“The world, art, and self explain each other:
each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites.”
– Eli Siegel
Track 1. Beethoven: Symphony #3, 1st mvt. (from the development section)
Vehement conflict and beautiful harmony. As Schopenhauer indicates, “vehement conflict” is transformed to “beautiful harmony.” That is the immediate impact of this passage. What is remarkable is how Beethoven also places harmony within the conflict and conflict within the harmony. At first we meet startling dissonance and cross rhythm—yet the music is largely written in straight-forward homophony, so we feel agreement too. Later in this excerpt, as the music achieves a resolution of those dissonances and cross-rhythms, we arrive clearly and melodiously in E minor—yet calm as this resolution undoubtedly feels after the turmoil of what came before, it is structurally tense: E minor is very distant from the fundamental key of the movement, Eb major.
Track 2. Beethoven: Symphony #6, 2nd mvt.
Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies, George Grove tells of how the composer, as early as 1803, made “transcriptions” of the actual sound of a brook’s flowing water (pp. 201-202; Third Edition, Novello, Ewer and Company; London, 1898). The motion and calm of nature affected Beethoven; affected Grove, too—for in his critical commentary it is clear that the music conveyed to him a picture of reality as the oneness of opposites—foreground and background; swarming variety and ceaseless unity:
In his classic text
The brook forms the background of the scene; but above and through [its] ceaseless murmur…are heard various motifs…Beethoven has managed, with the most extraordinary skill, to fill his score with an atmosphere of sound which conveys the glories of summer, and the busy ‘noise of life’ swarming on every sense (p. 202).
Track 3. Naoligerma—Mongolian Song
This is a strophic song; its very form accents stability: we hear the same melody eight times. Yet there is also surprise: for the purpose of defining the various characters who are speaking in this “family” drama, the song jumps registers and also modulates every time a new character speaks. The most startling modulation—unprepared and up a whole tone—occurs between the 3rd and 4th stanzas. This musical disruption, incidentally, parallels the dramatic situation: it is in the 4th stanza that the “mother-in-law” indicates her ill-intentions towards her son’s wife. The use of modulation—so rare in traditional Mongolian song—is here employed to powerful, ethical effect.
Track 4. Scelsi: String Trio, 1st mvt.
What is a sonic object—a note? Is it, at once, unified and diverse—as is the universe itself? Consider the opening 14 measures of this Trio. Heard one way, it is a simple unbroken Bb octave. Heard another way—(and Scelsi’s notation points us to this)—there are at least 52 separate variations on that octave—timbral, rhythmic, intonational, dynamic. We experience reality’s elemental ontology: the oneness of Being and Change.
Track 5. Notker Balbulus: “Dilecte Deo”
Music in the Middle Ages (New York: Norton. New York. 1940):
That Notker and others were impelled to put opposites together—symmetry and asymmetry; repetition and surprise; what is compact and what is extended—as they created the classic Mediaeval form of the sequence, can be gathered from these sentences by Gustave Reese from
The more general practice may be represented by the pattern: x (unpaired introduction), aa, bb, cc, etc., y (unpaired postlude)—x or y both being optional….the two lines of a pair were frequently…uneven in length; and in a single sequence some pairs were long while others were short (p. 188).
Track 6. Igu—Musician of the Darumbere (New Guinea)
This striking recording was made on November 9, 1976 at Waidoro, in the Daru subprovince of New Guinea. We hear a bamboo jaw’s-harp, and as Igu uses it the sound that results is a rich presentation of what we also met in Scelsi—the oneness of constancy and change, rest and motion.
The technique of playing the jaw’s-harp is both active and passive—the self being changed by the world, and in turn, changing it. Bamboo is twanged before the musician’s mouth. A sound is created with constant pitch. Yet as that constant drone enters the resonating chamber of the musician’s body, it is reshaped by subtle changes the musician makes in the shape of his throat, mouth, lips, and nasal passages. We now hear, along with the drone, a kaleidoscope of varying timbres and darting overtone melodies.
Track 7. Pattabhiramiah: “Modi Jesevelara”
The tala is Adi—4+2+2, and the raga for this Carnatic javali is Khamās: (rising) C F E F Bb A Bb G Bb C; (falling) C Bb A G F E D C. The particular performance recorded here is a study in sound as stable and surprising, symmetrical and asymmetrical. For example, consider the way the word “modi”— from the pallavi—playfully returns at irregular intervals, interrupting the “logical progress” of the anupallavi and the charanum.
Track 8. Jelly Roll Morton: “Black Bottom Stomp”
This—the “trio” section of the composition—comprises the final two-thirds of the piece. The recording was made in 1926 with “The Red Hot Peppers,” Jelly Roll, himself, on the piano. The progression which underlies each of the 20-bar choruses of the trio (there are seven choruses) never varies. However, the improvisations certainly do! Moreover, Jelly Roll has structured these seven choruses so that while each has a 2-bar “break,” that “break” occurs at different points: sometimes in the center, sometimes at its very beginning, sometimes near the end. The over-all effect is one of both predictability and delightful shock; we hear what we expect and what we’d hardly expect: classic Jazz.
Track 9. Stravinsky: “Le Sacre du Printemps” (Opening of Part II)
In his Harvard lectures of 1939-40 Stravinsky pointed to the centrality of opposites for the understanding of music. The “two principles which dominate the creative process,” he said, “correspond [to] the fundamental concepts of variety and unity,” and these artistic principles he argued arise from reality itself as Many and One. “Mere common sense,” the composer said, “as well as supreme wisdom, invites us to affirm both the one and the other.”
Stravinsky differs from Aesthetic Realism in presenting the Ontological as the source of Oneness and the Psychological as the source of Manyness—for Aesthetic Realism sees the universe and the human mind as each simultaneously both. Yet Stravinsky in these important lectures gives much evidence that the oneness of opposites is what we look for in art. For example, he quotes approvingly the Russian philosopher Souvtchinsky who writes of the “dynamic calm” which music can create. All this can be found in chapter two of The Poetics of Music, entitled “The Phenomenon of Music” (New York: Vintage Books. 1947).
Track 10. “Agbekor”
In Agbekor performance, every drummer is responsible for his own pattern—asserting it, and yet making sure it accurately interlocks with all other parts. The masterdrummer is responsible for co-ordinating these interlocking patterns, and the dance itself. Meanwhile, as he instigates changes in the dance, he must also yield—and respond to signals from the dancers. There is then assertion and yielding of self in every aspect of “Agbekor” performance—including in the dance itself, which, like the music, is “contrapuntal,” the men and women having complementary patterns.
That the Ewe of Ghana prize the oneness of the individual and the collective, and are critical of those who assert themselves at the expense of others, can be seen, among other places, in their folktale “Why the Hare Runs Away,” included in Roger Abraham’s anthology African Folktales (New York: Pantheon Books. 1983. Pages 74-5). In every society the ethical coordination of individual rights and collective responsibility is looked for.
And where the self is disproportionate, egoistic, managing and aloof – as Aesthetic Realism has pointed out – people in every society feel this is wrong, is evil. Likewise if a society or government suppresses individual expression, is repressive, unwilling to understand, persons everywhere feel this is wrong, there is evil. Music, at its best, stands for the good that every human is looking for.
Track 11. Haydn: Quartet in F Major, Op. 74 #2
The Classic Style (New York: W.W. Norton) Charles Rosen agrees with this, yet indicates that as his career progressed Haydn worked his way towards a deeper oneness of opposites. Writing of the later Haydn String Quartets, Rosen observes:
The “conversational” aspect of good chamber music has long been noticed. In his important 1972 book
The proportions of his works became ‘classical,’ the harmonic vision more logical, but he never abandoned his earlier ‘manner’: his latest works, in fact, are at times even more shocking than the earlier ones. His eccentricity lost none of its power, but it was integrated into a conception of musical form larger and more coherent than any other composer of the 1760’s had imagined (page 111).
If Haydn could be, at once, coherent and wildly individual, he was achieving something every person has hoped for. It is no wonder, historically, that his music took late 18th century Europe by storm.
Track 12. Ellington: “The Mooche”
This early masterpiece of Duke Ellington (1928) was co-composed with trumpeter Bubber Miley, whom we hear soloing in response to the clarinet trio which opens the work. This is classic “call and response.” To the first clarinet “call,” which outlines a diminished triad Eb, C, and F#, Miley answers with a subtle structural retrograde outlining F#, A and D#. To the second clarinet “call,” he answers with a 2 bar “paraphrase” of all 6 bars of previous clarinet melody. He is assertive and yielding—once again finding his own individuality in responding precisely (and imaginatively) to the expression of others.
Track 13. Zhou Long: “Secluded Orchid”
A recent work by the modernist Chinese composer Zhou Long, “Secluded Orchid”—the third movement of his Rites of Chimes for cello and an ensemble of Chinese instruments—honors the most traditional texture of Chinese music: heterophony.
Heterophony is a texture that asks for the simultaneity of agreement and disagreement, the collective and the individual. The melody is agreed-on; the mode of performance of that melody varies with each instrument. Where Zhou Long innovates is in his highly dissonant and “pointillistic” approach to heterophony.
Track 14. Khyāl in “rāg mishra bhairavi”
Music! 100 Recordings, 100 Years of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv, edited by Artur Simon and Ulrich Wegner, which accompanies the Wergo Collection, we read:
In the interaction of singer, sarangi and tabla, we meet that simultaneous freedom of self and coordination with others which characterizes mental health anywhere in the world. In the booklet
The improvisatory aspect plays a larger role in Khyāl than in all other vocal genres of north Indian music. The khyāl singer has a wealth of improvisational techniques at his disposal which group around the musical seed of the compositions. This improvisational wealth represents an especially large challenge to the artistic and vocal qualities of a singer (page 243).
The implication is, the challenge is, how to do a good job with both freedom and responsibility: how to improvise freshly, and yet be true to the “seed” of the composition. It is ethics and aesthetics at once.
Track 15. “Agbekor”—(later section)
This section is from the same performance of “Agbekor” we heard on Track 10. Now call and response have taken on a primarily vocal texture; there is a clear sense of “leader” and “society.” But it is not a “mechanical” relation: the calls and responses vary greatly in their proportions, and at times the leader joins the larger group—much as a soloist in a 18th century Violin concerto might.
Track 16. Mozart: Concerto in G for Flute and Orchestra
Within seconds, Mozart presents his orchestra as a community of instruments—a tutti—in firm rhythmic and harmonic agreement, and yet as a free society in which each individual voice is cherished. Now the horns, then a moment later the oboes, and now the violins speak for themselves—all this before the nominal soloist, the flute, even enters.
Writes Alfred Einstein in his A Short History of Music: “Never was the natural strife between homophony and polyphony…been more completely settled” (New York: Vintage Books. 1947. Page 131). From the point-of-view of Aesthetic Realism, what Mozart has accomplished is not just musical, but also philosophic and ethical achievement.
Track 17. “Gumbukumbu”—music of the Shona
Among the performers is Maraire. The text itself reads:
Gumbukumbe, my mother’s child, we are climbing a hill and we must keep fit and strong to go on climbing. If you don’t take it seriously, you will never make it, or you may, but your children will not make it as you did.
This song is critical and tender at once—asking more of Gumbukumbe out of warmth of feeling. It is akin to what a good teacher of music—such as Maraire, according to Paul Berliner—does.
Track 18. Mozart: Ein Musikalischer Spass
This 1787 work is perhaps the funniest satire yet created about bad musicianship. Mozart is critical; yet even as he spoofs the non-oneness of opposites, he finds a way to maintain his own musical integrity. Peter Cohen writes about this amazing relation of falsity and correctness for the linear notes of the Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Amadeus Quartett: “Yet behind all these 'blunders' we can sense Mozart’s genius—the catastrophes are all brilliantly planned and directed by the sure hand of a grand master.”
Track 19. “Makala”—music of the BaAka people
This is a from a field recording made in the Central African Republic by Michelle Kisliuk. The opposites Kofi Agawu cites—the communal and the individualistic, the spontaneous and the calculated, the complex and the simple, the unsophisticated and the ornate—are here, audibly, present at the same time, giving the lie to the notion that we can divide cultures neatly in terms of opposites. As Aesthetic Realism sees is, everywhere in the world “people are trying to put opposites together.”
Track 20. “Pengecet Legong Lasem”
In this example we hear first the nelitti, then the elaborated melody, and finally the full gamelan. Along with the matters cited in Tenzer’s quote, we meet here also the opposites of simplicity and complexity.
Track 21. Driss El Maloumi: “Taqsim”
In keeping with Arabic improvisatory tradition, as this unmetered tonal exploration proceeds, every factor mentioned by Tenzer in relation to Balinese music can also be heard: motion and stasis; cadence and progression, symmetry and asymmetry. This great virtuoso of the Oud is from Morocco.
Track 22. Perotin: “Alleluya Navitatis”
As Jeremy Yudkin in his 1989 book Music in Medieval Europe (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall) writes of the Tripla of Perotin, including Alleluya Navitatis, do we not meet technical matters whose underlying opposites correspond to those Tenzer wrote of in terms of Balinese neliti—motion and stasis; cadence and progression, symmetry and asymmetry?
Both upper parts are controlled throughout by a regular rhythmic structure, under the sway of the modal system. The tenor still alternated between modal-rhythmic sections and sustained-note sections, but there was no differentiation in the upper voices…Voice exchange appears commonly (page 386).
Track 23. Thelonious Monk: Criss Cross
Opposites are richly present as Jazz historian and critic Martin Williams writes of this work:
Monk allows the firmness of his harmonies and the percussive accents of Art Blakey to carry the performance once the opening theme is stated and the solos take over. But as the last soloist, Monk himself (entering at a quite unexpected point, by the way) realized it was time to reassert the claims of continuity and form, time to begin rebuilding his theme. He suggests it and then improvises on it more directly, preparing for its restatement. Criss Cross is perhaps Monk’s classic piece (New York: Signet Books. 1971. Pages 121-122).
Track 24. Isaac: “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen”
Norton Anthology of Western Music (New York. W.W. Norton. 2001) that in this classic German polyphonic Lied “a cadence on either C or F formed with a suspension ends each phrase, followed by a rest” (page 151). The impact on a listener, say in Germany circa 1500, is analogous to the impact of “motion and stasis, cadence and progression, symmetry and asymmetry” Tenzer observes in Balinese neliti.
Claude Palisca notes in the
Track 25. Brahms: “Rondo alla zingarese”
This is the concluding movement of his Piano Quartet in G minor. That it puts opposites together is evidenced by the fact that is could inspire one recent musicologist (Michael Musgrave) to write of its “sheer animal vitality,” and another Malcolm MacDonald, to comment on its “Olympian mood of relaxed strength…This is a Finale that takes its time.” Certainly, in its constant use of 3-bar phrases that nevertheless exhibit very varied internal rhythmic structures, we hear that vitality and that relaxation at once—in keeping with the opposites Tenzer describes as universal.
Track 26. Elephant Hunting Song, Mbuti people, Ituri Forest, People’s Republic of the Congo
This song is sung with solos in front of a rich, harmonious chorus punctuated by sharply-struck sticks. While the sound of the chorus is rounded and has a throbbing continuity, the sounds of the sticks present sharp discontinuities that are rhythmically exact. There is a very taking relation of continuity and discontinuity, resonance and thinness of sound, and stop and go.
The Mbuti are semi-nomadic hunters in the rainforest—a way of life in which the opposites of stop and go, are dramatically present; and, sometimes, in a difficult or disorderly way as they build temporary homes roofed with leaves and abandon them when they must move on to survive. These opposites are gracefully placed in the sound of their music.
In the singing of these tribes we hear yodeling, which is somewhat unusual for African sound but characteristic of these hunting people. The yodel itself is a sharp transition between two overtones, producing a oneness of harmony and sharpness, agreement and disagreement. These opposites, harmony and disagreement, are a daily concern of the Mbuti social life, as it is a concern of ourselves and all people. But they affect the Mbuti in a particular and intense way. For the Mbuti sense of social harmony has been much admired: they value it as much as any people on earth and will not quarrel with one another overtly unless the provocation is extreme—a fact documented by Colin Turnbull in his 1962 classic The Forest People.
That great human desire, to be different from everyone else and also to get along with everyone else is dealt with beautifully in their music, which, as one writer puts it, is “usually characterised by dense contrapuntal communal improvisation.” (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Pygmy).
Track 27. Ravi Shankar: Dádrá
Relevant to the effect of this music is Chapter 4, verse 18 of the Bhagavad-Gita (tr. by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada):
One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities (Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Los Angeles: Bhaktivendanta Book Trust. l976. P.76).
The oneness of energy and repose, action and “inaction,” which all music has, is what all Hindustani music goes for technically, with its virtuosic improvisations and its constant tonic and dominant drone on the tampura.
Track 28. Paiute-Shoshone Circle Dance: McCloud’s Flag Song
This dance song from the Great Basin culture area—principally Nevada— often desert, is sung by Judy Trejo with Delgadina Gonzales & Christina Esquivel. It is very much like what Arnold Perey heard at Battle Mountain, about which he wrote:
I danced with Paiute-Shoshone people at the Battle Mountain pine-nut dance. There, I experienced a feeling of composition in my emotions—the feeling of self being proud and assertive, and yet modest and joined with many others—as I danced to the loud and muted drum beats, the crescendo and decrescendo, the rising and falling pitches of dance songs.
The recording, produced by Canyon records, can be found at www.canyonrecords.com.
Track 29. “Wolf Song” of the Kwakiutl-Nootka
Self and World (pp. 95, 96):
The Kwakiutl-Nootka tribes are from a very different environment from the Paiute-Shoshone nation. The rainy NW Pacific Coast of the United States and Southern Canada is heavily forested. Salmon run up the rivers every spring. Yet their musical cadences are closely related and easily identified as Native American. What this says about the continent-wide kinship of native cultures from Canada to Venezuela and beyond is to be thought about. Meanwhile both Paiute and Kwakiutl represent the universal aesthetics, the human aesthetics, which Aesthetic Realism describes. The conflict of humility and pride, rising and falling of self, is everywhere. It is very much in Native America. Here are sentences from Eli Siegel’s description of that central conflict in self in
Look at Jamison. He is shy and he is arrogant; in fact, he is like most people. Sometimes, Jamison looks at himself and finds a person who is timid…thinks people don’t like him; is unassertive and inferior. At other times, Jamison is raring to go, feels like an excited regiment …. Submissiveness and domineeringness are close in Jamison’s mind, and yet they are separate.
As Ruth Benedict and other have written, this conflict is steep among the NW Pacific Coast peoples. The rising cadences of assertion, the falling cadences of inferiority, sadness, guilt are composed in “Wolf Song.” Perey writes:
The song begins on a-flat, slides down to g, "leaps" to e and goes to d. It leaps up again, and again descends in increments. At the end of each segment of the song, there is the sound of "unh" that goes deep — falling a complete octave.
Track 30. Verdi: “Addio del passato” from La Traviata
How universally, one might ask, do the falling cadences of music tell of human sadness? The tones of one’s voice do instinctively fall when one is sad. And Shakespeare says in Twelfth Night, of music as he heard it: “That strain again! it had a dying fall.”
In The Language of Music, Deryk Cooke tells how Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata,
bids 'farewell to the past...' and concludes her aria with 'everything mortal ends in the tomb' (to a variant of the descending 5-3-1 progression) (1959, p. 139).
It is a remarkable fact that a lament from Kurdistan and another from New Guinea express emotions like that of Violetta in musical phrases that are related to hers.
Track 31. Death Lament of a Kurdish Singer
This recording was made in 1902. It does not have the full “arched 5-3-1” structure in the minor which characterizes example 30, but it does reiterate, with great intensity, the falling minor 3-1. It may prove useful, in the pursuit of a truly inter-cultural study of musical expression, to compare what Cooke has to say on page 106 of his book—“To fall in pitch in the minor is normally to express an incoming feeling of pain. This can be fierce despair…or a powerful feeling of subjection to fate”—to the sobbing sounds of this Kurdish lament.
Track 32. Tangiboa — Death Lament from German New Guinea, 1928
Once again—and very far from Kurdistan, both geographically and culturally—we find the reiterated falling minor third central to a death lament. At several points, this singer from the village of Ngacsegalatu expands the pattern to 5-3-1 in the minor—though in direct descent, not the “arch” form Verdi uses.
Track 33. Sioux Sun Dance
The Sun Dance is a dance of sacrifice and exaltation, and an honoring of the Great Mystery or God. One can hear the rising and falling of the self in the music, the closeness of pain and ecstasy. As one underwent the rigors of this dance, which included mortification of the flesh, for the purpose of gaining blessings for all people, there was great self-abnegation. It is like the fasting of Lent or Ramadan, or the strictness of a Cistercian monk or nun. At the same time there is pride, exultation, spiritual increase. The dancer weeps to the Almighty, as Ruth Benedict tells us, and Black Elk does –
Sometimes it was necessary to keep the face wet with tears so the spirits would pity the sufferer and grant him his request. “I am a poor man. Pity me,” is a constant prayer. “Have nothing,” the medicine men taught, “and the spirits will come to you” (Patterns of Culture, p. 81).
“I am humble” and “I am important” are two opposites every person experiences. In aesthetics, the two are resolved – as in the rising and intense aspects of this musical composition are at one with its falling, descending, and lingering aspects.
The music has a kinship to that of the settled tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast and their tremendous inner conflict. But just as conflict has a different texture among the Sioux than it does among the Kwakiutl, so has the music. To see how environment and society affect musical expression is as great a job for musicology as any. Once one discovers that the Sioux – or Dakota – lived on the Great Plains, a land with tremendous horizontal sweep, as opposed to the giant cedar forest and the sea coast of the Kwakiutl-Nootka people, one can ask, Can the different land be heard in the music? And once one knows how Sioux almost lived on their horses, sped across the plains, and fought one another, one wants to ask, Can that speed and abandon be felt in the Sioux Sun Dance?
(Also see Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by Black Elk, John Gneisenau Neihardt (Preface), Nicholas Black Elk. University of Nebraska Press: 2000.)
Track 34. Zuñi “Moonlight Song”
Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian. Don C. Talayesva, Leo W. Simmons. New Haven. Yale University Press. 1942.).
The serenity and inner complexity of this song when compared to the Sun Dance is to be noted. It is in keeping with the Pueblo way of life, of which the Zuñi tribe is part. The Pueblos live today in pueblos or apartment dwellings hundreds of years old in an arid region in New Mexico and Arizona. They are farmers of corn and herd sheep. Their traditional abhorrence of warfare and desire to exist peacefully with one another and with the land is well known. Living close together in highly organized communities, there is a feeling of cohesion although there also can be conflict, sometimes intense. This cohesion and conflict pervades such works as Sun Chief by Don Talayesva, head of the Sun Clan in the Hopi Pueblo (
The ethics of the Pueblo peoples and that of all Native Americans are closely related to one another. In these ethics the problem for every person so carefully set forth by Eli Siegel is seriously embodied: “How is he to be entirely himself and yet be fair to that world he does not see as himself?” (Self and World, p. 91). In the “Moonlight Song” there is fairness to the moon and night and it is the same as self-expression. There is fairness to the song as a whole while there is fairness too, to inner movements that stand for individuality within the whole. In feeling it is much like Pueblo social life at its best: the community is subdivided—even more than in most Native American tribes—but the different parts work together for the good of the whole.
Track 35. Zuñi Lullaby
Our final example is sung by a Zuñi grandmother, Lanaiditsa. We end with it for it evidences the fact that everywhere in the world, as Aesthetic Realism says, “people are trying to put opposites together.” Consider the lyrics—is this not an attempt to put together tenderness towards a child, and criticism? Is there sweetness and toughness here?
My boy, little cottontail,
Little jackrabbit, little jackrabbit;
My boy, little cottontail,
Little rat, little boy, little boy…..
Consider how this song represents the way the universal opposites of Sameness and Difference (or Repetition and Variation) are in Native American music. According to author David McAllester, writing of “most Indian music in the United States,”
Repetition is a prominent feature…This is because their esthetic sense delights in repetitions and slight variations … variations that are sometimes too subtle for the ears of outsiders to detect (Worlds of Music, New York. Schirmer Books. 1984. Page 17).
So in New Mexico there is—as in every other region of the world—an impulsion to organize music so it expresses the fundamental ontology of the world: the Aesthetic Center described, for the first time in history, by Eli Siegel.
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