Archive for November, 2006

“Box Set”

November 30, 2006

As STARTLING MONIKER readers can probably tell by now, I don’t do a whole lot of broadcasting or reviewing outside the world of experimental music. This isn’t a reflection of my personal taste, as much as it is a choice to focus on one thing, and attempt to do it well. There’s so much music– even among the limited-run, cdr-friendly fringe world experimental works inhabit– that I rarely have the feeling of being constrained. Every now and then, though, I take a week or two to broadcast my “vacation” shows. These are where I allow myself the freedom to play from any genre, any style, and share all sorts of unheard music with my listeners. It’s truly surprising what sorts of things are unheard, or underrepresented on radio– you can hear a “classic” Aerosmith cut on practically any part of the dial, but their recent blues album “Honkin’ on Bobo” barely got played. To hear radio tell it, Aerosmith disbanded after “Love in an Elevator,” but reformed to record the Armageddon theme “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing.”

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this.

My main point is that normal radio sucks. I’d say “corporate” radio, but even the little not-for-profit community station I volunteer for is part of some sort of corporation, so clearly, this word doesn’t mean much. Normal radio not only misses out on handfuls of decent albums by gigantic bands, but has never even heard of the thousands of fantastic albums released by ordinary folks. One example is the Jug Fusion “Box Set” album currently sitting in front of me. Released by cigar box guitar fanatic (and National Cigar Box Guitar Museum curator) Shane Speal’s Insurrection Records label; the album is an amazing construction of blues, rock, surf, and the kitchen sink– er, washtub. It has also been one of the most exciting albums I’ve heard in a long time.

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I need to frame this statement a bit. You see, I’m incredibly picky about what blues I listen to. I’ve read enough books and liner notes to know who I’m supposed to like, but the trouble is that I just can’t seem to get with that program. I always end up enjoying the dirtiest, oldest, scariest, most raw things I can find. Son House, Robert Johnson, RL Burnside, and Blind Willie Johnson thrill me to death– but if BB King showed up on my porch, I’d be more interested in his blood sugar than hearing him play another beautiful solo. Honestly, what do you expect from a Merzbow fan?

Anyhow, the first thing I see on this disc is a cover of “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” the Blind Willie Johnson song so amazing it is now floating outside the solar system on the Voyager spacecraft record. Then I spy a medley with Miserlou in it, and since Dick Dale will forever be the king of surf rock– well, let’s just say I was pleased. Don’t even get me started on the instrumentation. Cigarbox guitars, paint-bucket drumsets, Hammond organ, sitar, megaphones, and blown amps are just a handful of the fine instruments; hence the back cover promise: “sounds like the Fat Albert Gang on acid!” Indeed.

And what a mighty blues freakout it is! A well-recorded thick sound of raw slide guitar, walloping drums, lazer sounds, you name it– these are the relatives Jack and Meg White hide from at the holidays, too ashamed to meet their steely gaze. I can see it now: “We had paint buckets and and torn-up Kustom amps. You had a million bucks. How come your last album sucked so bad?”

Well, I did say I was picky. So, instead of flaming me about your love for Jack and Meg’s latest feed-the-hipster colored vinyl EP, get on over to Insurrection Records and educate yourself.

Update: Jug Fusion’s “Box Set” album (and merch) are currently available online through Dark Holler Mailorder. Pick up a Uton album while you’re there for a freakout of a different order.

“Unit 23″

November 29, 2006

Just the other day, Daniel Thompson (of the “Microtonal Composer” blog) and I were discussing musical tunings, which had turned somewhat to questions about duration. Thompson made the comment that modern music “has a lot to say about harmonic considerations but not much to say about spatial considerations.” I think this is very true– even decades after John Cage debuted 4’33″, harmony is still the boss. The interesting idea for me, is that speeding up a beautiful harmony creates an auditory “blip,” while slowing it down tremendously reveals silences within the individual tones– repetition, rhythm, something too large to “understand” in that harmonious manner. (more…)

“Tape Works” & “Travels of the Spider”

November 28, 2006

Yesterday’s entry at Smooth Assailing on Anla Courtis did a great job of laying out some of the sides of this multi-faceted Argentinian artist– acid rocker, drone channeler, lightning rod of Reynols. Now I get to pull out the “but wait there’s more!” quote, with the Pogus Productions release of Courtis’s “Tape Works.”

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Featuring selected electroacoustic tape works from 1991 to 1998, “Tape Works” is a priviliged opportunity for Courtis fans to hear him exploring sound, often with highly inventive “work-arounds” employed to circumvent a technological need. Take the track “Studio for Wire Plugs,” for example. Not only does Courtis utilise the clack and buzz of instrument cables; but he amplifies it using a walkie-talkie transmitter. Although you won’t find this sort of low-fi acceptance on many electroacoustic albums, I have to say that I enjoy it. For me, part of the enjoyment of these tracks is in considering the method by which they were constructed; not unlike the appreciation some have for the joint-work on furniture, I suppose.

Other tracks are equally impressive. “Jarabe de Llanura” overdrives water-sourced sounds to create a liquid rush of noise; “Respire un Cordero” makes use of discarded reel-to-reel radio commercials, creating an absurdist pattern of breath noises and excited statements about pajamas.

Regarding the recording quality, I find no flaws with this collection. Obviously, there are all the sounds associated with Portastudio and reel-to-reel recording– but then again, this is the artist possibly best known for “Blank Tapes,” so what do you expect?! As always, this Pogus Productions release has impeccable liner notes, with technical and biographical information abounding.

As a side note, listeners who want to get even deeper into Argentinian electroacoustic works will want to pick up a copy of another Pogus Productions release, “Travels of the Spider: Electroacoustic Music From Argentina.”

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With seven top-shelf pieces from 1988 to 1996, this could easily be the high-brow companion to Courtis’s “Tape Works.” You can hear my appreciation in an excerpt from one of my older reviews: “This is like getting a professional text on a topic of interest to you– you may not understand it all right away, but with time and more research, you can. Until then, it’s more of something just to be excited about, and that’s really worth practically any amount of money.”

“Over That Way”

November 27, 2006

The world of experimental and “difficult” music is interesting for many reasons, not least the shelf-life of many of its resident albums. Take “Over That Way,” a 2002 Long Arms Records release featuring Koichi Makigami and Ryoji Hojito, for instance. Recorded in 2000, at Moscow venue “DOM,” “Over That Way” sounds fresh, startling, and wholly unique. Try getting that from a pop album, many of which should carry “best before —” stickers on the cover.

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The album features Makigami’s self-contained multitude of voices; guttural, childish, sing-song, rhythmic, percussive– he’s like the prodigal offspring of Bobby McFerrin and Mike Patton, taking the vocal realm and expanding its boundaries with every breath. Backing Makigami (and though this is a true group effort, I say “backing” because of the human tendency to focus on each other’s voices) is Hojito, apparently utilising all manners of objects to “prepare” his piano. In some tracks, it sounds as though Hojito is actually throwing objects into the piano, or otherwise causing it great harm. (more…)

Sound Memories

November 26, 2006

In today’s SoundBlog; HarS wrote about sound-related memories and nostalgia. Although I’ve primarily been writing reviews of music until now, one of the main goals of beginning to write “Startling Moniker” was so I could present entries of this nature. My problem has been that every time I start writing, my ideas diverge into so many directions that I realize the impossibility of containing myself. Sound so completely dominates my memory and thinking that it is difficult at best to single out instances for inclusion. (more…)

Death By A Thousand Cuts

November 26, 2006

Like its semi-mythical Chinese torture namesake, noise duo Death By a Thousand Cuts has a horrific facade, but mostly falls apart on close examination– at least if a self-produced “hopeful radio cuts” cdr is any example. With five tracks ranging from the scree and amp drone of “Sistermouth” to the faux-field recordings and strummed acoustic guitar of “The Moon is the Only Witness,” this cdr rarely stays in place long enough to make a point. And where the mostly electronic harsh noise of “Cockroach” scores some points for aggressive use of dynamics and a genuinely inventive noise, “The Litanines of Satan” sets everything backward– misspelling “litanies” isn’t scaring anyone but English teachers.

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Of course, it all cuts two ways– on one hand, Jason Ziemniak (half of DBATC) has good enough taste for his Chrome Peeler label; which suggests that this cdr may not be an adequate representation of the group. On the other hand, I’d expect someone to send me their five BEST tracks, and not just whatever was laying around. Even with noise, first impressions are important.

“Mother of Balloon Music”

November 26, 2006

In general, obstacles tend to amplify the creative process. When an artist has to “work around” a problem, the result is quite often a striking new idea or process. In my personal experience, the obstacle has generally been that I’m more or less broke. Because of this, I’ve done a lot of investigating into how to achieve electronic sounds in non-electronic ways– small party whistles become failing modems, my mouth is an envelope filter, thawing ice or salt sprinkled on tin foil can simulate the Max/MSP granular microsounds so often heard in avant-garde recordings.

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It was with a feeling of synchronicity that I opened a package from Innova Recordings to find Judy Dunaway’s “Mother of Balloon Music.” Having only a few days prior hit upon the notion that a rubbed balloon sounded remarkably like an expensive synthesizer, I had been experimenting with a few leftover party balloons to generate rapid squeaking, low rumbles, the popping effect produced by allowing the ballooon surface to “slip” under heavy pressure, shouting through the balloon, and (my favorite) a continuous wavering tone from rubbing circular patterns on the surface with wet fingertips. (more…)

“It’s Too Damn Early” 11/25/06 commentary

November 25, 2006

Today’s show was a lot of fun. My daughter came along and helped me pick songs, describe CD covers (Helena Espvall’s was “very weird, with tree branches and things that tell me this is a cool album”), and take photos of WDBX late-night happenings.

She did a great job, and was the best seven-year-old experimental DJ I ever heard. Be sure to check out the blog entry she wrote about her experience at the station. She took this nice photo of me:

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As for the broadcast itself,  I mostly played selections from this past week’s reviews. I also aired the top five winners of the Canadian Electoacoustic Community’s “Jeu de Temps” 2006 competition. You can read about them more in my November 22nd entry.

DJ Mo’s “It’s Too Damn Early” experience

November 25, 2006

I had fun at the radio station. It was fun because I got to speak on the air, and I also took lots of pictures. I took pictures with lots of colors because I like rainbows. Me and my dad put cool music on. I talked about the music, and also said if I liked it. My favorite song was “Strings” because it has a violin! Violins are cool to me. My dad says that I am a DJ, but I am not. I still had fun though!

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 The radio show was at night, so I had to go to bed early, very early. Before I went there, I had breakfast. It was a banana. I also had lemonade. It was good. We had a blast! (more…)

Oddmusic Community Forum opens!

November 24, 2006

Are you interested in strange sounds? Do you ever have an idea for a weird new musical instrument? Have you been toiling on the fringes of the aural spectrum and need a place to relax? Well– it might be a good time to check out the new Oddmusic Community Forum.

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The forums are a great place to exchange instrument construction techniques, bounce ideas off other unique minds, and share your love of sound with others. Although the new forums have only been up for a couple days, the “Oddmusic” group has been around for about 10 years, with a dedicated group of helpful members I’ve been delighted to know.

John, the “Oddministrator” of the forums, quotes the original OddMuse founder Dr. Guy Grant in his introductory post– “After hanging around with the likes of me, you will never again be able to look at another object without wondering, at least once, what you can do to make music with it.”

Do yourself a favor, and go check it out now.

Abstractions made real…

November 24, 2006

In just eight hours, I will be commencing my latest broadcast of “It’s Too Damn Early,” my weekly experimental radio show. Tonight’s plan is to air many of the albums reviewed this last week in STARTLING MONIKER. If you were sad I didn’t have an mp3 download for you, don’t miss your chance to hear the songs on air! The program streams live online, but I have prepared a handy schedule for you so you can figure out when it starts in your area. Feel free to call in with questions, comments, requests, and suggestions at: 618-457-3691.

“Urban Electronic Music”

November 23, 2006

I’m not what you’d call a “big-city” person. So when the Angry Vegan Records release “Urban Electronic Music” by William C. Harrington arrived, you’ll have to understand that the title didn’t conjure a whole lot of positive images for me. In my limited experience, “urban” is too many people, too little privacy, not enough green– all the best excuses to live somewhere less intense. “Urban” is somewhere I’d visit, but wouldn’t want to stay.

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If Harrington’s intent is to capture this feeling, I think he does it well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the album quite a bit. It’s a fascinating trip to take! Like any good-sized city, Harrington has populated his album with a diverse set of voices– Arp 2600, E-mu Classic, and VK-7 keys clamor for attention alongside bowed guitar, cell phones, loops, saxophone, salad bowls, and a host of other unlikely objects. (more…)

Luigi Russolo roundup

November 22, 2006

WFMU’s “Beware of the Blog” has a nice set of obscure audio project photos posted. My favorite is the one featuring Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo, and a selection of his “Intonarumori” or intoners. These instruments were hand-operated by cranks and levers, and generated an astonishing array of noises, which Russolo divided into six categories. As nearly as I can tell, the categories were divided by amplitude of the noise, rather than by the type of noise. For instance, splashes are grouped with explosions, not gurgles.

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The work that these musical pioneers had to perform for the simplest of sounds today is a real inspiration. If you’ve never had the chance, read through Russolo’s amazing 1913 Futurist manifesto “The Art of Noise. Finally, here is an audio sample (from the ThereminVox Library) of Russolo’s “Risveglio di una Citta,” featuring his intoners.

“Jeu de Temps” 2006 Top 5

November 22, 2006

It’s that time of year again! No, not Thanksgiving… it’s the time when the Canadian Electroacoustic Community’s “Jeu de Temps/Times Play (JTTP) winners are announced. The JTTP, for those just waking up to the world of electroacoustic music, is an internationally-regarded competition of young and emerging Canadian composers and sound artists. The winners not only receive monetary awards, but more importantly; have their music delivered to the world via concerts and a highly-esteemed yearly compact disc series, “Cache.”

Although the “Cache 2006″ disc is not yet ready, a handful of participating radio stations worldwide have been offered the opportunity to broadcast the top-five placing entries. I am pleased and honored to say that I have been able to play a small part in broadcasting the JTTP winners since 2001, currently through my experimental radio program “It’s Too Damn Early” at WDBX-FM.

This year’s winning entries are tremendously exciting. Priscille Gendron, a returning student at the University of Montreal, placed first with “Camille;” which examines the “forest” of possibilities contained within every choice we make. Raphael Neron, a second-year electroacoustic composition student, used children’s vocal sounds to create “Toons,” where invented creatures encounter one another in a variety of comic manners.

However, it is fourth place winner Stefan Kozminchuk’s entry “The Mind is the Voice” that  has impressed me most. Utilising extracts of William Blake’s  “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” Kozminchuk reminds me of the confrontational, opinionated style of Ilhan Mimarolglu. For listeners, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of taking the time to check out the “Cache” series of recordings– getting in on the “ground floor” with an artist, often at a unique, opportune period of their life.

I will be broadcasting the top five entries on my upcoming broadcast. You may see my radio website for broadcast times. I hope you can join me!

“Searching for My Recording Engineer”

November 22, 2006

Through the four lengthy tracks comprising Public Eyesore Records release “Searching for My Recording Engineer”, Yoko Sato manages to wring nearly every possible sound out of an electric guitar, with the occasionally odd vocal yelp turning the instrumental solo into something like an instrumental duet. Generally, it seemed to me that the actual setup of the guitar, amp, and mic varied little throughout the recording; so a studio-as-instrument album this ain’t.

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However, the work Sato does with the limited setup she seems to have allowed herself (through laziness or purpose, I cannot tell) is incredibly deep. Physically, this feels like watching someone squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of a tube, or the end bit of ketchup from a packet— a real exploration of the instrument’s possibilites at a particular moment. While even those wanting at least a shred of basic song structure will be disappointed, those desirous to an artist truly experimenting (in the rawest sense of the word) will find much of interest here. Recommended only for those with active ears. Casual listeners, beware!

“Nimis & Arx”

November 22, 2006

Like it’s twin sculptural namesakes, Helena Espvall’s split label (Pax Recordings and Fire Museum Records will share the tab) release “Nimis & Arx”, is an improbable construction. Cellist Espvall, who I happily find out of Espers acid-folk mode; is joined by George Korein, an electronic agitator with a healthy interest in trilobites.

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That’s not to say you should be surprised. Between these two, there are more than enough disperate projects, obscure references, and oddball influences to scare a team of resume coaches to death. Espvall, a Swedish transplant to Philadelphia; is a member of Espers, and has played or collaborated with Fursaxa, Pauline Oliveros, Eugene Chadbourne, and an Arabian music ensemble. Korein, who previously released a solo trilobite-inspired album with collaborations from Kayo Dot and Stinking Lizaveta members, has also been called out in interviews as a heading the “WTF is going on” genre for his part in Infidel?/Castro!

From the moment this disc starts, you know its going to be a lot of fun to listen to. “Idioblast” opens the album with overdriven cello. It sounds like Espvall is threshing winter wheat on the strings, while Korein opens up a distorted peephole on Candyland. Its a fleeting experience, though– both this and the next, more finely-wrought track, clock in at little over a minute each. Thankfully, the title track “Nimis & Arx” gets more room to develop. On an uncomfortable bed of pops, metallic explosions, and carillion thunder; Espvall layers recorder (and possible vocals) in loon-like warbles. Prepared guitar sounds, washes of shimmering chimes, and something that sounds like electronically-processed popcorn round out the trip.

However jumbled this may appear to be in writing, it works very well on “Nimis & Arx.” Espvall and Korein are in control of their sounds at all times, it would be too modest to suggest “happy accidents” at work here. An album such as this is not only an interesting listen on its own, but also a wonderful antidote to musings that you’ve “heard it all.”

“Archaea”

November 21, 2006

Take a good look at the cover art of Dan Joseph’s Mutable Music release “Archaea.” Do you see where this is going? Apparently, right off the edge of the case, which is a subtle nod in the right direction– full-on minimalism, and in three flavors, no less.

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Joseph, a hammer dulcimer virtuoso and constant on the New York scene; presents three ensemble works for combinations of violin, cello, harpsichord, clarinet, percussion, and hammer dulcimer. Of course, the old red-flag word “minimalism” gets to raise its Janic spectre again– just another reason to listen, in my opinion. On one hand, the ensemble does let phrases have their head– and Joseph is a machine on his dulcimer– so the element of repetition is definately present. However, a listener would be a fool to ask for more detail; the apparent simplicity of phrasing conceals just how much is actually happening.

This is especially true in the interaction between hammer dulcimer and harpsichord, where I often find myself listening to a mixture of them both, without fully grasping either. In my favorite passages, such as towards the end of the “Lotus Quintet,” multiple instruments mirror each other’s notes, creating hybrid “super-notes”. Nevertheless, “Archaea” is easy on the ears, with a crisp, unencumbered sound perfect for the “repeat one disc” setting on your stereo.

For Joseph, “Archaea” knocks one out of the park, meeting Mutable Music’s worthy goal of releasing music that will “engage the mind and the heart,” as well as providing an example of everything that can go deliciously right with minimalist work.

Three Rich Gold works for “Billion Dollar Synthesizer”

November 21, 2006

Yesterday, I posted an entry about Rich Gold’s “Billion Dollar Synthesizer” composition. I decided to follow up my call for submissions with a few entries of my own. Using Skype software, I was able to get around the 1970′s “handset tech” Gold suggested, by working in conference mode. Here are my results, for a few of Gold’s instructions:

IMAGINARY UNITED STATES-SCAPE #1. — DaveX, no.1 v.1
PIECE WITH RELATED ELEMENTS — DaveX, no.3 v.1
A STUDY IN CONSTIPATION — DaveX, no.6 v.1

I will continue to accept submissions for this project. Think how happy it would make Mr. Gold!

“The Quality of Something Audible” & “Idyll”

November 21, 2006

Richly layered field recordings, crisp editing, and superb use of digital instruments and samples combine to form My Fun’s self-release “The Quality of Something Audible.” The most striking quality of this disc is the gentle nature of all the tracks. Although “The Quality of Something Audible” reportedly took about two years to make, one gets the feeling the album was grown rather than assembled.

“My Fun” creator Justin Hardison states that he is creating work “without a particular musical genre determining the sound of the final output.” Although this is true, it seems a little too modest, like the depreciatory “My Fun” name. Tracks like “Wide-Awake” layer harp, incidental sounds, field recordings, and electronic noises into something both strikingly new, yet maddeningly familiar. The final cut “Fireworks” is incredibly beautiful– not only for the perfectly-recorded fireworks themselves– but the way they are slowly kneaded into the tune. If there is anything wrong with this album, it is that it’s not a two-disc set.

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“Idyll” offers the same lush recording quality as “The Quality of Something Audible,” but slightly more immediate. Not yet released (it is scheduled for December by net-label Test Tube), “Idyll” has a “later that evening” feel that makes it a fine companion to “The Quality of Something Audible.” Although it easily stands on its own, for listeners who enjoy hearing an artist’s growth over time, playing the two albums back-to-back is irresistable.

As for sound, “Idyll” has a slightly darker presence. The second of four tracks, “Home Tape” makes use of bell sounds or chimes, something like a old rocking chair, wind noise, and digital effects. “Black Sky” uses static or tide sounds to back a similar, but less-friendly, chiming pattern of organ and muted bell tones. A heartbeat and sampled voices create an uneasiness that simply is not present in “The Quality of Something Audible.” In “Slowness,” the looping strings are joined by an insistent high pitch as they simulataneously are stuttered. Scratching electrical hums beat from side to side before being suddenly silenced. For listeners, it may be jarring to realize just how “narrative” this album really is when they are literally dumped out of it at the end.

“Strings”

November 21, 2006

As any improvising musician can tell you, group improv playing cuts at least two ways. Not only do you have to be able to personally build your music from scratch, but you have to be able to listen and build with what others are creating on the fly. The best improvisational musicians are able to cause a bit of confusion– your brain may think there’s a score, but your heart knows better.

Listen to Mike Khoury’s 2006 Rypas Records release “Strings” if you want a good example. “Untitled 1″ features Khoury and Gunda Gottschalk‘s violins doing far more than trading lines. Phrases support each other, coagulate, embellish, and (at times) go a long ways towards losing their individual identities. Where Khoury and Gottschalk’s violins diverge, it is with the tension of friends separated.

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“Untitled 2,” with Richard Gross and Robyn Siwula, (adding guitar and violin) is the most recently recorded cut on “Strings.” After the duet with Gottschalk, I have to admit that Gross’s guitar seems somewhat unnecessary; it can be hard to remember that these recordings are separated by more than a month. Both Khoury’s and Siwula’s playing are more subdued here; more textural than melodic.

The final cut, “Untitled 3,” is very exciting. Playing with improv turntablist (and former Why Not Jazz? Radio host) Mike Hansen as a duet, Khoury is alternately surrounded with pops and crackle, finds his bow the object of vinyl-scratch mimicry, or is confronted with the pizzicato strings and kettle drum rumbles of an orchestra. At times, it seems as though Khoury’s violin is actually on a record, with Hansen at the controls. Despite being the only studio recording on “Strings,” this track still retains the live flavor, with no studio “tricks” apparent. Amazing!


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