

I just have to look at Bruce McCulloch on the cover of this book and it makes me laugh.  McCulloch has played some of my favorite characters on Kids in the Hall (although I could never pick a favorite).  But he is especially good at being an asshole.   A very funny asshole.

And what better sums up Bruce than this:

Ever feel like you were once young and cool and then you woke up in the middle of your life, emptying the dishwasher?

What could this book be about (and how did I not even hear of it when it came out?).  Well the answer to the first question is in the subtitle.  There’s no answer for the second one.  But there is an introduction to the book by Paul Feig (which has nothing to do with either of these questions).

Bruce says he always dreamed of writing a book.  “One day.  When I was old.  Luckily, and unluckily, that day had come.”  When he told his family his wife and children Roscoe and Heidi (five and seven, he thinks), they wonder what he’ll write about.  He tells them that he will write about how he was once a young angry punk who crawled out of a crappy family, had this silly show on TV then somehow became a happy man with a pretty good family.  “Why would anyone want to read that?” Heidi asks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSPIRIT OF THE WEST-Live at Massey Hall (June 6, 2015).

This proves to be a pretty powerful show.

I was introduced to Spirit of the West by my Vancouver based friend Amber back in the 1990s.  I didn’t really keep up with them, but I have long enjoyed their album faithlift.

But here it is 2015 and as the blurb at the beginning of the show says:

In 2014, at the age of 51, John Mann, Spirit of the West’s lead singer, was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  On June 6, 2015, Spirit of the West would play their one and only show at Toronto’s Legendary Massey Hall.

The rest of the band includes Hugh McMillan, Vince Ditrich, Tobin Frank and Matthew Harder all of whom play various instruments including keyboards, accordion and all things with strings.

Most of the band have never been in Massey or even seen it.  But they marvel at the venue and are genuinely moved by the end of this show.

They open with their hit (from faithlift) “And If Venice is Sinking.”  It’s got accordion and a big bass line and some funny lyrics and a full backing vocal chorus.

We made love upon a bed
That sagged down to the floor
In a room that had a postcard on the door
Of Marini’s Little Man
With an erection on a horse
It always leaves me laughing

John Mann is the lead singer, Geoff Kelly is the co-lead guy.  He does most of the speaking.  He says “This is as close as were every gonna get to Beatlemania.”

Next up is “King of Scotland” about a man who desperately wanted to be Scottish.  It, like many of their songs is a rousing half-trad/half rocking song.  Incidentally, Mann has been singing off of an iPad to help with his memory.

“Doin’ Quite Alright” is the first of many songs sung by Kelly.  he also plays bodhran.  It sounds quite trad and is much faster with a  cool bassline.  The addition of 70s sounding keyboards is a little odd though.

“July” sees the introduction of what I think is a bouzouki and sounds an awful lot like “Love is All Around” by Wet Wet Wet except for the fun and powerful chorus of JuLYYYYYYYY!

Kelly jokes that someone in the band is delighted by Massey Hall because it is finally something he’s found that is older than Kelly is.

Up next is “Political,” a song “we recorded on our Labour Day record in 1988ish and then again on Go Figure and then again with the Vancouver symphony.  I guess we really like this song.  Kelly is on flute and plays a wild harmonica solo.

Next up is their newest song, which is about 12 years old.  It’s about how every year New Year’s parties just get worse and worse.  “Another Happy New Year” starts out with slow staccato piano and then it really takes off (with Kelly on the penny whistle).

After sincerely thanking everyone for their kindness (it’s getting pretty emotional), they are going to play a drinking song called The Crawl.  The crowd really gets into the raucous song.

The night ends with Kelly saying this was the most awesome night ever.  They are going to leave everyone with “Home for a Rest.”  The audience sings along with Mann for the first verse and then Mann backs off and lets them sing it all.  It’s pretty great.  As is the song which ends with a wild instrumental jam that’s basically a flute-led jig which ends the sing and the show.

I imagine being there was pretty special.

[READ: May 15, 2018] “Nothing But”

This is a wonderful short essay on memory with the epigram: “The truth–that thing I thought I was telling.”

He begins by talking about a chapter in his book White Sands about a visit to the house of Theodor Adorno.  The essay takes its title “Pilgrimage” from a short story (why is it not considered a memoir?) by Susan Sontag in which she and her friend Merrill went to the house of Thomas Mann when she was 14.

It came out later that Merrill never understood why Susan left their friend Gene (who had gone with them) out of the story entirely.  (It happened in 1947, she wrote it in 1987).   This shows “a startling manifestation of the vagaries of memory and a vindication of what can sometimes seem like the fussiness of editorial fact-checking.” (more…)

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