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Thread started 01/28/03 12:36am

Jasziah

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Anna Stesia: a musician's masterpiece

Whereas most people start a new topic to solely bring attention to their 500th post, I've decided to devote my 500th post to one of my favorite songs... the only song that made me cry tears of joy at very first listen, "Anna Stesia."

Here's my edited version of an article that appeared in Popular Music (1992) Volume 11/3 by Stan Hawkins titled, "Prince: Harmonic Analysis of 'Anna Stesia'" (pp.325-335). I've dreamed of articles like this:

---

"Musically, it (Lovesexy) is probably the most complex and unconventional body of work he (Prince) has every produced. The dense undergrowth of twists and disjunctures to which even the most structured songs are subjected brings to mind once again the extended jam rehearsal technique Prince has always favoured" (Dave Hill in Prince -- A Pop Life, 1989).

"Anna Stesia," off the album Lovesexy (1988), offers up a wealth of innovative and thought-provoking harmonic ideas for analysis...

As with all Prince's output, stark dualities exist between simplicity and complexity of gesture within almost every conceivable parameter...

Against this backdrop, to what extent does the harmony reflect the ideological sentiments of the song, and to what extent is it indeed possible to analyse the harmonic "nuts and bolts" of, what may at first, deceptively, appear, a straight-forward structure?

...The duration of these (song) phrases mainly comprises eight-bar units, a conventional length in most songs. Significantly, however, a break in the symmetrical shape occurs towards the centre of the song, with the emergence of a twelve-bar phrase at bar 56, which includes a four-bar chorus hook and an eight-bar "primary bridge." At this point the vocal part becomes distinctly more excitable and improvisational, whilst superimposed over the main chord sequence... In relation to the rest of the song, the alteration in the structural layout serves to enhance the tension within the music, heighten the emphasis on the lyrics, and break the rigidity of a tightly controlled, repetitive symmetrical form. In representing the climatic point of the song, an extended thirty-two bar chorus, bars 84-116 (in which jam-style, free-improvisational ideas occur), signals a number of salient harmonic (as well as numerous other musical and lyrical) changes... The song concludes with a four-bar tag, based on the introductory material...

The principal pitch and tone centres derived from the harmonic and melodic material throughout the song...comprise the most influential harmonic reference points, serving to gravitate the music towards the specific root centres within each phrase.

...it becomes evident that the pitch C, in its movement to the pitches Ab, Bb, F and G at the end of phrases, occupies a foremost position in the song...

It should be noticed that C minor derived chords (Cmsus2, Cm and Cm+9) occupy all the starting positions in every sequence... A scan reveals some five chords inherent within the structure (excluding the tonic variants and inversions), which might seem fairly normal in quantity for a pop song. However, in the economy of these chords lies a sophisticated harmonic formation...

Whilst contributing to the rhythmic feel of the music, these thematic cells (of four predominant bass and rhythmic motifs) constitute an integral part of the harmony by reinforcing the root pitches and scales of the home key. In addition, they function as punctuation points in binding the dotted, funk-rhythm with the contrasting "straight feel" of the kit line...

(There is a) general level of (increasing) dynamic intensity throughout the song. Moreover, this also relates to the gradual increase in musical activity, from the sparse material in the beginning to the fuller and more energetic final chorus section at the end...

The unique and harmonically neutral quality of the Csus2 chord can be attributed to a number of factors, including the absence of a major or minor third, its frequent dotted harmonic rhythm, and its timbral treatment (a thin, almost feeble, electric piano sound). Continuous employment of the minor third pitch, Eb, in the vocal part, significantly affects the quality of the Csus2 chord by enhancing its minor-modal flavour. This, therefore, warrants a more precise description of the chord as Cmsus2, rather than Csus2. Apart from the introduction and tag, bars 116-120, the Csus2 never surfaces without the pitch Eb forming an integral part of its structure.

Movement from the C minor chords at the beginning of phrases to the chords Ab, Bb, Fm and Gm at the end, contributes to the song's distinctly modal flavouring. With the continuous movement back to the ubiquitous Cmsus2 chord at the beginning of phrases, any traditional resolutions at the end of phrases never takes place (an original and unconventional manipulation of harmony by Prince). The avoidance of any cliched or predictable cadences establishes an element of unresolved tension and harmonic uncertainty; this simultaneously serves to enhance the mood of the lyrics... (it is significant that the cadence V7-I never occurs).

The almost extreme extent to which circular sequential patterns become a harmonic metaphor for the restless nature of the lyrics is epitomised in the final thirty-two bar chorus sequence.

The harmonic structure of "Anna Stesia" compactly fits into an original modal framework. This use of modality, in contrast to diatonic harmony, is by no means unique in pop and rock music...but the specific ways in which modality is manipulated and organised within "Anna Stesia" assume central importance in this analysis...

Until such time that the Bb major chord has firmly established itself as an intrinsic feature of the harmony, tonal or modal ambiguity remains an issue very much in the foreground...

Prince's subtle and masterly control of harmony is further exemplified by the detail in his chordal voicings and positionings. The transformation of the C minor chords, for example, from Cmsus2 in the beginning to Cm+9 in the gospel chorus section (bars 84-116), by the inclusion of a minor third with the superimposed minor ninth interval, greatly alters the entire harmonic feel of the song. The transition from a suspended chord (Cmsus2) to a triadic structure with the added ninth (Cm+9), symbolises a definite arrival point within both the musical and ideological mean of the song...

Viewed from another perspective, the harmonic layout of "Anna Stesia" includes a number of significant chordal shifts at various "non-diatonic" cadence points throughout the song. These function as temporary excursions away from the home modal centre of C Aeolian, providing a release from the harmonic tension of the central tonic chord. Moreover, the cadential chord changes could be perceived as part of a larger macrocosmic sequence, held together by the Cmsus2 axial thread. The macrocosmic sequence consists of the progression, VI IV v VI VII #VI v VI in C Aeolian. With the single exception of the chord A7 (#IV), all the chords are directly related to the home mode. (Note that A7 occurs in the third inversion, A/G. This enhances its role as a passing, pivot-type chord, with the bass note (G) resolving to the C (perfect fifth) on the next chord (Cm+9)). Within the duration of one minim, bar 84, the A7 chord suggests a modulatory departure from C Aeolian modality. Not only does this chord serve to heighten the tension at this climactic moment in the song, but it also prompts the resolution to the newly voiced tonic chord, Cm+9, in the following gospel chorus passage. The macrocosmic cellular sequence, therefore, holds the key to the broader plan of harmonic events in "Anna Stesia."

...Responding to the aesthetics of the mix is crucial to the analysis of the structure of any song realised in a recording studio... there is an inextricable link between the musical and recording parameters. The overall structure of the song, whilst being held together by numerous factors, is controlled and generated primarily by studio devices and processes.

With respect to the broader vertical density of the musical structure, the harmony might, then, be considered as a product of the mix. This conclusion is borne out of the common knowledge that Prince creatively uses his own studio, the famous Paisley Park, as an integral compositional tool. The expert blending of ideas within "Anna Stesia" embraces a wide spectrum of sophisticated and highly discretionary recording techniques, which greatly influence and intensify the harmonic treatment. Through his complete command of the studio, Prince manages to create a three-dimensional image, which constantly transforms, changing colour and position within an audio space. Although it is not possible, or indeed that relevant, to pinpoint precisely the exact studio procedures and processes employed, it is likely, however, that the song incorporates a number of the following techniques.

The creative use of signal processing is greatly enhanced by equalisation, which serves to locate and place each instrument in its own unique band of frequencies. A gradual overlap of frequency bands is then employed to fill up the entire audio spectrum. In "Anna Stesia," this serves to increase the "apparent" loudness without actual altering the overall volume. The aural separation of individual sounds has a significant effect on the harmony by enhancing specific key pitches at particular moments. An example of this is the coupling of the synth bass with the brightly eq'd (equalised) kick drum, especially towards the climactic part of the song. This results in overlapping of frequency bands stretching the bass pitches into mid-range. It has a direct bearing on the tonic notes occurring in the bass, which purposely serve to reinforce the root notes of the harmony.

The harmoniser or pitch shifter (a digital effects-unit present in any modern studio) is used with feedback to shift the pitch and expand the frequency range occupied by the voice. As well as increasing the volume by consuming a broader range of frequencies, this also serves to transpose solo lines at any desired pitch above, below or equal with the original. Octave pitch shift results in intervallic transpositional treatment of backing vocals, as is evident in the gospel chorus. This increases the effectiveness of the harmonies by broadening and expanding the apparent range of frequencies and densities occupied by the voice, this creating a distinctive texture. The harmoniser is utilised to manipulate sound in such a way that the lead vocals, for example, can be distinctly separated from the backing vocals. It is likely that in the first chorus, bars 16-24, this device has been used to shift the pitch up an interval of a fifth. The vocal lead line, mainly centered around the Eb pitch, is supplemented by a dynamically softer line exactly a fifth above throughout this chorus. Harmonically, this added pitch influences both the voicing and structure of the chords, so that, rather than the Cmus2 Fm Cmus2 progression occurring here, to be more exact, we hear Cm7sus2 Fm7+11 Cm7sus2. This substantiates the subtleties of the mix and the effect it has on the harmonic flavour.

The success of the mix in "Anna Stesia" is largely dependent on the analogue compressor which is used to emphasise a multitude of musical qualities in the song. Aspects such as breathing and unsung vocal sounds, bass and kit lines, brass stabs, guitar solo and keyboard riffs are all compressed. This eliminates the natural dynamics, greatly enhancing the loudness and clarity of the track.

Prince often records his vocal and instrumental tracks twice or more on separate tracks creating very slight delays and discrepancies in time. The entire balance, control, reinforcement and manipulation of sound through the mixer is a determining factor in shaping the harmonic structure. The sheer density of the polyphonic texture and the use of multitracking within the final chorus section suggests that Prince has purposely saved up all his forces for this moment.

Stereophony also assists in sculpturing the sound by enhancing the textural and timbral contrasts through the panning processes. The use of differing amounts of reverb and positional information, for example, on the lead brass stabs creates a very hard sound, whilst the other keyboards are eq'd in a slightly more mellow and soft fashion. Further reverbs are employed, with very short decay times (nothing more than 1.5-2.0" RT.60) in the lead vocals and a number of underlying keyboard lines. This provides a sense of depth and, in conjunction with the musical and lyrical connotations, suggests a constantly moving object by foregrounding, backgrounding and generally illuminating the sound.

The main piano line, which transports the central harmonic message, is modulated in a way to simulate tape flutter, softening the overall sound, and introducing more harmonics into the overall texture. The piano part functions as a dominant textural and harmonic centre, embodying all the vocals, keyboards and guitar tracks; it introduces and concludes the piece, as well as running all the way through; it symbolises the common point, the locus, which integrates all of the harmonic points.

...The diverse range of emotions and meanings evoked by the lyrics, clearly work in close proximity with the contrasting levels of musical colour and intensity. Thematic collages of craving, searching, despairing, suffering, realisation and fulfilment, represent the expressive shadings endemic in the song. The main melodic ideas, which serve to complement the harmonic structure, are always simple and yet poignant, depicting a natural, naive beauty. They never detract from the clarity and meaning of the text...

With every repetition of (the central) sequence, the tension and passion of the music heightens as he (Prince) searches for a solution... Underpinning and accompanying the melancholic lyrics in the vocal line of the opening question of the song -- "have u ever been so lonely that u felt u were the only one in this world?" -- the harmonic ideas from the introduction are continually repeated at a constant low dynamic level...

As the song progresses, the lyrical focus shifts from the carnal to the theological, a controversial thematic feature of Prince's output... His pleading in the final verse, "Save me Jesus, I've been a fool, How could I forget that You are the rule. You are my God, I am Your child...," signifies a departure from a sung to a more excitable, spoken text in the vocal track, during which the harmonic line almost vanishes (bars 68-76). This respite serves to enhance the text, while simultaneously providing a temporary platform for harmonic retrospection and anticipation.

The lyrics of the final verse, "We're just a play in your master plan, Now my Lord I understand" are nourished by the impending sense of harmonic change. This is finally achieved by the unexpected A7 chord, which functions as a pivotal link. At this point the song experiences its moment of catharsis on all levels as it moves to its final point of destination, the gospel refrain. The resolution, via the A7 chord, to the new, modified tonic chord of Cm+9, serves as a concluding cadence, in which all the energy built up during the song is ecstatically unleashed. This chorus embraces a multitude of significant factors relating to the aesthetics of the song. Through the various repetitions of the newly transformed chord progression, Prince has summoned up all his forces to proclaim his "non-conformist faith" (Hill 1989, p.212). And in direct association with the allegorical connotations of the lyrics in the ultimate chorus, "Love is God -- God is Love -- Girls and boys -- love God above," the music and lyrics reach an unparalleled point of unification. Rather than ending on this note of elation, the four-bar tag then enters, serving as a gentle reminder of how this journey originally started.

edit: Copyright 1992. Cambridge University Press. (c) 1992.

Prince, "Anna Stesia," Lovesexy. (Controversy Music) Paisley Park Records, 25720-1. 1988.
[This message was edited Tue Jan 28 17:55:41 PST 2003 by Jasziah]
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Reply #1 posted 01/28/03 1:10am

FlyingCloudPas
senger

Wow. Would you have the UN-EDITED version available to email?

Thanks for this great post!
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Reply #2 posted 01/28/03 1:23am

calldapplwonde
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Wow, GREAT!
An absolute masterpiece of a song and a great article! Unfortunately not very easy to read for non-native English.
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Reply #3 posted 01/28/03 1:31am

Jasziah

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edit: sorry
[This message was edited Thu Nov 20 10:54:52 PST 2003 by Jasziah]
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Reply #4 posted 01/28/03 1:58am

langebleu

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Thank you ...that first bit was fascinating ... the bit about it being your 500th post ...

and the way you juxtaposed such a simple notion with a seemingly complex set of ideas woven within a tapestry of musical analysis only served to heighten the contrast. The irony ... of the article being something of which you would normally dream now being presented in reality as a celebration of your landmark post - when marking a contribution at 500 is relatively arbitrary - is also a pleasing melange of the actual and figurative.

I was particularly impressed how the writer cleverly mirrored the repetitive yet ever-changing foundation of this musical oeuvre, by presenting the same or very similar ideas wrapped up in different words. His choice of bold text, perhaps echoing the harmonic layers built in the song, was also a stark but colourful approach employing simple words yet pleasingly compared with different thickness of text. This also seemed to hark back to paragraphs 17-24, a modulating shift in the text where the writer on the one hand speculates as to what recording techniques were used yet regularly paints his analysis as factual. This is surely the bridge in the article where fantasy and reality truly blur, the epiphanic yet unusual use of a metaphorical dominant seventh in a literary context before resolving to announce a marriage of ideas, and reflecting the advent of the choral 'Love is God, God is love'

Therefore, it would have perhaps been a nice touch to have ended the post by providing a coda: the simple fact that this was your 500th post, returning like the closing bars of the song full circle, and furnishing a unity of purpose.

However, ultimately your choosing to celebrate a song which upon first hearing brought tears to your eyes by providing text which could bore others to tears when they'd far prefer to listen to the song again was a slap in the face to those uneducated enough musically not to appreciate a simple piece of pop music.

Thank you
ALT+PLS+RTN: Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.
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Reply #5 posted 01/28/03 2:02am

langebleu

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P.S. when you email the entire article to us, please include the bit that states it is still copyrighted ... it's so good, I'd like the whole thing.
ALT+PLS+RTN: Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.
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Reply #6 posted 01/28/03 5:00am

Sly

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eek
"London, i've adopted a name that has no pronounciation.... is that cool with you?"

"YEAH!!!"

"Yeah, well then fuck those other fools!"
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Reply #7 posted 01/28/03 5:28am

Mindflux

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Fantastic - I wish there were more articles like this!!
...we have only scratched the surface of what the mind can do...

My dance project;
www.zubzub.co.uk

Listen to any of my tracks in full, for free, here;
www.zubzub.bandcamp.com

Go and glisten wink
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Reply #8 posted 01/28/03 8:32am

Jasziah

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langebleu, what makes my providing this article any different than if a reference librarian looked it up for someone and gave them a copy for free? That's how I got my copy. There are full text articles (still under copyright) spread throughout the Internet, and they're all legal too. Shall everything be hidden for fear of copyright laws? Say it isn't so! Why rise up against such a beautiful thing? (cf. Title 17 of the U.S. Code)

By the way, I enjoyed your analysis of my post; though, it escapes me as to why you would spend so much time to compose such a thing when your conclusion is an insult to (and contradictory to the desires of) the audience who surround us.
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Reply #9 posted 01/28/03 9:37am

katarina

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I love Anna Stesia, it makes me cry every time...

"have u ever been so lonely that u felt u were the only one in this world?"
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Reply #10 posted 01/28/03 10:26am

langebleu

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Jasziah said:

langebleu, what makes my providing this article any different than if a reference librarian looked it up for someone and gave them a copy for free?
If you are relying on section 108, you would have to argue that you meet the criteria in subsection (a) (2). That aside, I asked you to include the Copyright notice details in accordance with s.108 (a)(3)
There are full text articles (still under copyright) spread throughout the Internet, and they're all legal too.
I'm sure there are. And there are many that are not.
By the way, I enjoyed your analysis of my post; though, it escapes me as to why you would spend so much time to compose such a thing when your conclusion is an insult to (and contradictory to the desires of) the audience who surround us.
It didn't take me much time and I was just spinning it one way then the other.

To be honest, I can recall a not dissimilar analysis (although with less depth) being undertaken by a music critic in the London Times (I believe) during the 60's of a Beatles song. As I recollect, Lennon and McCartney didn't understand a word of it.

Happy 500th.
ALT+PLS+RTN: Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.
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Reply #11 posted 01/28/03 10:50am

TheBluePrince

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Brilliant! I'm proud to be a musician after reading that. Cuz I understood everything lol

I understand why the song brought you to tears, and it still has that effect, if you allow yourself to.

Surely one of his most underrated songs ever! Musically, lyrically, soulfully, purposely; one of the greatest songs ever written period

Blue Prince
Times...times
Blue music
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Reply #12 posted 01/28/03 5:58pm

Jasziah

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Of all the meaningless posts on this site, and I get picked on for this? But I respect where you're coming from, langebleu, so I've added the copyright notice, and the e-mail version will have a big black stamp on the front also stating its copyright.
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Reply #13 posted 01/28/03 5:59pm

Jasziah

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TheBluePrince said:

Brilliant! I'm proud to be a musician after reading that. Cuz I understood everything lol

I understand why the song brought you to tears, and it still has that effect, if you allow yourself to.

Surely one of his most underrated songs ever! Musically, lyrically, soulfully, purposely; one of the greatest songs ever written period

Blue Prince
Times...times


Yep, makes one proud to be a musician. I've always wanted to know how Prince writes his songs, and this article gives a glimpse into how he does it. And what a wonderfull song to learn from!
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Reply #14 posted 01/28/03 6:02pm

naturegirl

Jasziah,

Thank you for this article, I always wanted to read it!
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Reply #15 posted 01/29/03 12:56am

Jasziah

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You're welcome, all.

naturegirl, I love the quote. It's all I ever wanted: to love and be loved in return. Powerful. Any relationship in my life that has ever gone wrong is because I either didn't love or wasn't loved in return.
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Reply #16 posted 01/29/03 5:53am

LaVisHh

Love this song. Will never tire of saying that, too. biggrin
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Reply #17 posted 01/29/03 6:03am

langebleu

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Jasziah said:

Of all the meaningless posts on this site, and I get picked on for this? But I respect where you're coming from, langebleu, so I've added the copyright notice, and the e-mail version will have a big black stamp on the front also stating its copyright.
lol sorry i was referring only to the complete thing if you mail it to other people! I don't think you'd need to do it above as you'd possible be covered by some fair use ruling - whatever - it was childish of me smile
ALT+PLS+RTN: Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.
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Reply #18 posted 01/29/03 11:21am

Starmist7

"Anna Stesia" definetely a moving song. I've played that song over and over because it really did something for me, like no other song has...
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Reply #19 posted 01/29/03 11:22am

solandsky

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Deep,deep song! It moves me inside:)smile
She stole my medallion n she called me a BITCH!!!
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Reply #20 posted 01/29/03 6:04pm

Jasziah

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langebleu said:

Jasziah said:

Of all the meaningless posts on this site, and I get picked on for this? But I respect where you're coming from, langebleu, so I've added the copyright notice, and the e-mail version will have a big black stamp on the front also stating its copyright.
lol sorry i was referring only to the complete thing if you mail it to other people! I don't think you'd need to do it above as you'd possible be covered by some fair use ruling - whatever - it was childish of me smile


Well, I never said you weren't creative, and that was cool way to say what you had to say. Peace.
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Reply #21 posted 01/30/03 9:13am

naturegirl

Jasziah said:

You're welcome, all.

naturegirl, I love the quote. It's all I ever wanted: to love and be loved in return. Powerful. Any relationship in my life that has ever gone wrong is because I either didn't love or wasn't loved in return.




Thank you Jasziah, I love that quote from that song
as well, and it is so true. Do you know who wrote it?
hmmm
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