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‘In the Orbit of Ra’: New Sun Ra collection curated by Arkestra saxophonist Marshall Allen
09.23.2014
08:08 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music
Unorthodox

Tags:
Sun Ra
Marshall Allen


 
Sun Ra might need little introduction to many readers of this blog, I’d expect, so I’ll keep this brief: Sun Ra was once Herman Blount from Alabama except that he was always Sun Ra from the planet Saturn. He was a jazz bandleader and visionary whose career spanned the ragtime and free jazz eras, during which he dove deep into the avant garde, forming a band (“Arkestra”) that was as much a commune as a musical group. His work touched heavily on, among many other things, African/Egyptian themes, outer space, Kabbalism, and Gnosticism. Ra’s music, lifestyle, beliefs and personality were far too esoteric for anything even remotely like mainstream acceptance to find him, but he nonetheless recorded prolifically, and brought a heavy influence to bear on psychedelia and funk. Just last year, he came to somewhat wider public attention when Lady Gaga heavily quoted his “Rocket Number 9” in her single “Venus.”

Sun Ra left us in 1993, but had he lived, 2014 would have been his 100th year. His still-living stalwart saxophonist Marshall Allen continues, at the age of 90, to lead the Arkestra, and he’s recently compiled a collection for Strut Records, spanning 25 years of Sun Ra Arkestra music, remastered from the original tapes, and it’s being touted as “the first internationally released compilation to provide an introduction to the music of Sun Ra.” It’s called In the Orbit of Ra, and the CD and digital are out this week. (Those of us who prefer vinyl apparently have to wait until October. Boo.) An admirable lid has been kept on its contents—only one remastered track is available for streaming, the late ‘50s composition “Plutonian Nights:”
 

 
New mini-documentary on Sun Ra after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘The Black Man in the Cosmos’: Sun Ra teaches at UC Berkeley, 1971
07.18.2014
06:48 am

Topics:
Music
Race
Thinkers

Tags:
Sun Ra


 
The first thing I’d do with a time machine is point it to Berkeley, California, 1971. Those are the spacetime coordinates of the Afro-American Studies course Sun Ra taught at UC Berkeley. I’ve never been able to find an image of an original syllabus, but the reading list reportedly included the King James Bible, Blavatsky, Ouspensky, Radix by Bill Looney, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, LeRoi Jones’ Black Fire, The Real History of the Rosicrucians, The Secret Doctrine of the Rosicrucians, The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries, OAHSPE, and In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom.

According to John F. Szwed’s scholarly biography Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra, when students complained that some of these books were impossible to find, their professor “merely smiled knowingly”—of course the books that disclosed the secret history of the world were hard to come by. Szwed describes the class:

“Every week during the spring quarter of 1971 he met his class, Afro-American Studies 198: ‘The Black Man in the Cosmos,’ in a large room in the music department building. Although a respectable number of students signed up, after a couple of classes it was down to a handful (‘What could you expect with a course named like that,’ Sun Ra once chortled). [...] But it was a proper course—Sun Ra had after all trained to be a teacher in college—with class handouts, assignments, and a reading list which made even the most au courant sixties professors’ courses pale.

[...] In a typical lecture, Sun Ra wrote biblical quotes on the board and then ‘permutated’ them—rewrote and transformed their letters and syntax into new equations of meaning, while members of the Arkestra passed through the room, preventing anyone from taping the class. His lecture subjects included Neoplatonic doctrines; the application of ancient history and religious texts to racial problems; pollution and war; and a radical reinterpretation of the Bible in light of Egyptology.”

Apparently, the Arkestra’s agents failed to prevent the taping of Sun Ra’s May 4 lecture, a recording of which surfaced on the double-CD set The Creator Of The Universe. Though the recording starts and ends abruptly in mid-sentence, it’s actually of higher fidelity than much of the master’s officially sanctioned musical product (just listen to the tapping of the chalk on the board). The whole thing is worth listening to, but for me the climax comes around the 37-minute mark. “If you’re not mad at the world, you don’t have what it takes,” Sun Ra told his musicians, and towards the end of the lecture, the questions of a tardy student seem to touch a nerve. Prof. Ra’s improvised response is an impassioned summary of his militant, gnostic philosophy:

“I’m thinking about the future of black Egypt, which is outside of the realm of history. History has been very unkind to black people, so actually what I’m always talking about is the myth, and nothing that has ever been is part of what I’m talking about, because I’m saying that black folks need a myth-ocracy instead of a de-mocracy. Because they’re not gonna make it in anything else. They’re not gonna make it in history[. . .]

You see, that’s what’s wrong with y’all. Now here you walk in, the last man to get in here, and you gonna ask questions. But honesty is not what I’m talking about. You’re not in a place where truth can do you any good. So you gonna have to come to me privately, and we’ll talk about things that can help the black race. Truth has been abolished, so any truth you say is not permissible in here, because it never done anybody any good. Now, I’m dealing with things that can do you some good. If I come across the biggest lie in the universe, if it can help the black race, then I’m gonna use it. That’s fair warning to anybody, any nation on the face of the earth. I’m gonna use anything I find, and any weapon that I find.

Now I find that the truth is not permissible for me to use. Because I’m not righteous and holy; I’m evil. That’s because I’m black. And I’m not a striver to any righteousness. I never been righteous, I’m never going to be righteous. So now I’m evil. I’m the incarnation of evil. I’m black. I’m following their dictionary. Now I’m dealing with equations. I can’t go around and tell you I’m ‘right’ or ‘good’ when the dictionary is telling everybody in the world everything black is evil and wicked, so then I come and say, ‘Yes. So what? Yes, I’m wicked. Yes, I’m evil.’ I’m not gonna be converted. I’m not gonna strive to righteousness. I don’t wanna go to heaven, because good folks don’t never do nothing but be good, and they always failing, and they always getting killed, and they frustrating. So all I see on this planet is something evil like the white man being successful, and successful, and successful, and successful.

And I see evil killing black men every day, destroying him. Why should I be good? No, it’s better for me to come up to the white race and say, ‘Yes. We evil people should sit down to the table and talk together. You’re evil, I’m evil too. Now, them other folks that you’re dealing with are good black folks. I’m not good, and you’re not good. We understand one another.’”

This is before he gets to explaining that white people are evil and wicked because “they were made evil and wicked in imitation of the evil and wicked black man,” but you should really just listen to the whole thing.

Listen to, or download the entire thing at Sensitive Skin

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Sun Ra master tapes and other items on eBay
04.09.2014
12:39 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra
Jazz


 
An interesting lot of Sun Ra items has come up for auction on eBay with the opening bid of $20,000:

Sun Ra (1914-1993) used Variety Recording Studio in the 1960s to 1980s.  SUN RA STAMPERS, MOTHERS – 10 total + possibly 2 more that might or not be Sun Ra   11-1-79A 9-1213-85A 10-14-85B mother 1984B 1984C 1984D SRA 2000B     mother 10-3B-6888A   mother 10-3B-6888B   mother 10-3B-6888A John Cage Meets Sun Ra Included in the batch are two more:  12-31-80 A&B Which might or might not be Sun Ra’s. STAMPERS:    After material is recorded, it can be transferred from tape to a “master tape,” from which “acetate records” or if quantities are desired, the tape is “mastered” in order that “stampers” can be manufactured. Stampers for the two sides of a record are then placed in an oven-like machine where labels are inserted, an oily substance is injected,  and one record at a time is “pressed.” The pressings can be in any quantity, and a stamper usually can make at least 1000 copies unless it breaks because of the heat and needs to be re-done.  MOTHERS For larger quantities, a “mother” is made, and from that as many stampers as are desired can be pressed. CAVEAT The metal stampers/mothers are sold as a batch with the caveat that, unless a pressing plant with equipment similar to that used in the 1960s to 1980s can be found, no pressings could be made. It is possible that none of the present stampers can be used to make further pressings. However, it might be possible to digitize the data in order that a digital master could be created for digitally downloadable and CD creations. The stampers and mothers are particularly of interest as mementoes of the work by one of the last century’s great jazz bandleaders. They are sold “as is.” The buyer could re-sell the individual stampers. They are not sold for the purpose of infringing upon the rights of copyright holders. The materials offered have always been the property only of the seller.

 

 
The “Buy It Now” price for the entire lot is $26,000. It seems like you would be taking a big chance spending that kind of money with these caveats (especially if all the master tapes still exist). If, however, this music is currently being held captive by an obsolete technology, in recent years “lost” music was transferred (via laser I believe) from metal stampers dating from the 1930s containing two songs from blues legend Robert Johnson. Hard to tell what treasure awaits the buyer.

Here’s Sun Ra & his Arkestra live at the Chicago Jazz Festival 1981. The man certainly knew how to make an entrance!
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sun Ra’s business cards: ‘Why buy old sounds?’
10.05.2013
12:41 pm

Topics:
Advertising
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra

Sun Ra
 
These little cards and advertisements that Sun Ra had printed up during his Chicago days in the 1950s are fantastic.
 
Why buy old sounds?
 
Note that the DRexel telephone number is different on this one, by one digit:
Saturn Records
 
Those Atonites
 
Cosmic Rays
 
Possibly he didn’t have this ticket printed up, but it’s still nice:
Atonites
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Invasion of the mindsnatcher: Sun Ra on ‘Saturday Night Live’ 1978
07.24.2013
11:08 am

Topics:
Music
Television

Tags:
Sun Ra
Saturday Night Live
Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Sun Ra, A Space Odyssey: From Birmingham to The Big Apple, the quest begins
03.11.2013
11:01 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra


 
Given the rather daunting size of the Sun Ra catalog (over 100 known recordings, with plenty of semi-bootleg releases still turning up 20 years after his death) as well as its extreme stylistic breadth, there’s no set answer or even a remotely definitive list to give to someone when they ask “Where do you start?” when it comes to diving into the life’s work of the enigmatic Sun Ra.

In my own case, it was literally some Sun Ra CDs that I found, and that worked just fine for me, but finally veteran music journalist Kris Needs has provided a methodical and archival approach to Sun Ra’s oeuvre with the new 3CD box set, Sun Ra: A Space Odyssey.

Dating back to Sun Ra’s earliest days as a working musician and arranger in Chicago and his initial flight as a bandleader, for the most part, what’s on display here is slightly adventuresome big band music. The futuristic outer space mutant bop cacophony of the Arkestra was still to come, although there are hints of it aplenty in these early recordings.

Sun Ra: A Space Odyssey is the kind of detailed box set that could have only been put together by an expert’s expert, with a profound love for Sun Ra’s music. I can’t stop listening to it. Kris Needs has done music fans a great favor by compiling A Space Odyssey, I can only hope that he and Fantastic Voyage Records have future Sun Ra sets like this one in store for us. 10/10.

Below, Edward O. Bland’s 1959 quasi-documentary short, Cry of Jazz. Scenes of the Arkestra were filmed between 1956 and 1958, before the band and its leader began wearing the distinctive Egyptian and science fiction-styled headdresses and costumes they would later become well-known for:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Outer Spaceways Inc: Killer footage of Sun Ra and His Arkestra from 1969
01.10.2013
10:55 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music
Thinkers

Tags:
Sun Ra
Jazz


 

“I never wanted to be a part of planet Earth, but I am compelled to be here, so anything I do for this planet is because the Master-Creator of the Universe is making me do it. I am of another dimension. I am on this planet because people need me”—Sun Ra

Dazzling short documentary film from French television of Sun Ra and His Arkestra, with the great June Tyson, circa 1969. Killer takes on “Enlightenment” (from his 1958 masterpiece Jazz in Silhouette and “Outer Spaceways Incorporated.”
 

 
Via Bedazzled.tv (Beddazzled’s head honcho Spike Priggen will be DJ’ing at Sidecar in Brooklyn every other Thursday starting January 10th)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Kraftwerk: ‘Kometenmelodie Eins & Zwei’ performed live in Paris, 1976

kraftwerk_under_a_tree
 
Audio of Kraftwerk performing 2 tracks from their album Autobahn, “Kometenmelodie Eins” and “Kometenmelodie Zwei”, as recorded in Paris, 1976.

“Kometenmelodie” (“Comet Melody”) was inspired by the Comet Kohoutek (which proved to be a rather “spectacular dud” as far as comets go), and the track became Kraftwerk’s first single, released in December 1973.

Comet Kohoutek also inspired Sun Ra to perform a special concert for the comet in December 1973, while singer Burl Ives hoped to increase his bank account with the release of his single “The Tail of the Comet Kohoutek” in 1974. But it was Children of God founder David Berg, who received the most column inches when he pronounced Comet Kohoutek as a sign that a Doomsday event would destroy America in January 1974.
 

 
With thanks to John Kowalski
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Cry Of Jazz: Only known footage of Sun Ra and his original Arkestra, Chicago, 1950s
12.17.2012
09:38 am

Topics:
History
Movies
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra
Jazz
The Arkestra


 
Composer/arranger Edward O. Bland’s 1958 quasi-documentary short, Cry of Jazz was one of the first films to examine Black culture. Made during the Eisenhower era when that concept hardly had a meaning to the general public, it was also perhaps the first time that assumptions of white cultural supremacy were challenged by an African-American director in cinema history.

Today the little-known film is considered a lost classic and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2010:

“[N]ow recognized as an early and influential example of African-American independent film-making. Director Ed Bland, with the help of more than 60 volunteer crew members, intercuts scenes of life in Chicago’s black neighborhoods with interviews of interracial artists and intellectuals. “Cry of Jazz” argues that black life in America shares a structural identity with jazz music. With performance clips by the jazz composer, bandleader and pianist Sun Ra and his Arkestra, the film demonstrates the unifying tension between rehearsed and improvised jazz. “Cry of Jazz” is a historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins.”

Scenes of the Arkestra were filmed at 5 or 6 club gigs between 1956 and 1958. This was before the band and its leader began wearing the distinctive Egyptian and science fiction-styled headdresses and costumes they would later become known for.
 

 
The great revolutionary poet, John Sinclair, had this to say about Cry of Jazz on his blog in 2004:

The Arkestra performances that provide the soundtrack for The Cry of Jazz underline and accent Bland’s relentlessly didactic story line and offer vivid visual contrast to the extended narrative scenes which depict a group of collegiate jazz enthusiasts heatedly engaged in a profound intellectual discussion centered on the politics of music and race and the definition, meaning and future of jazz.

Bland’s passionate, well-ordered polemic extremely advanced for the late 50s presents a systematic economic analysis of the social forces which produced and shaped the music called jazz, carefully relates them to the shape and form of the music then prevalent, and boldly forecasts what he calls the death of jazz that will be administered by a new experimental movement led by creative artists and composers (here typified by Sun Ra) who are dedicated to freeing the music from its historical strictures, reflecting the social conditions of the present, and projecting and interpreting the world of the future.

At first the story proceeds with excruciating slowness: A college jazz society meeting breaks up, leaving behind a group of stragglers a pair of white women, a white man and two black men who continue the discussion among themselves and soon reach sharp disagreement on the issues of where jazz originated, what forces shaped its development and why it sounded the way it did. Then one of the black men seizes center stage and carefully unfolds his increasingly radical analysis until his listeners are left virtually stupefied and without coherent response.

Sun Ra & the Arkestra lay down a pulsating track of sound under the narration and serve to punctuate the protagonist’s long, engrossing lecture with appropriate segments of performance footage and musical counterpoint. It’s easy to picture Sun Ra enthusiasts editing together these Arkestral appearances and eliminating the talking parts altogether, but inquisitive viewers may gain immensely from exposure to Bland’s fiercely iconoclastic exposition on the state of African American creative music on the historical cusp of the modern jazz era and the free jazz,  avant garde,  New Black Music movement of the 1960s.

 

A young Herman Poole “Sonny” Blount, before he properly understood his intergalactic roots and legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra

Read more:
From Sonny Blount to Sun Ra: The Chicago Years

Sounds from Tomorrow’s World: Sun Ra and the Chicago Years, 1946-1961

Purchase the DVD of Cry of Jazz at Amazon.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ ala Sun Ra and his Arkestra
05.23.2012
10:28 am

Topics:
Animation
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra
Dumbo
Hal Wilner

image
 
From Hal Wilner’s 1988 tribute Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films comes this incredible version of “Baby Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo performed by none other than the amazing Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

Some enterprising person decided to sync the Sun Ra version up to the scene in the film. It’s highly enjoyable.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Strange Mathematics: Sun Ra & his Arkestra live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, 1976
04.20.2012
12:52 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra


 
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate 4/20 day than with this Afro Futuristic video of Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Cosmo Arkestra performing onstage at the Montreux Jazz Festival, July 9th, 1976. The set features a silver-clad June Tyson and some dancers.

Regarding this performance, Mrdangerbird7 (who must be named Tony Bunn owing to the clues he leaves) writes on YouTube:

“This video brings back good memories; I played bass (guitar) on this performance. I was wondering if a video would ever surface. This performance was but the 2nd performance of a 3-month tour for the band. Perhaps needless to say, it was a mind-boggling experience for me. No doubt, I would not be the musician nor the person that I am today, had I been anywhere other than there, at the point in time.

From one moment to the next, one never quite knew where things were gonna go, in Ra’s band. “Scripted” would be much too strong a term to use… What happened was more like one having to remain awake and to respond to stimuli from various directions, as they occurred. I guess you could call that improv; although it was different from anything I’d done before (or since).

Actually Sun Ra pretty much delivered as advertised; albeit, he was an incredibly eccentric individual. No doubt, his music was a direct reflection of what was going on inside of him and inside of the members of the ensemble. Life on the most raw terms…”

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Space Is The Place’: Sun Ra from a galaxy far far away
02.10.2012
10:45 pm

Topics:
Art
Movies
Music
Occult

Tags:
Sun Ra
Space Is The Place


 
A trippy alchemical potion of a movie, Space Is The Place inhabits an alternative reality that could only exist in the Afrodelic cosmology of Saturnian jazz priest Sun Ra.
Directed by John Coney in 1974, the movie is a hybrid of B-grade sci-fi, Blaxploitation flix (on shrooms), the films of Kenneth Anger and surrealist head trips like El Topo and the electric western Zachariah.

In the film, as in life, Sun Ra is the quintessential outsider and space is a metaphorical Eden for this much put upon black man. The plot is threadbare, involving villainous pimps and dealers, Black Panther avenger protagonists, local nightclubs, pool halls, cat houses, and, of course, an Outer Space Employment Agency that Sun Ra sets up after coming to Earth from a faraway planet. To recruit a new colony, he espouses racial freedom through Egyptian epigrams, Stockhausen-like jazz and a spirit filled Rocket Ship. Of course, Ra is challenged by establishment agents and a supreme villain, the Overseer (Ray Johnson), who lures impressionable black men away from Ra’s brand of truth with the vices of sex and money. Ra preaches against decadence and hits a nerve when showing the pimp and his followers that they are no different than the White Man (Nixon, here) they rage against. Ra promises a land of racial harmony and social justice lies within the Milky Way’s stars, and who are we to argue?” - Alfred Eaker

The cinematic equivalent of one of Sun Ra’s free jazz improvs, Space Is The Place is all over the cosmic map so it helps to find that Zen spot where you just lock into the frequency and go with the flow. As Sun Ray instructs, get in tune with the universe.

“The people have no music that is in coordination with their spirits. Because of this, they’re out of tune with the universe. Since they don’t have money, they don’t have anything. If the planet takes hold of an alter destiny, there’s hope for all of us. But otherwise the death sentence upon this planet still stands. Everyone must die.” - Sun Ra

Set your controls for the heart of the Sun Ra.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Stunning performance by Sun Ra and his Arkestra on French TV in 1972
08.18.2011
10:09 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra
French TV 1972


 
At the conclusion of their 1971 European tour, Sun Ra and His Arkestra visited Paris and performed for the French television show Jazz Session. The result was a stunning piece of musical theater shot in beautiful black and white and broadcast on January 8, 1972.

This is the show in its entirety. It begins with a brief introduction by the program’s creator Bernard Lion (Leo) who, along with being a hardcore jazz enthusiast and record producer, also directed videos for Serge Gainsbourg.

Whether you are a fan of Sun Ra or not, I think you’ll find this quite fulfilling.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Sun Ra on Detroit TV, 1981
07.25.2011
11:42 pm

Topics:
Art
Music
Thinkers

Tags:
Sun Ra
Detroit TV


 
Broadcast on Detroit local television in 1981, this interview with Sun Ra reminds us of what we already knew: he was a brilliant, uncompromising, truth-talking visionary.

The mother of all mother ships.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
When John Cage met Sun Ra
05.25.2011
11:27 am

Topics:
Heroes
History
Music

Tags:
Sun Ra
John Cage


 
Rarely heard live recording of a John Cage and Sun Ra performance from 1986. It was recorded at Sideshows by the Sea, the last surviving freak show along the Coney Island boardwalk. A carnival barker and a snake lady hawked the show outside and there was free pizza served, too. Can you imagine?!?! This concert took place on June 8th and pressed as a limited edition LP the following year.

Tyler Fisher writes on Sputnik Music:

Due to variety and musicality, Sun Ra heavily defeats John Cage on the performance. He opens the concert with a huge, furious, dissonant keyboard performance. The crowd cheers wildly and the spacey synthesizer sounds jump all around the range of the instrument and jump around in styles just as quickly. Elements of jazz flow in and suddenly a huge, orchestral sounding chord will overpower the recording instrument. The synth voices change frequently from a typical square lead voice to a bell sound to a synthesized voice. Sun Ra uses his range of voices perfectly, creating a heavy, metallic sound at some points which makes an even more frenzied sound to the already insane harmonic structure. He manages to jump from the most beautiful chords to the most dissonance in a matter of seconds. His first appearance goes on for 7 and a half minutes, garnering tumultuous applause from the audience. He later closes out the first half of the performance with a much more eastern tinged movement. Just when his playing couldn’t get any darker, he spends most of the second half making ambient, creepy noises. Much in the manner of the Mars Volta, he goes off without any sense of time or rhythm, creating whatever comes to mind. However, he lets the ambience slowly build into huge, crashing chords of either beauty or dissonance. Everything is going somewhere.

John Cage is just the opposite. His performance is much simpler. He merely steps up to a microphone and makes strange vocal noises. Cage’s voice sounds akin to an aging Johnny Cash. However, Cage never steps over saying more than 3 or 4 syllables at a time. He takes minute breaks before starting another few indistinguishable syllables. Of course, he relies on his “chance music” theory to get away with the minutes of silence. Sure, it’s a profound and intriguing idea, but it just gets old after a few minutes, especially when the recording buzzes in the background due to the quality. In truth, Cage is reciting excerpts from one of his poems in some strange language, known as Empty Words IV. However, who knows what he is saying? Luckily, Sun Ra saves the performance on the second half by filling in where Cage leaves silence. He fills with light, dainty keyboard lines way up high on the keys. He lets Cage have the show, not doing much of anything, but neither Cage still does less than Sun Ra. Cage proves a better composer and philosopher than a performer. Regardless, the crowd eats everything up, probably being mostly young, profound college kids themselves.

You can download John Cage meets Sun Ra at Adventure-Equation.

Read the back of the album cover, here.
 

 
Via WFMU’s Beware of the Blog

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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