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David S. Ware: Planetary Musician

Lyn Horton By

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The saxophone is rooted in the tradition. We are using spontaneous form. We are coming together to accentuate the experience of transcending through the performance of playing music, bearing ourselves towards its planetary aspect.
On Sunday, June 27th, 2010, about a half-hour after its scheduled 9:30 pm appearance on the Abrons Art Center main performance stage in New York City, the David S. Ware Trio was setting up. The audience for this night of Vision Festival XV was its usual wandering and low-hum conversational self. William Parker stood by his upright bass way over on the left and, on the right, drummer Warren Smith settled down on a seat behind a larger than normal drum set, placed on a platform a couple of feet off the stage. Ware walked slowly to center stage to meet his tenor saxophone, which was waiting for him in its stand on the floor, an arm's length away from the chair he would sit on for the entire set. He wore no elegant robes, only a gold-colored short sleeve shirt, black pants, walking shoes and a black skull cap. With the stage not yet filled with light, Ware picked up his tenor and waited in the shadows to begin; simultaneously, one could imagine, putting his being in the place from which there is no going back...in the place where the entire world of sentient beings is unified without any differences of language, religions, culture, environment or possessions.

Chapter Index
  1. Meditation
  2. Music
  3. Direction
  4. Life
  5. Close


Meditation

Ware was raised as a Baptist. By the age of eleven or twelve, he decided that "what's being presented here is not for me. There was a lack of substance." His spiritual direction began to change. His general interests began to shift. He was "going to be a great football player." Instead, he became serious about music, originally interested in being a drummer until his father told him about the saxophone. In 1959, he established the saxophone as his instrument, and later Sonny Rollins as "the one he looked to" for guidance, not only for music reasons, but also for spiritual reasons. When Rollins handed a teenage Ware a copy of The Autobiography of a Yogi (1946), by Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), Ware took the first steps into a meditative life.

Resisting the application of the word "belief" to Eastern thought as it would to Western religion, Ware declares that "Eastern thought is not about belief. It is about direct experience." In 1967, Ware was two years out of high school and just beginning to play music in the public eye. He was "finding himself as human being and as a man." Often, he has told the story about the time he was working in Boston with a group when he suddenly awoke while he was playing. The drummer, whose name escapes him, saw that outstanding moment. "The drummer caught that moment. He caught that special moment."

Ware's repeated phrases place emphasis on the meaning of what he says. Because at that moment, his musical space fell open to him, incidentally four years before he started to meditate. "It was a classical experience like you have with a meditator...where consciousness recedes back. You find yourself within that 'witness' consciousness, which is not waking...it's not dreaming...it's not sleeping. It's something other than those three worlds we're all familiar with. This is the transcendental state...the cosmic state...the state that ties us all together. It makes us all brothers and sisters. It's deeper than blood." Ware can tell the story now with more clarity, given that nearly forty years have passed since its occurrence. "This state taught him humility through his actions. This state tells you to drop your ego, to drop the me, me, me. We are not the authors of our actions. We are in the world, not of the world. That is the experience in being grounded in something other than your in-di-vid-u-al-i-ty." He pronounces each syllable of the word as he ends the sentence. "True identity," he continues, "is far beyond individuality. It's not temporal. It's universal and eternal."

Yoga comes in many forms and is a small part, Ware reflects, of the process of expanding one's consciousness. At age eighteen, Ware was attending the Berkelee College of Music in Boston. He became ill at one point from, "just being a teenager," he says. He dropped out of school, went back to New Jersey and decided to "get serious about yoga, and start another life." He first pursued Hatha Yoga and its postures. He became a vegetarian, lost eighty pounds and "put it all together." He missed ten months of school, but, finally returned and "fell in love with yoga and the teachings. I did postures all day." Sonny Rollins had also encouraged Ware to meditate.

Early on, in the late '60s and early '70s, he attended talks, in Boston and New York, given by various Swamis from India. He saw Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), whom Alice Coltrane had followed. Three times, he saw Swami Chinmayananda (1916-1993), whom Sonny Rollins also followed. With an uplifted tone of voice, Ware describes his encounter with Swami Raghavanand, who said to him: "God has blessed you with the gift of music." "Just like that...boom," Ware says. Obviously in awe of the Swami's perception, Ware secures its significance in his life process and as a memory: "I live by things. It is just my destiny."

After Hatha Yoga, Ware explored the branch of Yoga that Master Yoginanda practiced called Kriya Yoga; it focuses on unifying the breath with the soul. Ware found this practice too reclusive. A couple of his friends recommended Transcendental Meditation. At age twenty-four in 1973, Ware was initiated into this practice at a meeting place on 46th Street in New York. "He learned about it and... boom...got into it...and...boom...I got out of that heavy emotional state [I was in]. You have to know how to read into things. I realized I was living the struggle...Reading books and listening to music, I was done. I had the practice." This was the period of time in which he was living at 501 Canal Street with a group of musicians, one of whom was Cooper-Moore, the pianist/multi-instrumentalist.

After being initiated, Ware continues "your relationship to relativity changes. It is subtle. You feel a new reason to start your day. Something has begun. Something brand new. Something you were looking for. You didn't know what you were looking for until you found it...Transcendental Meditation is quite a bit deeper and vast than it is normally perceived. It comes from Hinduism...straight out of the Vedic teachings. [In these teachings], there are forty branches of knowledge. Meditation is the key to all that knowledge. Knowledge is structured in con-scious-ness." His voice lowers and the final "ss"' hiss, as he enunciates the last word of the sentence.

Not yet completing his Yogic pursuits, Ware accentuates the implication of the next step he had to take. "You must choose one path. You have to pick one path. You have to do that one path. You can keep reading and reading and reading...That's all intellectual...This is the key now [his voice goes higher]. What this is about...What this is about...This is about something where the intellect cannot go. The intellect cannot go. The intellect cannot go to what we are looking at here. The intellect cannot go there. The intellect cannot go. Intellectual understanding will help you understand your path, but in the end, it's that one practice you are looking for...One of the big hurdles where a lot of people fail is when they start something and then continue it because it looks more exciting or more dramatic than anything else and they wind up getting lost." They are looking for the wrong things. "See, it's not the path that's the problem... It's not the technique that's the problem...it's you."

In 1974, in New York, Ware encountered Swami Muktananda, a Master of the Siddha Yoga practice. Ware explains that "the Siddha Yoga tradition is noted for the transmittal of spiritual initiation, when you receive the connection to it...It is a spark...It can happen through eye contact or even a thought of you" from a Master. At the time, although he was reading Muktananda's autobiography, Play of Consciousness (1978), Ware was skeptical; his meeting with Muktananda changed his mind. The two came into eye contact with one another. At that very moment, transmittal or what is known as "shaktipat" occurred. "It was a mystical experience," says Ware, "It was a divine intoxication...Its shade was heavy, Its color was heavy. I had no balance, which did not last long. I knew that an absolute something was happening. That experience was a very profound experience in my quest, in my journey."

His one path in the Yoga practice was chosen. August 28th, 2010, marks the 37th year of his journey. Once spiritually initiated, "You can be there forever in the place of transcendence of the material world, body and ego. Reading about it is one thing. The experience of it is another... My meditational practice is granite. It opens the way to creative intelligence which leads you where you need to go both on the astral and physical planes...Meditation is not a goal in itself. Meditation is preparing you for something else...In meditation, you are traveling down through relativity to the absolute...or cosmic con-scious-ness." He stresses that: "Meditation is not simply being quiet. It's not that... simply closing your eyes and being still. It's not that, OK? It's notthat. It's an experience where you travel...you go somewhere...You're going from somewhere to somewhere else—another dimension. The means of travel is the mantra—that special formula that takes you there. The mantra is never said out loud. It is given to you when you are initiated. You never say it out loud. It's only kept in your mind... The mantra takes you down...through you subconscious mind down into the transcendental state. You go down and come back up. You go down and come back up. Right? Through practice, you go further down and less and less do you come back up. So you're keeping this. You are keeping more and more of this as the years go on."

Ware elucidates that the main principle of Transcendental Meditation is found in "all scriptures of Vedic knowledge—which goes on and on and on. The knowledge gets very specific...It's all related to our body, establishing relationships from the brain to the planets. All that knowledge is within us," he says, "The whole universe is within us." The teachings, he explains, are in story form; the Vedic Gods represent the forces of nature: destruction, renewal, creation or maintenance. The Gods take on personalities, like Shiva, Brahma, Ganesh or Vishnu. Each God functions in a different way to keep life afloat. Despite the fact that Ware intensely dislikes titling the music on his records, the aforementioned characters pop up frequently in the titles of his compositions. In fact, most of Ware's recordings in some way, apart from the music, reference aspects of his spiritual existence.

Ware's meditative practice unlocks him so that he is aware. "Aware of being aware." He is witnessing himself. He will always know where he needs to go, the life path he needs to follow. Ware's music means nothing to him without its connection to spirituality. But, music does not lead to enlightenment, he cautions, meditation does. The expression of the music becomes more powerful "because you're being established in your identity through meditation." Meditation leads to "grace...an all- time permanent thing. Once you're there, you stay there. You never have to do this again."

Music

Music is Ware's dharma. "It is what I do. Playing music is what I have to do in the world. It's connected to being released from all this...all this materiality. It's my duty to do this. For myself. Whoever can benefit from it...that's fine. But, first of all, it's for me. It's for my own salvation...If I don't do this, I cannot get to what I want to achieve spiritually."

Ware has a long recording history beginning in 1968, the year after he graduated from high school. But within the last two decades, Ware has become well-known for his pioneering quartet. Except for a change in drummers from Marc Edwards, to Whit Dickey, to Susie Ibarra, to Guillermo E. Brown, the Ware quartet was filled out with pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker through the '90s, over a period of seventeen years to the summer of 2006, when it disbanded after its final performance at the Vision Festival in New York City. This quartet was extremely successful. It recorded for the Japanese label, DIW; was picked up by Columbia Records, at the suggestion of Branford Marsalis, who was at that time, associated with the label, but dropped when Marsalis left. AUM Fidelity and Thirsty Ear have faithfully documented Ware's music since Columbia stepped out of the picture. The 2008 AUM Fidelity release, Shakti, reshapes the grouping in the quartet with guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and drummer Warren Smith joining Shipp and Ware.

One musician, who has worked with Ware steadfastly, is William Parker. When asked to comment on his association with Ware, he said, in his own poetic, story-telling way: "One day we [Ware and Parker] were playing a song. After two minutes, I could feel this overwhelming feeling of JOY [Parker's capitalization]. That this music and this being, David S.Ware, were special. It was an old feeling, like a church or many churches filled with light. Light cascading and swirling above the heads of the seers, who are closer to the sky. I was not afraid or involved with ego. It was the acknowledgement that the magic that processed John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders had also manifested itself in the music of David S. Ware. Now, I didn't say their music was the same; I said the Magic [Parker's capitalization] and power of the cosmos was present in all these musics. When David blew into the horn, things began to happen and it was/is like nothing else beyond, below and on the surface."

Also a loyal advocate for Ware, and one who believes that not enough limelight has been shed on the saxophonist, Matthew Shipp understands his music in the same terms as he understands his own: "basically a way of organizing cells in compositions that relate specifically to a genetic type of code..." Although Shipp asserts that their methodologies differ, he claims that ..."seeing his [Ware's] way did stretch options within my own language." Shipp's deference to Ware is extraordinary. "What can you say about David S. Ware?" Shipp says. "First of all, he is unique. There is no one quite like him on the scene." The pianist expands on Parker's observations: "As a tenor player, Ware brings together the spirituality of Trane and Ayler—the stance, rigor and unpredictability of Rollins and the blues essence of Rahsaan Roland Kirk- -all filtered and synthesized through the original brain of David S. Ware." Shipp continues to unveil his perceptions of how he responds to Ware's musicianship: "He is also a composer of exquisite beauty and of tunes and structures that are platforms for his virtuosity. So he brings together the tradition of the virtuoso improviser with being a composer who is capable of constructing vehicles for himself and his sidemen....To think of him as a free jazz musician is to miss the point of exactly what the phenomenon of the David S. Ware aesthetic is. David is truly one of the last of the Mohicans."

The drummer, who stayed with the quartet for its last eight years, Guillermo E. Brown, is imbued with the energy and vibrancy he gleaned from his mentor: "David's music has always challenged me spiritually, physically, and emotionally, contributing to who I am as an artist and musician. He took me under his wing and transformed me. David is not the only musician who has mentored me, but he is one of the most consistent, steady influences on my life. It could be frustrating to work with him at times. He is a man so intensely gifted with his instrument...and often confoundedly nebulous with his direction. But his creative actions helped to redefine for me the role of leader. One can direct the energy of a group, not always with words or texts, but also with pure sound."

As it was first to come from Shipp for this article, "unique" is a word common to musicians called upon to talk about Ware. A longtime colleague and author of liner notes for Ware's first Columbia release,Go See the World (1998), Joe Morris shared the music space with him from 2006 through 2008. Morris comments on the specifics of Ware's musicality: "David has another thing in his playing. It has parts of Unit Structures (Blue Note, 1990), from Cecil Taylor [with whom Ware played early in his career] and parts that are modal, as from Coltrane, but there is another thing that is the core of it and grows purely out of David's imagination, his melodic, compositional and playing style, and, I would say, out of his intuition. He is so strong on tenor and is such a focused player that the experience of being on stage with him is quite deep and powerful in a unique way."

Only recently, has Warren Smith grown to know Ware's music. Finally performing with him within the last couple of years, Smith first noticed Ware's "stamina and energy. He reminded me of saxophone players like John Gilmore and Marshall Allen and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who seem to gather force and power as they continue to play. David's style is unique and easily identifiable. The energy source comes from deep within. You have to be physically prepared to deal with it. To enter into this kind of musical relationship, you can afford to hold nothing back, because David never does."

Ware, himself, encapsulates his music-making historically with one fact. He learned to improvise by listening to Sonny Rollins. But he did not absorb Rollins' music literally, nor that of Coltrane or "any of those guys." By being aware that "no musician is an island," he is pointing out that "everyone has to build on something." The way Ware did it, however, "is very subtle." The incorporation of Rollins into his playing was based in creating the same kind of context, rather than copying the musical form, such as chord changes. An example he gives of context is the way in which a saxophone cadenza builds a separate structure at the end of the music. Ware's cadenzas were intended to create "atmosphere and a rhythmic ambiance;" yet, he notes, few people can understand how that happens in the form of the music he plays, which is not the norm.

Ware simply had no choice except to develop his voice: "The voice is shaped by a certain experience. And it's shaped by the spiritual work we have done on ourselves. From the past, in the present and on into the future. We are vehicles for a certain intelligence to come through. It makes a big difference in the music whether you realize that or not. Whether it's just an intellectual concept with you or you've actualized this [intelligence]..."

The music he makes extends beyond the conventional notions of jazz. The music he makes is full of intention. "Intention is very powerful." The process required to have "his intention actually happen is beyond human comprehension. How his intentions move to the music is subtle and evasive." Ware shies away from talking about this phenomenon. But he does go on to say: "In my formative years, as both a person and a musician, when hearing Rollins, Coltrane or Coleman, I realized at this juncture that this is about the expansion of consciousness. This is about human evolution, which is very my-ster-i-ous. A lot has been done on the saxophone...[there's] Still a lot more room for things to expand." This is perhaps one reason why he has begun, in concert and recording, to improvise spontaneously. This is the way he practices. "That's me from the beginning."

Direction

The music on the solo Saturnian (AumFidelity, 2010) and trio Onecept (Aum Fidelity, 2010) is spontaneously improvised, two of the very few in Ware's discography. These recordings prepare for the direction that Ware is taking. His direction envelops more than music. His direction is seriously entrenched with his philosophy about our time in our solar system and the responsibility of the musician to be attuned to what has to happen on earth.

"The earth is a living being. And the earth is evolving to the sun. Our sun...that star...is honing in on a different kind of energy. Energy that is coming from the center of the galaxy, which is focused on the earth. Everything that is happening on the earth is related to this energy. The earth is moving in different regions through space, traveling like a rocket ship." Resultantly, different kinds of energies, not only the sun's, are coming from these regions in space and affecting the earth in a dynamic way. He refers to Vedic knowledge that describes "1000 year cycles of time that the whole universe goes through. These cycles begin with daily cycles, weekly cycles, and monthly cycles and expand into the macrocosm. We do not think in these terms. The four seasons, for example...The seasons change environmental conditions. These are also conditions of con-scious-ness..."

"Right now," he explains, "We are in a materialistic cycle called the Kaliyuga...it is a dense age. Right now, we are on the doorway. 2012 represents a doorway to more refined awareness. A musician should be aware of all this, should have an attunement with this, and should have the intention that the music he plays expands consciousness, because it is time for it, especially now, to be able to initiate through music a higher awareness, connect to a higher awareness. The earth is going to endure hardship, where people might be wiped out. There will be a lot of earth changes. All these events are impersonal. When your mind has expanded, you realize that this is a part of the cosmic process, the cosmic evolution. Music has to rise to the occasion of this planetary period and help the process."

In November, 2010, Ware is going into the studio with a quartet that will not carry his name. The group will record music that has a "whole different format...No tunes...No compositions...But the whole history of the music will be there. The drums are rooted in the tradition. The bass is rooted in the tradition. The piano is rooted in the tradition. The saxophone is rooted in the tradition. We are using spontaneous form. We are coming together to accentuate the experience of transcending through the performance of playing music, bearing ourselves towards its planetary aspect." He stresses: "I am a planetary musician."

With the recording this group will make, Ware proclaims: "We're gonna hit some home runs with this, man. It's our ball to run with...It doesn't matter if you can't walk straight [referring to his own lack of ambulatory mobility]... We're gonna do the work in front of us." Ware clarifies that any veil of mystery surrounding the recording will be lifted upon its release sometime in the spring of 2011.

Life

The inflection in Ware's voice changes, depending on the usually quite serious subject about which he speaks. At times, he assumes a role of an undaunted teacher, especially, when it comes to talking about meditation and music. His observations and perceptions are hair-splitting; his breadth of knowledge, "encyclopedic," as Matthew Shipp has described it.

Every interview that Ware has participated in since the early' 70s has revealed basically the same philosophy. Yet his "understanding is so much greater because of the [spiritual] work he has done on himself." He has stopped "looking at things from the standpoint, the perspective, of his bounded self...I am consciously on a path back to ultimate reality. When one becomes fully aware of that, then the entire life experience intensifies. The body is realized as a vehicle for that experience...Bodies come and bodies go. We all become attached to them in vain. They are part of suffering. This serves as motivation to live a life of transcendence. The transcendental is the Source."

As Ware talks about his present life, post-kidney transplant, an aura of the onus of his illness can be detected. When asked how he has adjusted his daily life, he hesitates in forming his thoughts. "My daily life..." he says, as a long silence ensues. Then he starts to speak again and he keeps on talking for a long while: "I've always been a disciplined person, right? I go into my own routines and I stay there unless I'm going on the road. The only thing that takes me out of my routine is going on the road, right? My life is pretty routine. It's my own routine. I wake up in the morning and I do meditation and I do meditation in the evening. I practice during the late afternoon. Now I am forced to exercise. I like to exercise—whether it's been yoga, whether it's been weightlifting or walking. So now I have to try to put forth an effort to make my body stronger because now my body has been weakened by these damn drugs I have to take every day...these anti-rejection drugs, right? So I have to be very conscious of doing some kind of physical exercise every week...I don't walk as much because of how the drugs have affected my nerves in my legs and my feet. And we don't have dogs anymore. We had dogs for fifteen years. I walked those dogs every day. Every day, I was out walking the dogs in the afternoon. That's no more." His two Japanese Shiba Inus, Mikuro and Bibi died in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

Ware lifts weights for his upper body and can't do much with his legs. He avoided being confined to a wheelchair and was compelled to search for his own physical therapy program. He has cut back on the physical therapy he has been receiving for the last nine months for his legs and feet, "because my nerves can't take it. My nerves need some rest." He no longer uses a cane. For the rest of his life, he must take the anti-rejection steroids, which decrease the strength of his immune system. He must cope with diabetes. "The kidney is fine," he declares, "It's all the rest of me that is affected." No one told him about the potential side effects of the drugs he takes. He is looking to leave conventional medicine and seek alternative means to take care of himself, where no drugs and no surgeries are required in treatment, and his nerves can be regenerated.


Ware describes his going into what is called a Saturn Dasa, a Vedic term for how karma unfolds: "Saturn is the slowest moving planet...I am right in the middle of its nineteen-year cycle [in the Vedic astrological sense]. Before the Saturn period, I was in the Jupiter period...This period is about expansion. I was with the quartet then. They were going to Europe six...seven times a year, getting recognition, making records...Got on Columbia, the biggest dog-gone company in the world! Everything was expanding! Just as that period was ending, the quartet started slowing down, not working as much and then comes in Saturn...And that's when I went on dialysis. So you think...You look at your life...Damn...Then people start dying. My mother died. My brother-in-law died...only 54 years old. Then my father died last year [2009]. And I am dealing with all this health stuff...So, what I am saying is I'm dealing with it on a daily basis. I am stuck in it...Stuck........in........it [The "t" at the end of the word "it," blistering with sharpness.] But I do have a slightly higher perspective about it... If I weren't meditating, man, I would be totally out of it. Out of it, man. Out......of.......it. That's my root. Without it, I would have been gone a long time ago anyway. I would not have made it out of the '70s. So, you know...That's what's goin' on, you know. That's what's goin' on," he concludes with a nearly inaudible sigh.

"What happens to me now is that if I need help with something, if I am trying to understand something, then that thing will come to me. It can be a book, or from within. You find a way to access all knowledge. Knowledge is structured in con-scious-ness...ba-boom... That is the key. Knowledge is the fuel of all possibilities. It means everything that was and always will be. If you know how to tap into consciousness...pure consciousness... awareness of awareness... pure awareness...without anything on top of it, the search is over as far as a path goes. You go from there to the end."

Joe Morris phrased it beautifully, when he told a story about being on tour in November of 2007, before the release of Shakti: "When I performed with him, he had trouble walking in the airport. It was a relief when he asked for a ride around to the gates. He was struggling so much, and this was before he let the world know what his health condition was like, right before. But when we hit the stage, he was like a volcano or a hurricane, with complete focus and more energy that you could imagine. And he was happy while he was playing, like the burden was lifted."

Close

At the Vision Fest, the hour or so for which the trio played defied expectations. Even those who heard Ware's comeback concert in October of 2009, which would be documented on AUM Fidelity's Saturnian, would have been surprised. The music came to a boil, as Ware configured notes that structured a planar ascent that blew the roof off. He dipped into many bloated low pitches, but, then, as Ware pointed his tenor upwards to scream out an exceptionally refined high-pitch, drummer Smith raised his eyebrows in amazement, challenged as to how to keep up with the leader. The buildup, which Ware carefully plotted with as many notes as he could possibly fit in, was the Ware the audience knew so well. He had claimed a time to begin again, resorting his own musical ideas, realigning contextual priorities and improvising like never before, in the secure company of Parker and Smith.



Selected Discography

David S. Ware Trio, Onecept (AUM Fidelity, 2010)

David S. Ware, Saturnian (AUM Fidelity, 2010)

David S. Ware Quartet, Live In Vilnius (NoBusiness Records, 2009)

David S. Ware Trio, Shakti (AUM Fidelity, 2008)

David S. Ware Quartet, Renunciation (AUM Fidelity, 2007)

David S. Ware Quartet, Balladware (Thirsty Ear, 2006)

David S. Ware, Live In The World (Thirsty Ear, 2005)

David S. Ware String Ensemble, Threads (Thirsty Ear, 2003)

David S. Ware Quartet, Freedom Suite (AUM Fidelity, 2002)

David S. Ware Quartet, Corridors & Parallels (AUM Fidelity, 2001)

David S. Ware, Surrendered (Columbia, 2000)

David S. Ware Quartet, Godspellized (DIW, 1997)

David S. Ware Quartet, Tao (Homestead Records, 1996)

David S. Ware Quartet, Oblations & Blessings (Silkheart, 1996)

David S. Ware Quartet, Cryptology (Homestead Records, 1995)

David S. Ware Quartet, Flight Of I (Columbia, 1992)

David S. Ware Quartet, Great Bliss, Vol. 1 & 2 (Silkheart, 1991)

Photo Credits

Page 1: John Rogers, courtesy of David S. Ware

Pages 2, 3: John Sharpe

Page 4: Dimitri Medvejev, courtesy of David S. Ware

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