Archive for category Recording

No vocal booth? Um…no problem

One of our voice over artists has attempted to record the voice over (VO) on his own – with his existing equipment. The quality of his performance was great! But the quality of the audio was lacking.

The solution is to record him with actual audio editing software, so that I could engineer the session, and try to record the best original source material at a clean audio.

We met at a hotel this week, and I had all my equipment with me. (It felt like I had more electronics in the car – than I had left at home! Ha)

Now…the problems: an unknown environment. This hotel has a heating/air conditioning system that has a continuous fan. You can turn the actual air conditioner off, but you still have a background noise. Who knows what kind of interference you might get from any electrical appliances?

And you have walls and objects that are going to bounce sound.

At first I set up a location for him to sit on a chair and talk into pillows. Nope. That ain’t gonna work.

There was a recessed area next to the cabinet where the television sat. I got a hotel blanket and we created a makeshift vocal booth. We positioned a chair very close to the blanket, so that he was facing a blanket and *hopefully* that is going to absorb sound bounce/block the fan of the air conditioner.

Make shift vocal booth

Then it took a whole lot of monkeying with the audio software to find the best settings. That just takes time. There is no way around it. Do an audio test. Adjust. Test again. Adjust.

Finally we arrive at  what…(I hope) is a good setting. Again, with audio engineering, there is no “one best way”. You make your best guestimate, and you dive in.

Voice over artist Tommy Ball.

When you engineer a session like this…it takes all your concentration. It takes all your focus. So rather than me running the alternate lines, we had a volunteer who, ever so kindly, offered to help (ie–she said she was leaving the hotel room for us to work and I am going…NOOOOO! You have to stay and read lines!)

Karen Ball feeds lines during the recording.

Her lines will not be used in the final recording. But it is critical to have someone help out in this way…to give your voice over artist something to play off of. You get a rhythm in your dialog, and having those lines spoken aloud really helps.

Bless him…Tommy Ball read take after take after take after take.

He put so much effort into this: first of all–being willing to take the gig in the first place. Then you learn your lines. Then you craft a ‘performance’ of how to sell your character. Then, you attempt to record your work in your own home on your own equipment. Whew!

Mind you – the other voice actor recorded his lines in my studio some weeks back. It’s not like the two voice actors were in the same room – working at the same time, and playing off of each other’s character.

No, it is that much harder – to work solo, to have no idea what the other actor is doing, and still “pull off” the performance.

What is the measure of a good performance?

Well, at our previous session – with different actors, we were outdoors, and the person who is on cam and on mike was so amazing. I glanced behind me, and one man had his hand over his mouth and his eyes were bulging out, trying to stifle laughter while we were recording.

This time?? Tommy “sold” that character soooo well, I had to clap my hand over my mouth to hold back the laughter, and hope like heck that I hadn’t made any noise that would ruin the take!

We have had so many volunteers, giving freely of their time and effort and energy – to help a movie get made.

But things are progressing.

“Head ’em up…move ’em out!”


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Things that rocked my world this week:

What has rocked my world?

Talented voice over actors – Keith and Tommy. Both of these voice actors delivered a performance above and beyond anything I could dream up in my head. The hardest part: maintaining silence during recording, because the work is so good, I want to laugh with delight!

What has not rocked my world this week?

Road construction to the north. Small yipping dogs to the south.

Add a recording studio in the middle into the mix. A non-soundproofed home recording studio.

Allrighty then…

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Um, recharge the recharge?

So, um, yeah. June 29,  I complete the finalization of the last musical, code named P/P.

And as I blogged about last time, I was worn out, used up, gutted, and unable to stand vertical. The project was that big. It took that much out of me.

And what do I need to do next? Rest. Take a Break. Recharge.

What do I actually do next?

Well…it’s been in the back of my mind, that I am perhaps a bit uncomfortable with not having more musicals planned, in my head, waiting to come out. When P/P got finished, we had 2, which is still quite an accomplishment, but…

So, what if we conduct an experiment? Take existing songs from the catalog (I have composed over 400. There’s plenty of material there to work with.)…and build a musical around it.

But this last one took the stuffing out of me. So, why not try for a one-act. Maybe 3 songs, and just 25 pages or so, and write TO whatever songs I chose – which are already composed?

I mention this to my writing parter, as an experiment, and which songs do we pick?

She came back with a novelty song, we had composed some time back.

And immediately inspiration kicks in. And I compose 2 new songs, to go with the 1 existing one.

My next segment of days off from the day job, and without prior planning or thinking it up, or anything at all—I write the damn musical. In its entirety. I went slow and would do a scene, then walk around and think and come back to it. And the thing just…was there.

I am AMAZED when that happens. The first new song, I could remember all week. And I’d go to the piano and just sing the living daylights out of it. It’s one of those that is super fun to sing and perform. Some songs are like that–they just soar out of your soul.

But, problem. I could not remember the music for the second new song.

When I compose at the piano, I have a procedure I have used for years. I write the lyrics on paper, and I sing and play into a cassette. Then you have to have some sort of cataloging system to be able to go back and find them. But this is a chronological thing.

If the time comes when I compose in a digital realm, and have to store these on a hard drive, I think I’d go mad. Yes, the work eventually ends up digitized. But my system works and I can’t deviate from it.

So, when I can’t remember the tune, that isn’t a problem, because I have an initial composing and notes in the cassette.

But it baffles me that I have these lyrics and I can’t remember the tune. So…finally I get to my days off again. I edit the manuscript. I need to record demos. I go to the cassette: which has NO MUSIC on it. I didn’t WRITE the music in the first place. Just the lyrics.

So, I compose music, which happened rather quickly and then that gels around in my head for a couple of days, and boom! I lay down demos. Boom, I finalize the manuscript. And…

BOOM! Another project is done.

17  days, start to finish.

This is #23.

23 plays in our catalog. Some I solo wrote. Some I co-wrote.

Why do I keep doing this?

Beacuse, of all the aspects of creativity in which I work: Playwrighting is the most open. There are so many opportunities to submit your work and places to be heard.

All the other aspects of creativity:

Screenwriting: damn hard to break into

Songwriting: the corporate controlled music business has taken the ‘soul’ of an artist out of the equation. They have killed anything “human” from the music, and it’s all about hook, groove, beats, vocal manipulation, etc

Try as I might, I can find no wedge to break in. Not to mention the fact that my music has soul. My music touches people. That is the opposite of what is happening in the current music environment.

Poetry: Yes, there are opportunities, but, really, if you are a poet, how much of a future can you build out of your art? I love poetry and love being a poet. But it isn’t a life that can sustain itself.

Filmmaking: This one is tough. Yes, there are tons of opportunities. If you make films, there are so many places to send them, share them, etc. But, at the present time of my life, I can’t seem to pull that off. I can’t seem to have a day job and make a film at the same time. When I make a film, it needs to be the ONLY thing I have going. And for now, that isn’t an option. But, there was a time, when I could not write a book and have a day job. If I was writing a book for however many months, I could not have split focus. Well, I built up the…whatever, and now I can have a day job. I can write on my days off. I can write on a day when I actually work day job, but on off duty hours. So, I agonize that I am not making films, enough. We do one, maybe two small projects a year. I just try not to drive myself crazy with the ‘waiting for the time to come’ when I can make more.

Acting: Acting is a passive business. As an actor, you do your best to build and hone your craft. But, ultimately, you are the one waiting for the phone to ring. Someone else makes a decision about whether to hire you or not. As an actor, I get 1 or 2 gigs a year. I enjoy it.

Photography: Fun to do. Amazing to work with. And there is a future in it. But I haven’t taken the time to invest in turning it into a profit. You only have so many hours in a day. And photography seems to be a creative hobby, rather than a full-focus opportunity.

Fiction novelist: So yeah, this is where I’ve had the most success. And it’s a solo gig, which means I can write on my own time without having to adjust to the time management needs of others. So, writing is where I seem to be spending the most of my creative time as of late. And I’ve been lucky, that people have found my books and the ebbs and flows are still working. But it’s really easy for things to go the opposite way: to put all the effort into a project, and it just sits there. You can’t make a person read a book. They have to want to.


So, to recharge the recharge? Here we are again. 17 days later, and I have poured my soul into a project, and what is left, but an empty shell?

And as difficult as it is to “get thru” that gutted phase of a project…

What is even more difficult? Not having a front burner.

I had thought about moving a video project to front burner.

But it’s 100* out. I can’t work outdoors (not since the heat stroke a few years back). I cna’t take the heat. Even by 9 am, it’s too hot to be outdoors, and to try to film? Yeah, we could film indoors, but lighting sucks, and we don’t exactly have a studio set up as we need. And my garage and my parter’s shed, both of which we have used for filming in the past, are not air conditioned. And I would really hate to subject other actors to working conditions that I, myself, cannot tolerate.

I don’t know that I have enough “umph” or whatever you call it to go to the recording studio. It, too, takes “insides” and mine are kinda jumbled and depleted at the moment.

Oh well, the next project will leap to the forefront.

In a way, the not knowing is rather amazing (and scary), but you never know where this journey will take you.

I am but a vessel, floating along on the shifting currents of the universe’s ocean tide.



Technical perfection vs. emotion

I’ve been in studio the past few days, (my home studio, not the real one), working on demos for this musical I’m writing. The whole project has happened very quickly. It seems like the universe delivered this project to me–as if it were fully formed and ready to be presented.

I am a pianist. I do  most of my composing at the piano. I do most of my “work out how the songs go…” at the piano. And I do my singing, by accompanying myself at the piano.

But, for a musical, which has…you know…actual music…you need…representations of that music.

So, with trepidation, considering my software issues and lack of recording engineer skills, I fire up my recording studio, roll up my (figurative) shirt sleeves and dive in.

First goal: Create demos that don’t make me cringe.

Now – that is a huge, HUGE dividing line. I’m not even talking about approaching any realm that could be named ‘good’. I’m talking about the realm of ‘barely adequate’.

The first demos I did were…maybe, barely adequate. And the musical has a whole bunch of songs, so this is a big project. So big–in fact, that it almost seems paralysing to think of trying to accomplish such a thing.

Not to mention..on this…there’s just me. When you divide yourself up between recording engineer and musician/singer…your abilities are halved. When you just engineer, you can focus all your efforts on the engineering. When you just play and sing, you can focus 100% of your being on the music.

But, when you record yourself, you are half engineer and half musician. It diminishes the quality and…unfortunately…it shows.

And, in my studio, with just me there, and with the (not top of the line) components I have, you record one thing at a time. One line. One instrument. One track. So…I worked, diligently, and assembled multiple tracks–just like putting puzzle pieces together.

(And that doesn’t just refer to building ONE song demo, but the puzzle analogy works on another level, since all of these demos and manuscript and actors and story and orchestration, etc…it all is a giant puzzle that (hopefully) comes together to create an entertaining musical.)

Hence, we arrive at the subject line for the blog post: Technical Perfection vs. emotion

When I wrote the musical…I was not at the piano (I started there, but ended up working ALL on the computer.) So I had written out lyrics and I had sung them into a cassette recorder. So, I needed to figure out each song and work them out and tweak. But, when that happened, for ALL of the songs of this project, it ‘did’ something to me. The emotional content of these songs, together, which build into an entire story…wow. I sang the musical, in its entirety, for four consecutive days.

Then I had the songs ‘down’ enough…to start recording. And you want, you need, you have this insane wish, for the demos to be good enough to let them go out into the world. The general public won’t ever hear them, but the musical producers, the artists, the actors…they will. They have to hear them, to know how the songs, go. Right?

So, I’m fighting these problems, and building things with the ‘technical’ side more to the top of the scale, and the ‘performance’ side, more to the bottom of the scale.

And yesterday, I’m about done for the day (recording, I mean). And I think “to hell with it”, and I just clicked record on the software and played the piano and sang the song–at the same time. This means, major bleed. You can’t mix. You have severely limited your post production options.

But, in this instance, I performed the song, as if I was sitting at my piano. Performed. Sang the living daylights out of it.

And on these last two tracks…I captured…something. The emotion was there. The technical stuff…(I’m shaking my head as I write this paragraph, because I just don’t…know…) The technical part of those two demos is soooo – what’s the word–lacking? Non-existent?

But…to capture the emotion. Not once, but twice. In the moment, performing those two songs, on ‘tape’, just as if I had performed them live…it captured something.

So…where do you draw the line? Are people going to listen to these and cringe at the (obvious) technical issues?  Or will people respond to the ’emotion’, and that’ll be the ‘hook’ that ensnares them into the project?

[If the latter is the case–then I’m really screwed…because these demos are at the END of the musical. If I had the emotion, or the ‘whatever’…to _hook_ them into the project–at the beginning (something to make them keep reading, keep listening…to want them coming back for more)…then that’d be ideal. But alas–the emotional content comes at the end…at least in terms of what I’ve recorded so far…]

The manuscript–the basis for the musical, is…done. I mean…it should be the most difficult thing, right? Pulling a book/story/screenplay/stageplay – out of  a human, that takes a huge toll. (By comparison–the last project we completed (me and a co-writer) took five years. FIVE YEARS. And it was just words. No music. And it was AGONIZING trying to get it accomplished and get it right.)

Back to the musical…

On this…it was just _there_. Now, I need to find a way to represent the music–so that people can hear it and learn how it goes. To put this in perspective:

My recorded, released catalog of tracks (both solo artist and band) is 17 singles. And that took the better part of a decade to compile.

This musical: 15 songs. There’s no way I can reserve all of these to go to the real recording studio and output in such a short amount of time. I can probably do a few there. But…

As composer you need to be able to communicate what’s in your head. Other people need to know how to represent and present a song that you, as composer, wrote. So, I need to find a way to get what’s inside my head…out to the world.

I have so many thoughts. Orchestrations; arrangements; harmonies. Ways to ‘perform’ these roles; ways to present the play. Staging. Blocking. Lighting.

You create this whole world, yet other people are going to be the ones to present it as entertainment. Does it work? Does it not? As playwright, you are working in a vacuum. You don’t know if a project will ‘hook and capture’ an audience, until it’s already set and locked and performed.

To use the phrase “flying blind” is an understatement.


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Short plays and lead guitar (and the stray piano waltz here and there)

Long holiday weekend! Chores around the house.

But, some good, delicious, wonderful creative time. (If I get something accomplished in creatvitiy, yipee! If I don’t…I’ll feel like I have wasted these precious days off.)

So, first up on the agenda: we got a call for submissions for short plays. (How amazing is it when people actually contact you to make a submission–as opposed to making the blind submission/cold pitch that I normally have to make!)

So, my writing partner and I have each been thinking up ideas. We draft out our own idea for a play, and send the draft to the other one. Well, hers was soooo much better! It’s a comedy and quite unique, and has lots of opportunities for one-liners and jokes.

There is an old saying about acting…you have 1000 ways to make an audience cry. But only one way to make them laugh! Comedy is hard! Much much harder than drama. So, to write a good comedy? We haven’t really explored that yet.

And as for me…with playwrighting I seem to have one “go to” emotion that I write from, and that is “the lament”. I don’t know why, but that seems to be a theme for all my plays. So, I need to think up something _away_ from that emotion.

So, we delve into my partner’s play. She has the basis down. I add to it. But…what if we have a character sing? So, I start writing a song for the play. The title has the word “lament” in it. But, it’s in the realm of comedy, so ???

Turns out, my partner liked the song title so much, she changed the play title to match the song title. So,  even without the emotion “lament” in the play, we end up with “Lament” in the title of the play.

I can’t get away from it. 🙂

So, this is 3 days of major work. I am always up early. My brain fires best in the AM. So, this morning, I laid out her draft, with my additions, and firmed up the stageplay, and sent it to her. We’ll do more evaluating, but we are very, very far along on this project.

Next. I need to record the piano music to make the submission. (We need a waltz, with big piano. I need to put on my ‘composer’ hat.)

Which is good…because my other big goal for the weekend was to lay down some individual music lines, on the guitars, and have them ready for the big recording studio. And so far, my guitar work: Nada. (Here we go again!) My catalog of recorded mastered audio is good. But it’s mostly simple tracks and power ballads. I’m an artist who works in a variety of genres. I don’t like labels and I don’t like to limit what we do as musicians. But, the truth is, country is where my heart lies, and  I need more country songs. So, I need guitar and guitar and guitar (acoustic,  electric, and bass…and let’s not even mention steel).

When I sit down, all plugged in and instruments hot, I do not play well. It baffles me. I think, “I’ve lost it – I’ll never play guitar well again–if I even played adequately to start with.” So, I get a solo guitar, nothing attached to anything. I come to the living room, and sit in my easy chair or sit on the sofa, and I try to play. And it’s there. It works.

Why, why, why can’t I do that in a studio setting? I’m about to give up. I’ve been losing this fight for the last couple of years. Let’s just find a good guitarist, to take to the studio and play the lines.

I need my own, personal,  Deacon Clabourne.

[Paging Mr. Charles Esten. Paging Mr. Charles Esten. Can you make a swing through Oklahoma on your next break from acting?–and bring your guitar!]

In other creative work, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working on the editing for the lastest music video that we directed. It makes me smile. The goal of that project was to make your toes tap and to make you smile. Well, it hooks me. It hooks me every time. I’m very close to having it released. (You really have to get up your courage to put your work out there.)

I got up my courage and showed it to a friend yesterday. I had told him that if he hated it, he could say so. I value honesty (and constructive criticism is very helpful in these situations. Who knows what I missed in the editing?). He laughed at the ending and said that the song was catchy.

So? Maybe…maybe…my goal was accomplished. I’ll release the video soon, and then the whole world can act as judge.

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Chasing Hats – the music video

photo by Karen Ball

photo by Karen Ball

Chasing Hats – the Music Video

I love this song. I soooo wanted that groove, and we got it.

This Dorian Mode, and gee…what other songs are Dorian mode? Green Onions. I love that song too. It has a Hammond Organ lead (you never find organ leads in a mainstream song). So, when we record Chasing Hats, why not lay down a Hammon Organ lead?

I love the way this came out. It’s different.

Just what I was going for. I’m really struggling to make things sound different in studio. Well, this is different, for sure!

When we were working this, the engineer asked, “Where did you come up with ‘Chasing Hats’?”

I started the story, then backed it up a bit.

My best friend in the world was named RIchard Sutton and he died 6 years ago. But, he was amazing and so supportive of all of this. We were librarians together back in the day. One day, he visited, and I had this hat rack behind the door. He walked in, turned around and said, “I wonder if these are the hats of all your conquests!”

I busted out laughing and said, “RICHARD!!!!”

It was hilarious. But, then the phrase “Chasing hats” became a euphemism for chasing men.

Then…I went to see a movie. I came out of that theatre going, “I can write a screenplay.” So, I wrote the screenplay. The title of that screenplay: Chasing Hats.

I was going to submit it to festivals and competitions (and did). But…hey….it’d be really cool to have a theme song, right?

And the song: ‘Chasing Hats’ was written.

Fast forward a few years, and boom—recording studio is working. So, we lay down a groove.

I have a master track.

When we have a master, I have been releasing a music video. (I will do many, many other forms of release and promotion, but this…at least…gets me started.)

So…what to do on the video? I’m running out of ideas. What if we use hat pictures? When in the world do I have time to set up and shoot that photo session?


I will contract with a professional artist/photographer to shoot them for me.

Here’s the way that conversation went: I’m at work and I took a break and made a personal phone call. “Mom, I have an idea. Gee–what if you shot photographs of hats for me, to use for the video for ‘Chasing Hats’? I’ll take anything you send me.”

Famous last words. First of all–she said yes. Then she proceeded to take photographs. And I started rejecting them and critiquing them. Finally, the photo above met my standards! I’m so surprised she is still talking to me, but she seemed to really enjoy the project. So, thank you for the photographs! In spades!


I believe with all my heart that this creative stuff is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I was born knowing I was a musician, and when I learned to talk, I started telling people. It seems like a higher power is steering this journey, and I welcome it. I was born for this.

But…sometimes things happen to kinda make you think, and really realize that these aren’t just random events. You can call it fate or Kismet or religion or higher power or spirit or whatever word you want to choose.

But, there are times when something happens that really cements the feeling that this is the purpose of my life.

We were in studio recording this song. I knew my basics: groove, chord progression, piano bass line, tune, singing dynamics, etc. I knew I had decided on a Hammon organ lead line. But I didn’t have it written. I went in there cold, figuring I’d either write the instrumental lead line on the fly–or I’d let it ride a few weeks and come home and write the lead line, then go back and finish it the next session. I was sitting at the keys, and noodling around with it.

But, then something happened. I was sitting there. My hand(s) were on the keyboard. But it wasn’t me playing. It was my body. But that lead line did not come from me. Some other-higher power-took over and created that. It was my hand playing it, but that lead line did not come from me. It was the most amazing, wonderful, profound, experience.

You can believe me or not. Roll your eyes or not. It’s fine. I live my life as fully as I can, and I try to respect the rights of others to live their lives as fully as they can. But, I know that I had this amazing experience, and it’s one more thing to point me in this unknown direction. It tells me to stay the course, and keep going.

i don’t even know what I’m aiming towards. I use the cliché: “I want to be rich and famous!”

I don’t want to be rich for money’s sake. I want to be rich for freedom’s sake. I want to have the freedom to spend my time as I want to spend my time. But..these last few years, and everything that’s happened, I don’t think creative success is the ultimate goal of my life. It’s a step along the way, but it seems like there is something else bigger at the end of this journey.

In the meantime–I stay the course. I keep creating. Each week seems like I’ve lived a month. This week, I’ve shot and edited a live action video and released it, released today’s video, and worked on a very difficult writing project, accomplishing quite a bit.

Today I’m just about horizontal. No energy. I’m splayed back in my easy chair, and decided to pull the photos out and start going over them, and once i was started, I built the video anyway. So, at least that got accomplished. But…man…oh…man…oh…man…I’m bushed!

Is it okay to take a break for a day?

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Mud Dog Hill

IMG_0402 med ir

The premiere of our new music video:

Mud Dog Hill


Ballroom Bruisers.

Don and I went out and shot the video last weekend, so I’ve worked this week to try to get it edited. I made myself work in Sony Vegas, which is top notch software, and I keep *not* working in it, because I know the features of the Adobe better. But, I need to make myself learn Vegas, so…once In it, I love it! Great software. And my music  production studies have come in handy, as many of the features of the video software and music software are the same.

This song makes your toe tap. It makes me smile. The video makes me grin all over. I have had this video in mind for months, and I just agonize that there hasn’t been enough time to shoot it. But, finally, we got it done. Don and I will enter this in film festivals, etc. It’s a stepping stone into our next project(s): a web series called Dewey. (I have no idea how we’ll find time to manage to do that, but….somehow, someday, we’ll get-er-done.)

The song is pretty cool. This was actually my first time in a big, real studio. So, it was recorded a few years back. I went in prepared, but still, you leave room for those special moments that crop up, and you have enough wiggle room to “go with it”. At one point, when I was in the vocal booth, the lead engineer looked at Don and said, “She knows exactly what she wants.” i took that as a compliment. I hoped my whole life that I’d be a singer. i hoped all my life to have a good recorded music track. This is the first professional track I’d done, and it came out better than I ever dreamed. I had hoped, that in my professional music career, I’d have at least one track this amazing in terms of quality. Well…we got it the first time out of the gate, and from there, it was onward and upward.

We started off at a higher echelon of quality than I figured I’d ever achieve, by the end of my music career.

But, that’s secondary. The song “hooks” you. It makes you feel good.

Where in the world has the “feel good” vibe gone? Goodness knows no one makes feel good movies anymore. How many feel good songs have you heard lately?

It’s been a couple of years since we produced a video project of our own. On occasion, I take an acting job for another production.

But…if we can just work “our” video projects into the queue….

1 down. 97 to go!

[!Oh…I almost forgot. The thumbnail above…that’s a joke! When Don and I got cast for the first big acting job..not our company, but for another production…it was called “Man with a Moustache“. So, their lead character had a moustache. Don has a moustache. So, they didn’t film Don’s face. When they edited it, they only showed the back of his head.

He got cast as a cop on another production. They didn’t want to get the logo of the uniform in the shot. So, they shot him from the back.

Then, a couple years ago…people actually called us to cast him for an acting gig. It’s not like we submitted for the job. They called him (whew–that’s an amazing feeling when they come looking for us)…and when they filmed it, they shot him… from the back. LOLOLOL]

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