Musical Rooms

February 27, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 62: Fight Like Apes


“There is a small box room in my house which we usually use. It’s right next door to my bedroom. We used to rehearse on Gardiner Street in a place we shared with a few other bands but the lack of a toilet became worrying. Unfortunately at the moment we are never really in Ireland enough to justify having our own space so the box room in my house it is! It’s really quite a small room. Yellow woodchip walls. Very messy. It’s also called the junk room because anything we don’t use anymore is left there stacked (game consoles, broken electronics etc). I also keep my decks and vinyl in there. They get used even less then the broken electronics…

I’ve got a really nice old Yamaha Clavinova. I love the Clavinova! It has the nicest “e. piano” sound going. I hate nearly every keyboard range Yamaha have done but with the clavinova I think they got it right. I’ve got lots of pedals, toys etc, most of them being very old cheap guitar accessories which seem to work wondrously on a keyboard. I’ve a few guitars hung on the wall which are rarely touched.

The most important thing to have in this space is a cup of tea at all times. Otherwise I will be downstairs making a cup of tea rather doing anything remotely creative. I used to spend two or three hours in the room writing every day. Now I don’t really have that much time free that I spend even less of it there! However I do try and fit in at much time as I can – I don’t like to schedule things as generally the songs you write that way end up being terrible.

When being creative, generally a bit of alone time is nice but not completely necessary. Sometimes it’s much nicer to write when there’s someone else there to bounce off. It’s something that works very well in this band. I’d imagine it mightn’t work well in other bands but we are lucky like that. I generally just wait till I have something to say. Any time I’ve forced myself to write I’ve written gibberish. You can sit down in front of a piano twenty times a day and will yourself to write and you won’t be able to. It’s only when you really feel like writing that you get anything done. Toys help! A new toy can help you get exited about playing music again.

Currently I use a Roland Fp-2, Roland SP-404 and few boss pedals. It’s a simple set up really. I’ve nearly made it more complicated on a few occasions, but can’t see the point.

What I like most about the room is that I can make as much of a racket as I want in there and nobody will ever say anything, because I’m supposed to make a racket in there.”

Since the release of their debut album, Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion in 2008, Dublin band Fight Like Apes have garnered huge acclaim outside of Ireland. The album has just been released in the UK and Sony plan to release it later this year in Japan and the video for their latest single, ‘Tie Me Up in Jackets’ can been seen here. They are nominated for the 2008 Choice Music Prize, which takes place at Vicar Street on Wednesday March 4th. For more information and details of upcoming live shows, visit

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February 26, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 61: Oppenheimer


“Our favourite space to write and record ideas and develop songs is a space that I’ve named Start Together Studio. It’s in the Oh Yeah Building in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. We discovered the space early last year when we were looking for a place to record our second album. We heard about the Oh Yeah Project and on looking around discovered the shell of an old Country & Western studio, where people like David McWilliams, Hugo Duncan and various other people have recorded over the years. Before that it was a Whisky Bonding Warehouse, mostly destroyed during the Second World War, so obviously, like every recording studio, it is said to be haunted.

It has a sizable control room and live room as well as a beautiful sounding wood room. Outside of that there are at least six other rooms in the building that we used to record instruments in. Stone rooms that were 60 feet long with high ceilings, tiled bathrooms, elevators, three story stairwells… there are so many parts of that building that really feel like instruments on the album. The atmosphere is one of freedom and encouragement, unusual in a central location in the city and we can make noise at any volume any time of night or day without fear of angry neighbours. You can feel secluded and tucked away or in the middle of the city depending on how many doors you open or close and there’s a stunning view of Belfast from the rooftop. It was such a positive experience I’ve opened a full time recording studio in the space, for other artists to experience what we have.

We kitted it out with Pro Tools HD3, some nice pre amps like Universal Audio, Chandler and API, loads of nice microphones from Neumann to Sennheiser to Electro Voice and everything in between. We also have found things like the Roland Space Echo, Maestro Echoplex, EMT plate reverb, WEM Copycat and as many guitar pedals as we can manage to buy. Moogerfoogers and a stack of synthesizers like Moogs, Rolands, Jens, Solinas, Arps, Casios, Yamahas have all been in there. Lots of amps like Marshalls, Fender Twins, Selmers, Rolands, Ampegs and I love my Dipinto guitars, they sound great! There’s also loads of drums and percussion along with things like vocoders, autoharps and melodicas to fill out the room. Basically it’s all the things we’ve been collecting so that we can reach for something different almost every time we have a new idea.

The most important thing in this space is – for writing new ideas – an acoustic guitar, Roland Juno 6, Pro Tools and a good Microphone. We spent almost three months straight writing and recording Take The Whole Midrange And Boost It last summer. Since then it’s been days when we can. When we’re not on tour I spend over 40 hours a week here working with other artists on albums, it is my favourite place to be. We both usually create initial ideas alone and then come to each other with those to loop and tweak and explore. On the last record we have people play bass, guitar, strings, brass and sing on different sections of the album, I think that’s been very important to the sounds and the feeling of the record and is something that we overlooked in the past. Oppenheimer will always be the two of us bouncing ideas back and forth and seeing where that takes us. Usually with my ideas I layer a lot and really quickly, it usually starts with a drum loop or synth part and I’ll fill out the arrangement to see if I like it. Then I’ll bring it to Shaun and we’ll go from there. Shaun usually brings riffs or chord structures on acoustic guitar. Sometimes we start ideas completely together, or one of us has three quarters of a riff and needs help. Sometimes Shaun brings complete ideas that only need arranged and produced, sometimes I’ll write vocoder parts and build songs around them. It’s pretty varied, which keeps it exciting.

We use everything we can get our hands on! It’s based around Pro Tools, with all the equipment I’ve mentioned above, and we’ve also borrowed and used things like pianos, old Yamaha organs, spring reverbs, bass guitars, and other peoples voices. What I like most about our space is that I love the freedom to do what we like, to push our ideas to the limit and to not be held back by anyone or anything. Mostly I really love all the amazing sounding rooms we have to stand and play in and to capture the characters of. I think that is the most important thing about a good recording.”

Oppenheimer are indie pop electronic duo Shaun Robinson and Rocky O’Reilly from Belfast. They released Take the Whole Mid Range and Boost It in 2008, which is nominated for this year’s Choice Music Prize. The band are about to start a US tour so won’t be playing at the Choice Music Prize ceremony on March 4th. For more information visit or

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February 24, 2009

Alison Curtis Podcast on Choice Music Prize

In more Choice Music Prize related stuff, myself, Tanya Sweeney and Jim Carroll continue our Three Girls and a Guy podcast with Alison Curtis. This month we kick around various topics surrounding the prize – the ten shortlisted acts, the Prize itself, the judging process and who should/might/deserves to win.

It’s available to download free on Itunes or you can listen to it here via Today FM.

February 23, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 60: Lisa Hannigan


“I’ve spent a lot of time rehearsing in a big old barn in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny with the guys in my band – Tomo, Shane, Donagh and Gavin. Tomo, who plays drums with me very kindly pushed aside storage crates and old rugs and broken furniture and we fill up the rest with rehearsing.

It’s pretty cold in the winter and I have very sneakily edged myself into prime position next to the storage heater. The walls used to be bare concrete but since a recent party they now are covered with giant pictures of foliage (these got a good wash down as they used to cover fences at the Electric Picnic). There are strings of huge flowers (made from hangers and coloured tights) suspended from the ceiling and lots of fairy lights and the like. Because it’s so cold we don’t leave any instruments in there except the drums, Harmonium and Glockenspiel. We’ve got a simple vocal PA set up but in general I find it easier to rehearse unamplified. We all face each other so we can balance ourselves better.

Apart from the instruments I would have to say that one of the most important things about it is the proximity to Tomo’s house. There’s a constant flow of tea, coffee, snacks and occasionally children and animals. Tomo’s cats like to sleep in the furry guitar cases and try to ignore the racket. We spent a few months over the winter there and I’m looking forward to getting back there when we’re not gigging.

I tend to write alone but I really enjoy bashing the songs into shape with the band. They’re much better at playing than I am so that helps. I like to wander off by myself if I have an idea for a song. I don’t have a regular starting point really. I might hear a word that I really like or get a melody in my head that I hum away until words come. Other times there’s a story already there to be set to music. Sometimes I’ll mess about on the guitar or an autoharp. I’m not very technically minded so I’ll ask Gavin Glass for help if I want to crack open Garageband.

This space has a lovely relaxed atmosphere. It’s great having it all set up and to be able to mess about on all the different instruments. Also being within 20 feet of Tomo’s kitchen always improves a situation.”

Lisa Hannigan was once best known for her collaborations with Damien Rice, but with the release of her debut solo album Sea Sew in 2008, she has garnered critical acclaim internationally. The album is one of this year’s Choice Music Prize nominees but Hannigan will be touring the US when the awards ceremony takes place on Wednesday March 4th in Dublin. For more information visit or

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February 17, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 59: Messiah J & the Expert


“My favourite space to create music has to be in my home studio, also known as Labbey Road. It’s my own personal haven and basically has everything I care most about in this world in it apart from the ones I love. It’s a big enough room which holds all my gear and loads of my records but still feels fairly spacious. It’s at the back of the house and looks out on the garden which is a great advantage. It’s not sound-proofed or anything as if I’m generally recording I’ll do that in my bedroom, dismantle the bed and use the mattress & bed itself to deaden the sound. It’s kind of a mess stylistically. Changing Rooms would probably have a field day as it’s got different coloured wallpaper on each wall but that’s one of the most important things about this room for me. Before my father died he took loads of music magazines, classical scores and important newspaper articles over the years and used them as wallpaper and painted a dodgy green over them all to make it blend. That wall reminds me of him every time I look at it and is a huge reason I love to spend so much time in the room.

Gear wise I own a Mac G5 computer which runs Pro Tools, an M-Audio Projectmix desk, Beringer Truth monitors, Akai MPC 2500 & 2800 samplers, two Technics 1210 decks and a Vestex mixer. Synth wise I own a Korg MS2000B, Alesis micron, Yamaha Vss-200, Yamaha DX100, Roland JX-3P, Casio MT-240 and a really old Farfisa Organ. I have a few other bits and bobs, a couple of microphones and lots and lots of records.

Probably the most important thing for me to have here is the G5 Mac running Pro Tools. It brings all my dreams/ideas to reality. There are other things I care for more in the studio but this is the most important. The dartboard is also of huge importance. I spend hours and hours throwing darts at it while listening back to drums, ideas, mixes or whatever. I find this is a better process for me than pacing around the room like a mad scientist which is what I used to do.

I spend an ungodly amount of time in the studio. I’m basically in there any chance I get. I seem to spend my life waiting there for those special little moments. Those little bursts of creativity/magic that help start/finish a song but when they arrive it’s one of the best feelings in the world. It’s an indescribable feeling like a first kiss, scoring a goal or eating a massive piece of Pavlova. It makes you feel like that Belinda Carlisle song ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, except with much better drums.

I think I work best in isolation. I love the feeling of having no contact with the outside world and just being left to my own devices to experiment in my own private laboratory. When you work alone there are no rules and you can try weird things and mess up as much as you want, but with other people in the room I don’t find this as easy. I spend a lot of time programming on the sampler/computer so it’s a very solitary thing. When I bring in other musicians to record I normally have a blueprint for what I want so it’s more of a recording session than a creative one but can easily turn into one which is definitely the best thing about collaborating, finding the unknown.

The creative process is a difficult one to describe. It usually starts off with a small idea whether that is a bassline, drums or a chord sequence. I then lay that down into the ‘Tools and start playing ideas over it. It’s basically a building block effect for me. I’ll work off that idea and see where it takes me. It can be a brilliant process but more often than not it’s an extremely frustrating and tedious one. It’s easy to write lots of little ideas but getting that special one is the difficult part. I find I know it’s going well if I’ve lost all track of time and have forgotten to eat at a normal hour.

I suppose what I like most about my studio is that it’s my own space at home. It’s my passion crammed into a room. I know where everything is and this allows me to work without any distractions in my own time. I also love that MJ has to travel to my house rather than the other way around which gives me an extra hour’s kip.”

Messiah J and the Expert are a rapper/producer duo based in Dublin. Their third album, From the Word Go was released in 2008 and is nominated for the 2008 Choice Music Prize. They play Electric Avenue, Waterford on February 27th, Cypress Avenue, Cork on February 28th, the Choice Music Prize ceremony at Vicar St., Dublin on Wednesday March 4th, The Roisin Dubh, Galway on March 6th, Queens Speakeasy, Belfast on March 12th, Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick on March 14th, Anu Bar, Wexford on March 15th and Spirit Store, Dundalk on March 16th. For more information visit or .

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February 12, 2009

Choice Music Prize & Musical Rooms

Filed under: Choice Music Prize 2008,Interviews,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 4:36 pm

As with last year, I’m currently chasing up Musical Rooms pieces with the ten acts nominated for this year’s Choice Music Prize. Some of the acts are currently away and touring, but I hope to run pieces by some or most of the nominees in the run up to Choice Prize gig on Wednesday March 4th at Vicar Street (which you can still buy tickets for). First up, is the very talented R.S.A.G.

Musical Rooms Part 58: R.S.A.G.


“My favourite place so far that I have created music in is a house a mile or so outside Kilkenny city. It’s the smallest room in the house. I was living with a friend and we had four rooms, two rooms each. He had decks and so many records that it took more time to move the records in than it took me to move in, so he got the biggest room. We agreed that it was because of those records, but we both know it was for his big ego, ha! I choose to take the smaller of my two rooms for my studio. It was perfect apart from when I recorded drums in there. But it ended up working out really well and gave a really claustrophobic feel on some of the tracks on the album.

I got some large black soft rug-like material – I got it from a friend – to soundproof the room as much as I could. What I was after was a dead room. It smelled like a mix of old school carpet and engine oil, maybe because the blankets were used to transport motorbikes in from Japan. I love free stuff with a bit of a story. So, as soon as I had the room all blacked out, the scene was set.

In the room, I have a computer, a set of speakers and whatever instruments I tend to drag to and fro the room. The most important things for me to have in there are a Bass guitar, acoustic guitar and whatever percussion bits were lying around.

I spend a good bit of my time in the room and tend not to have a schedule; I just make music whenever the mood takes me. Isolation is not important. I do work alone most of the time but always like to get friends’ opinions on what I’m doing.

The creative process at the moment for me is to jam a lot on my three-string acoustic guitar, and when something feels right, I’ll record it. Once a song has a structure, you can experiment with different feels and layering textures. I use a PC with a program called Acid to initially draft ideas. It’s a great program for creating loops quickly. My method is very primitive and simple.

What I like most about my space is that it’s mine.”

R.S.A.G. (Rarely Seen Above Ground) is Jeremy Hickey, a multi-instrumentalist who records, performs and produces all his own music. Live, he plays drums, percussion and sings. His debut album Organic Sampler was released in 2008 to rave reviews and is nominated for the 2008 Choice Music Prize. He plays The Academy, Dublin on Tuesday, February 17th, The Pavillion, Cork on Thursday, February 19th, The Roisin Dubh, Galway on Friday, February 27th and the Choice Music Prize ceremony on Wednesday March 4th. For more information visit

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February 8, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 57: Ane Brun

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 2:24 pm
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“My favourite space to create music in is my studio in Stockholm, Sweden. It consists of three beautiful rooms in an old building from the 1600´s. Thick, brick walls and windows enclose a charming backyard where the birds sing when spring comes. It has an open fireplace that keeps us warm in winter and it is very cool and nice in summer. I share it with two other magnificent artists: an author and another musician.

I have a piano and different guitars hanging on the walls. There is an autoharp, accordions, computers, microphones and microphone stands. There are lots of different percussion instruments lying around and plenty of bookshelves. The most important thing for me to have in here with me, are my guitars, my recording equipment (computer and mics) and an inspired Ane.

At certain periods I am there for six to eight hours a day, but at other time, I’m not there at all – it all depends on what’s going on or whether I’m on tour or no. The composition process, for me, is not something that happens everyday, but more at special periods of time when I have decided to work on new material. When I’m working on new songs, I prefer being by myself, at least when composing. The recording process can be more stimulating done together with someone else.

I usually get started with an idea, which is either a phrase or a guitar riff, or just a draft for lyrics. I find it easiest to compose while recording at the same time. Then I can improvise and the ideas that I come up with won’t disappear. I save the parts I am happy with, and try to build bridges between them until I feel it’s a complete song.

What I like most about this place is the peaceful atmosphere and focus that I find there.”


Norweigan-born Stockholm-based Ane Brun has just released her latest album Changing Of The Seasons. It includes her cover of ‘True Colours’ which is currently being used on an ad for Sky HD. Released on her own DetErMine Records, a single ‘The Treehouse Song’ is released here on February 9th, and she will play some Irish dates in March. For more information and details of upcoming live shows, visit or

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February 4, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 56: Villagers

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 10:22 am
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“My favourite space to create music is the house that I live in. I live here with six other people so I keep moving around. The kitchen is the only warm room so I’m often there at night, but there’s a loft outside the house in which I record drums and rehearse with the band. It’s freezing, but I usually get the long johns on and record vocals up there when everyone’s gone to bed. I have a song called ‘Pieces’ that I demoed there. It was about 3am when I started howling like a dog. My god, it felt good. The owners of the house live nearby and sometimes I wonder if they can hear it all… something in their eyes…

True story! A couple of days after this, a pack of dogs started running around the house each morning, just before sunrise. I haven’t seen them for a while, but they kept coming back for at least three weeks after that. It was so strange, they looked really well groomed, but none of them had collars or anything. They were the most excited dogs I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I’m trying to find words to describe the loft. It’s dusty and cold. There’s a great little mixing desk in the middle of the room that RTE were going to throw out. I have a suspicion that this mixing desk is only the tip of the iceberg. If anyone has any more info about this, let me know. My notebooks are full but my pockets are empty, so free equipment is always welcome.

The room is filled with a few old amps and my friend Marc’s drum kit, as well as boxes of old cassette tapes and minidisks which belong to a young Davey H (from my old band). One of Dave’s drawings is on the wall beside the door. It’s a sketchy image of a man’s face, drawn onto a large piece of wood. There was a period of a few months last year when I was recording like a madman. I almost made myself sick. Anyway, every time I had a break I’d say, “I’ll be back in five minutes” to the face as I walked out the door. I think it was a way of dealing with the fact that I was alone now. Violins, please.

The amount of time I spend in the loft varies greatly, as does the amount of time I spend writing or recording. It all depends on how much free time I have. A lot of my last year was spent touring with the incomparable Cathy Davey, so I had to learn the lost art of time management (well, it was lost to me). Schedules don’t really work well with me. I’m usually pretty good at getting stuff done because once I’ve started working on something, I can’t relax until it makes me extremely happy to sing it. Even then, I usually want to change it again. The songs that I’m most proud of are usually the ones that were worked on at the most unsociable of hours.

I’m only learning the value of isolation now. I think I used to know it when I was a boy, but since then my head has been filled with useless ideas and information, which I’m currently in the process of filtering out of my system. I become a bit of a bastard when I’m in creative mode, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to my friends and family for all of those ignored text messages. It really is essential, though. I hope you take my songs as an indication of how much I love you, because that’s what they are.

I keep a little Dictaphone with me at all times. Sometimes I just record whatever is going on around me, but most of the time I use it to get musical ideas down. Usually they tie in with some words in my notebook and a song is born. Then I have to help it grow. When I feel that it’s ready (usually after a few months), I move the song from the Dictaphone to a little 16-track recorder which I bought a few years ago when I was working in an office (PLEASE GOD, NEVER AGAIN). Late last year, I got a little handmade acoustic parlour guitar (which is why my pockets are empty). Is it possible to actually be in love with an inanimate object?

What I like most about the loft is the feeling of absolute abandon that hits me when I start working with a couple of days off ahead of me. Time loses all meaning and the sweet chimes of freedom make themselves known to one and to all. Amen.”


Villagers is the collaborative project of former Immediate member Conor O’Brien. They release their debut E.P. Hollow Kind this Friday, February 6th on Any Other City Records. Villagers play Electric Avenue (the Friday Club), Waterford on Friday, February 6th, The Roisin Dubh, Galway on Thursday February 12th, DeBarras, Clonakilty, Cork on Friday, February 13th, Cypress Avenue, Cork on Tuesday February 17th, The Spirit Store, Dundalk, Louth on Friday, February 20th, Crawdaddy, Dublin on Saturday, February 21st and The Stables, Mullingar on Saturday, February 28th. The EP can be downloaded for free on his myspace page. For more information and details of upcoming live shows, visit

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February 1, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 55: Tenaka

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 12:59 pm
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“My favourite place to make music is my bedroom. It allows me the solitude to work on music yet also the comforts of home. Since it is also one-half my bedroom it can get somewhat messy but before I can settle down to be creative, I’ll make sure to have it clean and organized. I couldn’t work in a cluttered environment. I’m constantly striving for better production qualities and cleaner sounds so it helps to be in an area that feels organized and productive. I’ve been here for nearly two years and, although I started dabbling with music shortly before that, here is where all of my music in its current form has been composed and recorded. Like most bedroom studios everything happens through the laptop and so in order for my music to feel more organic I’ve built up a series of instruments, tools and devices that allows me to work more fluidly, instead of with the generic mouse and keyboard.

So far, my musical instruments include an acoustic and electric guitar, bongos, congas, xylophones, harmonicas, shakers, a ukulele, a kalimba and a kora. I can record all of these through my condenser mic, which has become essential for me. I also use a lot of samples for keys and percussion and so I use a MIDI keyboard and Monome in order to control and manipulate them. All of this is fed through Ableton Live 7 which is the focal point of my studio. When composing new melodies on the acoustic guitar I will sometimes use my RC-50 Loopstation to seamlessly build on riffs but all of the final recordings go through the laptop. I monitor the music using a pair Sennheiser 280 PRO headphones.

I try to work on new music when I can, but its hard to find a fixed time so it’s usually in the late hours when I sit down to work. I’m definitely a night owl and feel most comfortable, creative and inspired when everyone else is zoning out. I’ve started a few side projects where I have other musicians call over to work on some music and so far it’s going really well, but when it comes to my music I really need to be on my own. I am still learning and I’m constantly looking to create new sounds, styles and ideas and to do this you really have to let yourself go and try things that may not work out. I find it more comforting to be on your own where you can work with these rogue melodies and sounds without worrying what other people think. As I said I’m still in my infancy stage and learning every day but it’s invigorating. It’s the greatest drug I know. For me the music is very organic and evolves through time so there is no fixed outline for any of my tracks. I may begin work on a track thinking I know the main melody, vibe and feeling, but the final track can tend to wander off where it wants to go and leaves you thinking ‘how did that happen?’. Michelangelo once said that “every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it“. That’s exactly how I feel about my music.”

Tenaka is the one-man project of Limerick man Ronan Carroll. His four-track debut EP ‘Eponymously Titled’ was released in January 2009 and is four quarters of melody-fuelled electronica with many influences, from Devendra Banhart (‘Ain’t Nobody’) to RSAG (‘Open Up’). The EP can be downloaded for free on his myspace page. For more information and details of upcoming live shows, visit

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