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Author Topic: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation  (Read 12492 times)

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Offline OMpicker

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Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« on: February 28, 2004, 06:58:06 PM »
I've noodled on guitar for (heaven forbid) more than 30 years now, and most of that time primarily played country blues.? Within the past two years or so my playing has been reinvigorated and I've ventured out as in the days of my youth and picked a little with some of the younger set.

Interestingly, one thing hasn't changed -- that is the debate between those who are wedded to the recreation of performances (e.g., "geez, I don't think that's exactly how Big Bill played that phrase...") and those who are absorbing the essences of country blues feeling, phrasing,? etc., and then creating something new, even if it might be called a reinterpretation.

My own thoughts about this have changed with time.? As a young'un it was always the pursuit of recreation; now, I consider creation the more worthy endeavor.? That said, I do think that learning or recreating performances is a key to learning and understanding the nomenclature that allows you to do the creating.? I'm interested in how others think about this and whether your perspective has changed over time?
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:30:17 PM by Johnm »
Dennis

Offline frankie

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2004, 07:31:22 PM »
I do think that learning or recreating performances is a key to learning and understanding the nomenclature that allows you to do the creating.

Hi OMpicker - I think you answered your own question right there.? Watching my own kids grow up, it seems to me that they find out a lot about who they are by 'emulating', to some degree, other people - their parents, relatives, just about anybody who makes an impression on them in some cases - and then kind of 'riffing' on the things they see in them.? Sometimes they imitate something they've observed, sometimes they mull over something they've been told, they turn things over & inside out in their minds, usually in the form of play and through some kind of interaction - with other people, or themselves via a toy or game that they've made up on the spot.

I don't think that the way we learn music is very different from that.? We observe, we imitate, we improvise, we make up new stuff.? Just like with kids & their 'mentors', I think it's important to pay attention and imitate (obviously, this can hurt you too!).? I also think that one's relationship to 'mentors' changes over time.? They're always somehow a factor, though, and influence the things you do in ways that are subtle and, sometimes, not subtle at all.

I guess I don't see much of a dichotomy in the creation vs. re-creation argument, although I do occasionally run across personalities who seem to think that you can play music (and let's narrow that down to CB, for the sake of argument) without really attempting to get into the specifics of what makes CB sound the way it does.? Just imagine if you tried to learn a language from such a perspective....? viel Gl?1/4ck!

Welcome to the board!
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:32:46 PM by Johnm »

Offline waxwing

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2004, 07:42:02 PM »
I hope and believe that the world, even the country blues world, is big enough for all approaches. Each individual should find their own way, and I strive not to be critical of those who do things differently than I, nor do I give much thought to those who tell me I should stop doing what makes me happy and do what they think makes them happy. That said, I find myself at a place where I want to learn how Big Bill did it, or Charlie Patton, or Buddy Moss, or heck, even Dave Van Ronk, because all those styles appeal to me and make me stretch in the playing. But I've only come back to country blues recently (3 years) and I feel I'm just developing my vocabulary, learning how to express feelings all over again. Given enough time I hope to be able to recreate any arrangement I want and to go beyond by being able to improvise my own breaks within that framework. That seems exciting to me now. It's not as appealing to me, at this point in time, to think about creating entirely new lyrics, melodies and arrangements with the vocabulary I have, but that may come, too. I have to admit that, as an actor most of my life, I have been an interpretive artist as opposed to a creative artist, but I have a great admiration for those who start with a blank page. I seem to be better at breathing life into the work of others. Both take a sensitivity of mind and spirit. Good topic
All for now.
John C.
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Offline Johnm

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2004, 11:38:39 PM »
Hi all,
I agree, a really interesting topic, OMPicker (I guess I could go by that monicker, too).  I think Frank put his finger on something, and that is that imitation is the beginning of learning.  It's one reason kids are such amazingly quick learners, they're imitating the various things they see people doing that they would also like to do.  For adults, conscious imitation can be a little hard to take on sometimes-- it can make you wonder if you have any original thoughts or artistic impulses.  Without going through some kind of period of conscious imitation or emulation, though, you may lack the musical vocabulary to express the things you want to say.  Just using Lemon Jefferson as an example, if I never again perform a song of Lemon's in public or private, I would still feel utterly recompensed for the time I've spent studying his music, because he was such a genius that it was a privilege spending time with his musical sense, sound, rhythm, way of getting around on the instrument, and approach to phrasing.  I would have been wrong NOT to study and copy Lemon. I feel like there's too much emphasis on originality anyway.  I think a good way of going about things is to listen to everything and then just be yourself.  You will in fact end up being original because no one else has your touch, tone or timing.
All best,
John   

Offline OMpicker

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #4 on: February 29, 2004, 07:17:47 AM »
To all: what a great board to have to field such discussions!? Thank you to the creators and steering committee.? And, as to the comments: exactly!? I agree that emulation (recreation) is essential to the learning process, because it is inspirational -- encouraging us to want to learn -- as well as instructional -- learning to understand and speak the vocabulary.

I also didn't mean to convey that there is a "right" or "wrong" choice to either recreation or creation.? I hope I've at least learned that with age.? For example, these days I might feel comfy using a Buddy Boy Hawkins tune to launch into something that ends up being more a creation than a recreation.? At the same time, as I'm struggling through some of these Jerry Reed tunes (don't ask), I am focused nearly strictly on recreation so I can learn to express myself in that language.? Both are still critical ingredients to musical learning and expression.

I think as we talk with young players, it is important to have these kinds of discussion, i.e., the tolerance for and importance of both recreation and creation, recognizing the valuable roles of each in musical development.? As I tell my guitar-playing son (jazz) all the time...listen to as many kinds of music as you can, go see every guitar player you can -- I can truthfully say I have never seen anyone play, from professionals to beginners at "open mike" nights, that hasn't inspired me to go back home and do something on guitar.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:37:26 PM by Johnm »
Dennis

Online Slack

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2004, 08:22:08 AM »
Welcome to the forum OMPicker - glad you found us!

I can relate to Johm's comment about too much emphasis on the creating.  I too have a guitar playing son (amatuer basis) with some very eclectic tastes - he of course likes County Blues which I'm always happy to teach him - but he almost immediately creates something completely different out of them, partly from not knowing the vocabulary of CB and the other part is the over emphasis on being original.  So I complain to him about losing "the feel" of the original piece and he complains to me of not ever being original.  We both think it is pretty neat to have this common interest however.   ;)

Does your son play professionally?  We have another member (Frontpage) who has a Jazz playing son.

cheers,
slack

M.Vidrine

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2004, 09:14:59 AM »
Interesting comments.

After thinking on it a moment, I must say I lean toward the creation side of things. If you ask me, there is so much feeling and passion in Country Blues, that unless you lived it, it's impossible to totally re-create. You could play Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground note for note, but if you're not Blind Willie Johnson, you're not totally re-creating the song. For me, there are two levels of listening to and playing the blues. One is very personal & spiritual. This level includes listening to Blind Lemon, Son House, Skip James, Patton, etc. These guys lived the blues, & in my opinion made their music out of necessity as well as creativity. Shoot, even when they copied each other it was always their own. The feelings I get when listening to there music is impossible to re-create by modern artists.

The second level is that of enjoyment & inspiration. I enjoy the playing of Corey Harris, Chris Thomas King & other modern country blues players, it's just on a different level. I'm equally inspired in my own playing and songwriting by other modern artists who are creating their own brand of Country Blues inspired music. Anyone ever hear of 16 Horsepower, the Gun Club, John Spencer or the White Stripes?? I'm a pretty young guy (31, almost 32) & these bands have helped stoke the fire of Country Blues in my heart. Their creation of music has inspired my business, my life & my search for the traditional.

What can I say, I play clawhammer banjo (sometimes with a slide & lots of effects) & bandoneon in a rock band!?!? I couldn't re-create Country Blues if I tried.

Hope this wasn't too much of a rant!!? :D

Malcolm
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:40:42 PM by Johnm »

Offline lindy

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2004, 10:22:27 AM »
First, let me point out that the quote generator is back to its old tricks.  Remember how it had the knack for putting out quotes that fit the specific email to a t when Weenie was an email-centered chat list?  Well, when I clicked on JohnM's response to this topic, the generator put out the Jerry Ricks quote about people's heads getting all weird because they can't master a Gary Davis tune after a few short weeks of effort.  Gotta love it.

As for this:
I feel like there's too much emphasis on originality anyway. . . . You will in fact end up being original because no one else has your touch, tone or timing. 

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but there's that middle ground that I think only a few players consciously aim for.  I think Corey Harris fills that middle ground quite nicely; the last time I heard him in concert, he did a version of John Jackson's Boats Up the River that stayed true to the original but had some definite Corey-ness to it.  I was impressed by the fact that I had never heard anyone else play that song in concert except for John himself.  Corey's set also included two Robert Johnson songs that were very close to the original, and Bajourou ("Big String"), a standard song that is learned and played by guitarists in Mali; it had some blues feeling to it that was no doubt the performer's experience coming through.  I can't remember if Corey said this in the PBS blues series or somewhere else, but I do remember him saying that he thought it was really strange how some modern players of old CB songs go as far as to make the same asides, grunts, and comments in their recordings or performances as in the originals--a case of going way too far toward the copy-cat end of the spectrum.

I've only recently learned how to pounce on my "mistakes" and to make something of them.  I've listened to Robert Belfour's Old Black Mattie a hundred times, and I believe he has 20, maybe 25 variations of the basic lick that we learned last summer.  I can play 5 or 6 of them, but I've also came up with two of my own while I was flopping around trying to learn his.  A simple scenario, but one that I imagine all players have to go through sooner or later.  And I can't possibly maintain Belfour's speed, a realization that has led me to experiment with my own speed, touch, and tone--as in the JohnM quote. 

I've heard from Gordy a couple of times, he's going through the process of trying to learn chords in different positions in order to join in on jam sessions--a different type of challenge that calls for flexibility and creativity within a fairly rigid set of rules. 

Lindy

Offline orvillej

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #8 on: February 29, 2004, 11:04:22 AM »
i agree that imitation and emulation are critical elements of learning. when i went to college i was an art student and the first thing we were asked to do in my painting class was to pick a work by a favorite artist and copy it as closely as we could. i did my rendition of a van gogh and it was a lot of fun to observe the piece with the kind of analytical eye that you must to copy it. it's a very different mindset than just looking at it for enjoyment or appreciation.

i think the same thing applies to music learning. copying is the best way to expand your vocabulary and, as johnm said, just to exilerate in the feeling of coming to understand something about the rhythm, phrasing, attack, etc. of an artist whose work you love. but i do think you come to a point where you have to go beyond that and inject something of your own into it.

for me, that point comes when you want to take the music out of your room and into the world of performing. as much as i love the works of gary davis or john hurt, i have no interest in listening to someone perform a whole program of recreations of their arrangements no matter how well they do it. i've got the records if i need to hear that. when i listen to a performer i want to hear their heart and music. i find it very interesting to hear a reimagination of an old piece, especially if it's well done and has a compelling spin as mvidrine mentioned about corey harris playing john jacksons tune. it's not so much you have to change the arrangement radically but you have to make sure you're playing it and singing it from your heart rather than worrying about playing this or that lick like so-and-so played it. it especially bothers me when i hear white people doing bad imitations of the singing of  robert johnson or muddy waters or whomever. a performer loses a lot of credibility to me if he/she doesn't sing in their own voice.

so, ultimately i think you need to imitate and learn and if it's more of a hobby or if the goal for you is the fascination of figuring out the old stuff (which is definately fascinating) then that can be enough but if you hope to perform i think you've got to find a way to add more of your own personality to the mix and if you're a singer the challenge is even greater to make sure you're using your own voice and finding a way, much like a good actor does, to imbue the song with emotion drawn from your own unique experience. that way even if you didn't write the words you can make them your own. i forget who said this quote (if anyone knows i'd love to find out) but it goes something like"originality is not saying something that's never been said before...it's saying what you truly feel".

Offline OMpicker

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #9 on: February 29, 2004, 02:26:27 PM »
Slack, He's a student, and in fact started out as a music student at a college that had a pretty sophisticated guitar program.  This semester he has switched and become a History major ("They only wanted to teach me what their idea of jazz guitar was.").  He is still playing as much guitar as before, but seems happier about it.
Dennis

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #10 on: February 29, 2004, 03:52:18 PM »
Howdy all:

I come from a scientific background (M.Sc. in Geology), so I tend to look at things in that fashion. I know that all great endeavors were not created in a vacuum, it was built by standing on the shoulders of Giants. Anyone who created great works spent a considerable time studying the past masters in their field. To try and re-invent the wheel each time around.is wasteful.

Did Blind Lemon, Big Bill, Robert Johnson imitate? Of course they did! Did they study the guitar tricks of the masters of their day? Of course they did! That they took their music further than their influences is part of their talent and the creative process.

To play or to aspire to play country blues imposes a discipline on your creative world. And I think this discipline is a good thing. I remember going up to John Hammond years ago to get him to autograph an album of his. His bit of advice to me was if you screw around with the Blues too much, it ain't the blues no more. To work within a somewhat structured form forces the performer to identify the essential elements and incorporate them into expressing what he has in mind. And the best way to learn these elements is by study and imitation of the masters, to learn the musical phrases, techniques and approaches, adding them to your toolbox so, if you choose, your own original performances are enriched. The structure the blues imposes is what makes blues music so wonderful.

You say that you would not want to listen to a fellow doing John Hurt perfect recreations all night. Possibly true, but us weenies represent a miniscule fraction of the potential audience, and for the vast majority listening to perfect modern imitations of these great songs would be much better that the original scratchy recordings! This is another aspect. The much better recording technology and better instruments available today means the songs sound better now that on the 75 year old recordings. The fellow who studies a particular tune in depth and faithfully reproduces it is giving the average listener a much better view of the original performer's intention than could be got by listening to the original! Look at all the lyrics discussions we have on this forum. I can have a much better idea what Barefoot Bill was trying to do instrumentally 75 years ago by listening to frankie than by listening to Bill's recoeding. The skilled recreator is revealing a 75 year old creative work in it's true form, possibly for the first time, to be studied and enjoyed by others for years to come.

Most non-country blues fanatic friends of mine (read: all of them) are almost immediately put off by the poor sound quality of the originals. But if I take them to a recreative performance, as I have, and they are exposed to the great music of these 20s and 30s masters, bang, they're hooked. If no one gave these recreative performances, this music would be lost to all but us weenies.

I myself started studying CB 20 years ago via Grossman tab. If he had not recreated the music and written it down, I would never have gotten started. Not may acoustic bluesmen in W. Canada in 1980

It is quite possible that the greatest country blues will be created in our or our children's lifetime. We can stand on the giants shoulders.

Climbing off the soapbox,
Alex
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:46:04 PM by Johnm »

Offline Bill Roggensack

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #11 on: February 29, 2004, 04:56:46 PM »
Wow - there's lots of 'meat' on this thread! And as I type this, there's another 'on-topic' quote from Mr. Ricks at the top of my page (the one about the 18 year old immitating an 90 year old guy) - very spooky, and I love it! That reminds me of my favorite from Jerry: " "Nobody cares whose voice you sing in as long as it yours!"

I agree with JohnM and OrvilleJ that trying to play stuff that others have laid down is an essential part of achieving some degree of musicality - building a vocalublary, as they have said. Many of my 'epiphanies' have come while playing along with recorded music - trying to 'learn' a piece by first getting the feel and tiimng down. The licks tend to come later. For me, 're-creation' (as opposed to recreation, which is the real reason why I play!) is at best, a distant hope. I've been playing long enough to know that I started too late, and that I'm too lazy and undisciplined to spend hours learning every note of a song. And I think my brain is probably too far gone to remember all those notes anyway. So I've opted for a more 'organic' approach that attempts to use my limited vocabulary as appropriate. That said, a useful side effect has been that bits and pieces of different songs are now? 'surfacing at the strangest times, often to good effect.

It has been interesting to be a spectator as my son's knowledge and playing skills (sax, guitar and keys) have evolved over the past 18 years. I started him on blues rock (Clapton, Hendrix, Zep, etc.) at about age 7, then worked over to electric and acoustic blues. Next thing you know, at the age of 12 or 13, he went our and bought a Billie Holliday box set and started getting into jazz. I knew my work was done!? While his formal training has been in the jazz genre, he listens to everything and sucks it all in. He spent two years in the UK at LIPA; while I don't think the curriculum was all that spectacular, he played his ass off (well, most of it!) in a variety of clubs, and I'm pretty sure that was where most of his useful 'learning' occurred.? From what I have seen, he (and his band - R&B and funk) are pretty disciplined about doing covers - the point being that you want your audience to recognize them. But there is always room for improvisation 'in the moment'.

So I have concluded that once you have learned the language (theory) and built up a vocabulary (chords and licks), you can start to speak your mind by playing what 'feels' right in the context of the song. Consequently, the boundary between creation and re-creation tends to be pretty blurred.

As a quasi-science guy msyelf, I agree with Alex that having tab and instruction to get new players started is very helpful - getting to know where the originaol player's hands were on the frets and strings is still a big help for me. But thanks mainly to JohnM, my ears and brain were taught how to work together, and I started 'hearing' what was actually being played. But as JohnC suggested, starting with a blank page (i.e. compoisng something original) is an entirely different thing. Artistic creativity has my complete respect, admiration and awe.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:49:19 PM by Johnm »
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Offline orvillej

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #12 on: February 29, 2004, 05:24:06 PM »
"The fellow who studies a particular tune in depth and faithfully reproduces it is giving the average listener a much better view of the original performer's intention than could be got by listening to the original!"

while i agree with a lot of what you say, alex, i can't let that one go by. i've never heard anybody, anywhere, anytime, play an imitation of john hurt that was better than listening to john hurt's original recording! i've enjoyed listening to lots of folks playing his music but i can't go along with the idea that perfect imitation of intention illuminates original intention. the best you can hope for is to bring your own intention to the piece and hope it resonates as such.

tho i know that old scratchy record sound puts some people off i think for a lot of people it adds to the experience. it kind of helps you feel the time traveling, otherworldly quality of what you're listening to. there's a record store i frequent in seattle and one of the clerks is a young (early 20's) guy who recently got into country blues and he has several friends who are also into it. he told me that he liked the sound for that reason. and, get this, one of his buddies was in the store one day and we were discussing john hurt and his pal, who had several prominent tattoos, pulled up his sleeve and he had a huge picture of mississippi john hurt tattooed on his upper arm! even i am not that much of a fan!
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:51:31 PM by Johnm »

Offline frankie

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #13 on: February 29, 2004, 07:37:37 PM »
The skilled recreator is revealing a 75 year old creative work in it?s true form, possibly for the first time, to be studied and enjoyed by others for years to come.

Hi Alex - I don't know that that's true...? when you come down to it, what I've done with Snigglin' Blues is still an interpretation, although I'm pretentious enough to think that my interpretation is something close to what the author's original intent was.? I can't possibly know that, but I can try to sound like I do on an internet forum.? If someone was really interested in playing this tune based on what I was trying to do, I would be the first person to direct them to Barefoot Bill - that's the real source and the work of art that needs to be assessed by others and made current through the simple acts of listening and playing.

No matter how much better the fidelity of my recording might be, Barefoot Bill has fidelity in his music...

i do think you come to a point where you have to go beyond that and inject something of your own into it.

for me, that point comes when you want to take the music out of your room and into the world of performing.

I dunno Orville - I agree with a lot that you said, but for me, that point has nothing whatsoever to do with performing.? Performing and playing music are two different things, requiring different skills.? Seems to me that a person who loves playing music is going to inject themselves into it without thinking for a minute about who's listening or why.? I don't really think that there is a distinct "point" when you "go beyond" imitation.? How could a person be drawn to imitate something if they didn't first see something that related to them in some way?? If you already recognized yourself in something, you wouldn't need to "inject yourself", you'd already be there, finding new ways to express yourself through it.

Great discussion, btw!
« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 10:54:24 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Recreation v. Creation or Interpretation
« Reply #14 on: February 29, 2004, 08:03:03 PM »
Hi all,
This has the look of a topic in which each poster has to make peace on his or her own terms.  I love to figure out historic performances as close as I am able; it's kind of an homage, a way of honoring how great the musicians of the past have been, and trying to access the musicality of persons in many instances long dead--an amazing proposition when you think of it.  At the same time, I agree with Malcolm and Orville, that my renditions of the music of past masters can not equal their own playing of the same pieces.  To put it simply, Blind Willie Johnson had an advantage when it came to playing like Blind Willie Johnson--he was Blind Willie Johnson!  At a certain point, I began to feel that if I continued to play re-creations in performance, I was putting myself in a position of constantly playing second best.  So I decided to do my own original takes on the music--however good or bad it ended up being, at least it would have the quality of not having been preceded by a definitive version of the same thing, so that for better or for worse, I would at least be speaking in my own voice.
I remember Jerry Ricks telling me that he had often heard a bluesman say, after playing a piece that Jerry knew had originally been performed by another musician, that the bluesman who had just played the piece had "made that song".  If it was someone Jerry knew well enough to call on it, Jerry might query, "What do you mean ,"you made that song", so-and-so had a hit with that song before you ever played it."  What Jerry said he came to understand, was that when the player said, "I made that song", what he really meant was, "I made that song my own--I put my own stamp on it."
There is a lot to be said for the painstaking study of the music of past masters, but in a way, there's also a lot to be said for the sloppy first take impression of someone else's work, quickly translated into one's own way of hearing and phrasing.  Isiah Nettles's "So Cold In China", judged for its accuracy as a recreation of Lemon's playing is an utter failure; judged on its own merits I find it great to listen to.  Maybe once we've played this music a while what is needed is to trust our own instincts and assume they will equip us to speak convincingly in the language.
All best,
John 

 


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