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Archive for the ‘Gambling’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GEORGE LI-Tiny Desk Concert #782 (August 31, 2018).

Is it a showstopper if it is your first song of the Concert?  That’s the question I asked while I marveled at George Li playing every single note on the piano at the same time (it seemed) during the opening piece by Horowitz.  The show did not stop, and he played two more beautiful pieces.

George Li is a 23-year-old American pianist.  He began lessons at age 4, and at 10 gave his first public concert. Five years later, he snagged the silver medal at the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Last fall, he released his debut album on a major label and these days he’s playing with many of the world’s major orchestras while touring the globe. He just graduated from Harvard where he studied English literature and piano, in a hybrid program with the New England Conservatory.

That first piece was by Li’s idol Vladimir Horowitz: Horowitz: Variations on a Theme from Bizet’s Opera Carmen.  

To honor Horowitz, Li begins his Tiny Desk recital with the master pianist’s electrifying reboot of a theme from Bizet’s opera Carmen. Li describes it as an “insane knuckle-buster.” Just watch his hands blur during the fiendish interlocking octaves at the explosive climax.

The camera zooms in on his hands and it’s still impossible to see what chords or notes he is playing.  But it is very impressive to see how high he lifts his hands between notes.  Wow, what a piece.

He then moves onto Liszt.  Liszt is also a composer who makes pianists tremble.  Although the first piece by Liszt is quiet and beautiful, the second one shows off more of Li’s amazing chops.

Then it’s two pieces by the ultimate monster pianist, Franz Liszt. The Consolation No. 3, with its gently flowing, long-lined melody and diaphanous ornaments, reveals the poetic side of the composer….

Liszt: Consolation No. 3 is just lovely the way it floats and soars through the melody.  Although even a fairly “simple” opening does involve using his right hand to play the bass notes.  I love that his left hand is playing this soothing melody while his right hand is constantly seeking out new variations on that melody.

But that’s nothing compared to Liszt: La Campanella in which from the angle of the camera it’s impossible to see what his right hand is doing the way it moves so quickly.  He borrowed themes from the Caprices of Paganini, “they’re all extremely difficult, of course.”  La Campanella means the bells and you can hear the high notes that keep repeating.

the rip-roaring La campanella begins with a single tinkling bell that multiplies into a wild cacophony of trills and scales, ending in what Li calls “a big bang.”

He talks about the bells building and building, adding new notes and octaves over the course of the four minutes.  And you can hear those high notes (I imagine it sounds amazing on a grand piano).  And just as you get 12:38 he starts doing this trills up at the higher register of the piano.  He gets both hands involved and it’s nearly 30 seconds of massive finger workout.

It’s exhausting just watching him.

Li is no doubt used to playing grand pianos, and the blurb wonders…

when Li revealed his Tiny Desk setlist, one thought came to mind: How will these powerhouse showstoppers sound on an upright piano? The music he intended to play, by Franz Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz, was designed for a real, 7-foot concert grand piano – the kind they used to call “a symphony orchestra in a box.”

Turns out, there was nothing to worry about. Li’s technique is so comprehensive, so agile, so solid, that instead of making our trusty Yamaha U1 quake in fear, he made the instrument sound several sizes larger, producing glorious, full-bodied colors and textures.

While I love seeing musicians shine while playing impossible pieces, technical virtuosity is nothing without feeling.  And Li’s music is full of feeling as well.

[READ: January 3, 2016] “A Gentleman’s Game”

I always think that I like Jonathan Lethem’s stories, but I’m not really sure that I do (I’ll have to read back and see what I thought of previous stories).  But he always writes about things that I don’t expect.

Like this story.  It is set in Singapore and is about an American who has settled there and becomes a very good backgammon player.

The exotic setting is enticing, I suppose, but the story is really about two men who knew each other who engage in a contest to see who can win.

Bruno grew up in Berkeley, CA.   But when he was old enough he left and has never been back to the States.  He has been in Singapore for a long time and he is shocked one day to see Keith Stolarsky, a former schoolmate, walking up to The Smoker’s Club, a typically underground and unknown-to-tourists-club. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  DAN MANGAN + BLACKSMITH-Live at Massey Hall (February 28, 2015).

I know Dan Mangan from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I also had an opportunity to see him opening for Stars a month or so ago, but I couldn’t make the show.  I was bummed about that and am even more so after seeing how great Mangan is live with a full band.

He says his family flew in from Vancouver because Massey is like Canada’s Carnegie Hall.  Or should I say, Carnegie Hall is like America’s Massey Hall.

Then his bandmate says: Charlie Parker played here.  That’s ridiculous!
Neil Young played here.  That’s ridiculous!
We’re gonna play here.  That’s ridiculous!

Wilco played here; Arcade Fire; Joni Mitchell; Peabo Bryson (you know what I’m getting at–Peebs!); James Taylor; Dizzy Gillespie.

Massey Hall is from the days before there were mega rock concerts–when things sounded better.  The soul of that has been lost.  Music was made about the art and the music and not about being in the same room as someone famous.  There’s something about that soul of rock n roll has been lost.

“Mouthpiece” is a dark acoustic but fast, shuffling song.  It builds rather quickly to a noisy rock–which Mangan specialized at with some great drumming from Kenton Loewen.

“Vessel” opens with some screeching feedback and cool staccato piano riff.  Mangan’s deep voice works perfectly with this spare musical landscape.  The backing singer singing “it takes a village to raise a fool” works perfectly as the keys and trumpet build behind them.  I love how every few lines some other new piece of music is added, like the wailing guitar solo that runs through to the end.

“Rows of Houses” has a great building backing vocal section.  I love the quiet intensity of this song before it ratchets up to a loud stomper.  There’s s long noisy jam with trumpet (JP Carter) and keys (Tyson Naylor) blaring and a wild raucous bass (John Walsh) and a crazed guitar solo which ends with Gordon Grdina hammering the back of the guitar neck creating a wall of feedback and distribution

“New Skies” opens slow, but after a verse the band kicks in and it, too, rocks.

He says he needs everyone to sing the “oooohs” and he’s pleased with everyone’s response.  He sings some verses and then band starts singing the ooohs and he says “I forgot to tell you that’s where you come in.”

As the song moves along, there’s mostly a keyboard solo but then Grdina comes in with a pretty wild, sloppy but emotive solo.  Then Dan takes the mic and gets the crowd to sing along.  He exhorts: “When people stand they tend to breathe and sing little louder.

It works and it’s a great set ender.

He (and they) puts on a great show.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “The Burglary at Stormfield”

This excerpt is from a previously unpublished section of his autobiography.  When he died in 1910, he requested that his autobiography not be published for 100 years.

This excerpt is about his house outside of New York City.  He says he named it Innocence at Home but his daughter, Clara, called it Stormfield–“it is high and lonely and exposed to all the winds that blow.”  He concedes hers is a better name.

He got the money to build the house “out of a small manuscript which had lain in my pigeonholes forty-ones years, and which I sold to Harper’s Magazine.  The article was entitled Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.”

The focus of this essay though is burglaries.  He says that Stormfield has been broken into many times and he is surprised that the New York architect should have overlooked adding a burglar alarm to the building.  New York City is only an hour and a half away…”it contains millions of people, and most of them are burglars.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAIA IZUMI-“Soft Spoken” (TINY DESK CONTEST WINNER 2018). 

I didn’t pay much attention to the Tiny Desk Contest this year (even though there were lots of opportunities to watch various front runner videos).  But this year’s winner was just announced.

Naia Izumi is a 34-year-old musician from Georgia who regularly busks on the streets of Los Angeles, where he now lives.  And now he has gotten some national exposure.

Naia starts the song with a simple percussion loop and then he sets out on some amazing finger tapping jazzy guitar playing.  It’s impressive and pretty at the same time.  And then he starts singing on top of it!

The bridge or chorus (I haven’t figure doubt what’s what yet) is strummed with some cool fluid soloing and then it’s back to the tapping–such a great melody.  There’s a short but pretty solo in the middle and then a quiet section before he resumes the drum loop again.

He starts singing some great falsetto notes (a good vocal range too, this guy) and then the song returns to the fingertapping before it abruptly ends.

I have no idea how it compares to anything else, but it’s pretty darn good.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 15, 2018] The Iceman #2

A whole bunch of books from Holloway House Publishing Co. came across my desk recently.  Interestingly, in 2008

Kensington Publishing has acquired most of the publishing assets of Holloway House Publishing in Los Angeles, the original publisher of such classic black crime writers as Donald Goines, adding an historic trove of gritty African American popular literature to its publishing program. The acquisition includes about 400 backlist titles which will become part of a new imprint at Kensington called Holloway House Classics. Holloway House also publishes a range of popular fiction and nonfiction titles including biographies of famous African Americans.

So this book and many other are likely to be reissued.

But this particular book (and the ones that came with it) were originals gifted to the library from someone.  There were quite a few books written by Joseph Nazel and I decided I’d read this one because it looked awesome.  And it was.

The premise of this series is:

Henry Highland West – he rose up out of the streets of Harlem to become one of the richest, most powerful Blacks in the world, earning the nickname Iceman due to his cold, calculating will to survive. He owns The Oasis, a multi-million dollar pleasure palace glistening in the desert of Las Vegas. And his success is a thorn in the side of those who envy the phenomenal success of the Black man! He’s already fought one battle. One vicious, backstabbing betrayal that left the desert stained with Mafia blood. And now he’s challenged again as modern-day carpetbaggers, hungry for the glitter of gold and the merciless exploitation of slave labor in Africa, waste an old friend in hopes of getting the very land that The Oasis is built on! He’s not alone in the fight. Besides his old street friends he’s got his own private army of voluptuous women trained in the martial arts. And he’s going to need them all, as his survival is threatened by the gold greed of men out to take what he’s so desperately earned! It’s high-stakes action on chopped Harleys and dune buggies as Iceman pulls all the stops just to keep the honkies from giving him the shaft!

And it was just as good as that description sounds. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VOIRVOIR-The Free-P (2016).

I got this Free Ep at a VoirVoir (not Voir Voir) show in Bethlehem.  This EP contains four songs.

Two of them are new and two are re-recordings of songs from their debut album.

“Quit It All” is a bit poppier than their debut album.  The 90s synth is a nice touch to this song which, make no mistake, still rocks.   The middle noise section (skronking guitar solo and great drums) is a highlight as are the catchy verses.  The band even submitted a video for the Tiny Desk Contest (I had no idea).

“Sides” is perhaps one of the best catchy alt rock songs I’ve heard in years and I am bummed that they didn’t get recognized for it.  It’s got a great 90s alt-rock sound and wonderful harmonies in the backing vocals.  There’s a video for this song as well.  You can also stream the song on bandcamp.

The other two songs, “Stupid for Now” and “There are No Good Goodbyes” were recorded at WDIY (Lehigh Valley’s Community NPR Station) in a stripped down format.  You can stream the songs here.  It’s interesting to hear them without the fuzz and drums.  The songs are solid and work very well although I do like the originals better.  The show also includes an interview with the three members who play the stripped down show.  The DJ asks their influences and while main singer guitarist Matt Molchany demurs,  April Smith says Built to Spill) and Josh Maskornick says Primus and Superchunk.

And if you can’t get enough (since they haven’t released that much) here’s a live show from Shards.

[READ: January 10, 2016 & January 10, 2018] Goldfish Memory

For some reason, I read this book back in 2016 and then didn’t post about it–I felt like I needed to read it again, and so I waited almost exactly two years and re-read it and enjoyed it even more this second time.  Almost like actual goldfish memory.

The back of this book made the stories sound really compelling:  “what does it mean to have a connection with someone? This is the question these brilliant short stories try to answer.”  The note said that this was the first translation of Monique Schwitter’s form-breaking work.  The translation was by Eluned Gramich.

I’m not sure how form-breaking these stories are, but they are certainly interesting.  They remind me in some ways of Julie Hecht–a narrator who is connected to people but very distantly.  But while Hecht’s narrators are critical and dismissive of everyone, Schwitter’s narrators just seem to be incapable of connecting properly.  You can feel the longing in the distance between them.  I also like how these missed connections cover all kinds of relationships–familial, sexual, friendship, professional, even passing acquaintances.

Few of the characters seem to be able to tell anyone else how they really feel–even when they are dying.  There is sadness at loss, but a kind of c’est la vie about it as well.  And all along, Schwitter’s writing is consistently excellent and the stories are really enjoyable. (more…)

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klosetrSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICSFall Nationals The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, ON. Night 1 of 13 (November 10, 2003).

This was the 1st night of their 13 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  Rheostatics Live has recordings of nights 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7.

 The sound quality of this show is great, although it’s quite disconcerting how quiet it is between songs—must be soundboard with no audience pick up at all.

Dave chats with the crowd of course: “Always exciting on opening night—a tingle in the air.  We’re basking in the glow of David Miller’s victory tonight even if he doesn’t know the words to “Born to Run.”

David Raymond Miller is the president and CEO of WWF-Canada, the Canadian division of the international World Wildlife Fund. A former politician, Miller was the 63rd Mayor of Toronto from 2003 to 2010. He entered politics as a member of the New Democratic Party, although his mayoral campaign and terms in office were without any formal party affiliation. He did not renew his party membership in 2007.  After declining poll numbers, Miller announced on September 25, 2009, that he would not seek a third term as mayor in the 2010 election, citing family reasons.  He was replaced by Rob frickin Ford.

They play a lot of songs from their not yet released album (not until 2004, in fact) 2067.

They open with “The Tarleks” which is follows by 2001’s “Song of the Garden” and then back to 2067 with “I Dig Music.”  The new songs sound similar to the release but perhaps the words might not be solidified yet—there’s also no “too fucking bad” in “I Dig Music.”

Tim’s “In It Now” comes next with that cool opening riff.   It segues into one of my favorite Tim-sung songs “Marginalized” also from 2067.  I love the drums, the guitar riff, everything about it—although they are off-key as they start.

Dave says, “We’re surprising ourselves a little by playing new stuff.   But when Martin asks for requests and people say “Saskatchewan” Martin starts playing it (see, the squeaky wheel…).

“Fan letter for Ozzy Osbourne” (also from 2067)  it sounds a bit more spare and sad (with no wailing vocal at the end).  It’s followed by “a very old song we wrote in 1989, I think, but it still applies on this special occasion.”  He says it’s called “You can’t go back to Woodstock baby you were just 2 years old you, you weren’t even born.”

There’s a quiet “In This Town” that’s followed by a lengthy “When Winter Comes.”  This song features a remarkably pedestrian guitar solo (sloppy and very un-Martin like).

Dave says they were recording audio commentary from a show two years ago (for what?  is this available somewhere?).  He says that night wasn’t a very good patter night.  Good music night, though.

Tim says, “So we overdubbed good stage banter. … Till I sparked up a fattie and giggled like a moron.”
Martin: “till you sparked up a fattie and the ridiculousness of the situation became glaringly apparent.”
Dave: “Martin I can’t believe you just said ‘sparked up a fattie.'”
Martin: “The times they are a-changing.”

Martin introduces “Aliens” by saying “This would be a b-minor chord.  The whole thing seems a little weird–Martin does some odd voices and weird guitar noises—it almost sounds out of tune or like it’s just the wrong guitar.

Back to a new song with “Polar Bears and Trees” and they have fun chanting the “hey hey ho ho” section.

Dave calms things down with some details: We got some stuff planned over the next 13 days. Lucky 13.  Thursday there’s going to be 25 guest vocalists.  We’re gonna mail it in, basically.  And then on Saturday we have “Tim Vebron and the Rheostars.”  According to a review, this “band” is a goof: “Martin was wearing a lei and suspenders, MPW looked like an extra from THX1138.”   You can also get a pass to all 13 shows for $75.  For some good old live live Canadian shield rock.

Dave asks, “Tim did you get a contact high during aliens?  Some wise acre lit a marijuana cigarette.”  Tim:  “It’s just kicking in now.  I’m hungry.”

“PIN” sound great although in “Legal Age Life,” the sound drops out at 58 seconds and comes back on at 1:35.  During the song, Dave shouts G and they shift to “Crocodile Rock.”  It kind of clunkily falls back in to “LAL,” but it’s fun to see them jamming and exploring a bit.

Dave says “Crocodile Rock” was a very complicate dance, but it didn’t catch on.  I think the dance involved implements didn’t it. Tongs?”

“Stolen Car” starts quietly but builds and builds to a noisy climactic guitar solo.  Its pretty exciting.

During the encore break there’s repeated chants for “Horses.  Horses.”

You can hear Dave say, “‘Soul Glue?’ We’re not going to do that tonight, we’re going to say it for a special occasion.”  The audience member shouts, “the hell with you.” Dave: “Ok, bye. Yes I am going to hell.”

What song do you think cleans the palate for the song to come after it—A sherbet?

There’s some amusing commentary between Dace and the audience.  And then a little more local politics: “Did you think that was good speech by David Miller?  I didn’t. I don’t want to be a bad guy coz it’s his night but…”  Then Dave imagines a “David Miller ascension-to-power film starring Ed Begley Jr.”

The encore includes a rollicking “Satan is the Whistler” followed by a solid cover of The Clash’s “London Calling.”  Tim’s a little sloppy on the bass, but the guitar sound is perfect and Dave’s got the vocal sound just right.  As they leave you can still here that guy calling for “Horses.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] What If We’re Wrong?

I have enjoyed a lot of the essays I’ve read by Klosterman.  But I’ve never read one of his books before.  I saw him on Seth Meyers one night and this book sounded cool.  And then I saw it at work, so I grabbed it .

Klosterman is clever and funny and this book is clever and funny.  Although I found it a little long–every section of the book felt like it could have been shorter and it wouldn’t have lost any impact.  However, I loved the premise and I loved all of the examples.  I just got a little tired of each section before it ended.

So what is this book (with the upside down cover) about?  Well, as the blurb says, our cultural is pretty causally certain about things.  No matter how many times we are wrong, we know exactly how things are going to go. Until they do not go that way any more.  “What once seemed inevitable eventually becomes absurd.”  So what will people think of 2015/16 in 100 years?  And while some things seem like they may be obvious about how tastes change, he also wonders if our ideas about gravity will change.

This came out before the horrors of the 2016 election and I read it before them, so the whole premise of the book is even more magnified. (more…)

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tokyoSOUNDTRACK: THE MOPS-“Goiken Muyo (Ilja Naika)” (1971)

mopsThe Mops were a Japanese psychedelic band who were inspired by American psychedelia.  They appear in one of the films below (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo from 1971) in a really weird scene in which the band is playing on the back of a flatbed truck (in the middle of another scene that has nothing to do with them).  They play their song and then drive away.  Weird.

Anyway, the song is pretty great.  There’s all kinds of interesting percussion (the film clip shows them playing stuff which most likely is not what they are playing).  But the studio version (linked to below) has great audio quality and a lot of depth in the bass and cool screaming guitars.

The band released possibly 9 albums (it’s a little hard to tell from their Wikipedia page).  With their first album being pretty psychedelic and this one (I assume their third) being much heavier and fuller sounding.

I had found a clip of the band from the movie.  Then I lost it and cannot find it anywhere.  But here’s the studio version dubbed over the movie clip

But really, check out the whole album, it’s pretty great.

[READ: October 10, 2015] Tokyo Grindhouse

The life cycle of a book at my work is pretty straightforward.  If I see it at all, I usually catalog it or send it on its way to someone else.  But for some reason this book came back to my desk three times.

I didn’t know a thing about Tokyo Grindhouse, I’d never heard of pinky movies, but if something keeps coming back you gotta check it out.  So it turns out that this book has about ten pages of text and the rest is pictures.

And the book is about “classic” exploitation films made in Tokyo from 1960-1970 (or so).  The text by Jack Hunter explains that women and violence have been in Japanese exploitation films since the 1950s.  Evidently there were some landmark films in the mid-fifties about topless pearl divers that set off a craze for topless women in films.  This morphed into movies where women were the victims of violence with translated titles such as Nude Actress Murder Case: Five Criminals. (more…)

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harpers-sept-2014-LA-coverSOUNDTRACK: YES-Going for the One (1977).

Yes_Going_for_the_OneThere’s many interesting things about this Yes album.  It was the first album since they hit it big to not have a Roger Dean cover (it did use the logo of course).  This cover is a photo done by Hipgnosis.  It also features the return of Rick Wakeman (the first player to come back).  Further, there aren’t really any epic songs.  Sure, there’s a 6 and 7 and even a 15 minute song, but none of them feel epic.  There’s even a song less than four minutes long!

It’s also interesting for having a naked man on the cover about a year before Rush would release Hemispheres with a naked man on the cover.  Must have been a thing.

This album opens with a big rock n roll bluesy guitar and steel guitar solo and sounds nothing like any Yes song ever did.  Then Anderson’s voice comes in and it sounds a lot more Yes.  But again, something feels different about this album.  The song is only 5 minutes, but it has many different parts all anchored by the wild careening steel guitar.  The chorus “going for the one” is pretty catchy and is probably the most memorable moment in the song, although I understand it did pretty well as a single.  The wavery solo at the end just shows how much the guitar permeates this song.

“Turn of the Century” is a 7 minute song. It is mellow and is mostly Howe’s classical guitar and waves of keyboards.  The song slowly builds.  It is quite pretty.  It was originally supposed to be short but it grew during the recordings and includes a very lovely Wakeman piano solo and a beautiful Howe classical solo at the end.

“Parallels” was written by Chris Squire and was supposed to be on his solo album, but it didn’t fit.  So instead Yes recorded it together.  It opens with Rick Wakeman playing a church organ (there’s a fascinating story about how they recorded that).  This of course makes the song feel bigger than it needs to.  But Squire has a great sense of interesting vocal lines, and this song sounds like pure Yes.

“Wonderous Stories” is a sweet song that sounds like it could be the closing credits of a kids’ fantasy movie.  “Awaken” is the fifteen minute song.  It opens with a classic sounding piano section.  The keyboard washes come in with Anderson’s vocals.  And the around 1:30 the song kicks in with a cool Howe guitar riff and some big Squire bass.  This middle section rings as classic Yes–lots of guitar and bass pyrotechnics and Anderson’s voice floating over the lot.   The solo culminates in what feels like a great conclusion to this song–except that the song has only hit the 5 minute mark (and there’s ten more to go), but that doesn’t stop the song from building and building (with some great Wakeman moments). And then it reaches a hard stop for a pause as the song rebuilds with a lot of percussion and keyboards.   This meandering instrumental section is cool and trippy and lasts for about four minutes.  When the song resumes, it picks up more or less where it stopped with Anderson’s voice soaring over what sounds like ea choir of voices.  Around 12 minutes in, Wakeman gets another pipe organ solo–it’s a brief flourish before the song kicks back in to build to the proper conclusion.  Except that once again, the song fades away and there is a quieter coda, of keys and bells and Anderson’s voice.  It feels like it should be bigger and grander somehow.  And it may just be a poor production quality that makes this album seem flat.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.   Here we have the first time someone has returned to the band, with Wakeman deciding (for no doubt complicate reasons) to return.

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2 replaced Patrick Moraz #3)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: April 12, 2015] “French Town Rock”

This is another excerpt from a novel (A Brief History of Seven Killings).  This excerpt is done in a Jamaican dialect, which I found challenging to read.

I enjoyed that there was a guy named Shotta Sheriff.

The story comes down to gambling and money.  There’s a character known as the Singer.  His brother fixed a horse race and made a ton of money.  But then he absconded with the profits. (more…)

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