Demon Radio Colorful outside and deep black inside

Demon Radio
Colorful outside and deep black inside

One place that was played for the first time is a former call center in Mariatrost. The vacant building, from which phone calls used to be made from an open-plan office, underwent a transformation into “Demon Radio”. A place where the demonic can be found in many ways.

The Four from the Gas Station

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Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, The Four from the Gas Station (2023), installation view, Demon Radio, photo: steirischer herbst / kunst-dokumentation.com, courtesy of the artists

Already at the parking lot, in front of the exhibition location, an irritating installation awaits the audience: “The Four from the Gas Station” by Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys. The work was given its title in reference to the 1930 film “Die Drei von der Tankstelle” (“The Three from the Gas Station”), which was placed on the list of banned films by the Nazi censors. In the car there are not three people, but four uniformed Dobermans. Dogs, sharply trained, like to appear around people who need special “protection”. The number plate of the old Mercedes can be deciphered, since it bears the date on which Hitler thrilled the crowds in Klagenfurt in 1938. The two artists, who live in Brussels, leave it open in this installation whether the four occupants are chasing someone or whether they are on the run. Thus, the artwork opens different windows of interpretation – an approach that is significant for the exhibition “Demon Radio”. The work corresponds with those in the interior – primarily with the one about the former German jazz expert Dr. Schulz-Köhn.

A second artistic contribution of the duo inside the exhibition hall also bears animal features. Micro Mundo 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10, created this year, are small, surreal terrariums in which rodents, reptiles and other creatures with human heads cavort. Fascinating and repulsive at the same time, they present themselves to the viewer and pose ad hoc the question of genetic manipulation and mutations that man did not intend in this way.

A jazz collector, SA and Nazi member

The German, Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, was a lover and connoisseur of jazz music. He bequeathed to the Institute for Jazz Research in Graz, of which he was one of the founders, his collection of jazz records that he had collected before, during and after World War 2. Himself a member of the SA and the NSDAP, he was stationed in France as a young man during the war, where his good contacts with the American enemy enabled him to get hold of the new releases he was so interested in as quickly as possible. Not only are some of his records on display in the exhibition, but a radio recording can also be heard. As the presenter of many jazz programs on WDR and other radio stations, he created a series of programs on this subject. In that contribution, which can be heard in the exhibition, one can well understand how, after the war, a kind of dislocation must have taken place in Schulz-Köhn’s own actions during the war. After all, he speaks there about the restrictions during the Nazi regime as if he had never been part of this murderous regime, but rather had been commissioned by a broadcaster outside Germany to speak about this topic.

Contextualizing this with the other contributions still in this exhibition, it becomes clear that the demonic in man is a phenomenon that is evaluated differently depending on time.

Serene Velocity in Practice: MC510 Signs & Wonders (Prerequisite for CS183 How to Build the Future) (2017-23)

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Serene Velocity in Practice (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Across from the small room where the radio show is playing, Michael Stevenson, bounded by fabric panels, created a kind of room within a room. In it, he recreated the setting of a practical course on faith healing and exorcism taught by church founder John Wimber at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena from 1982 to 1985. The artistic alienation done there further intensifies the oppressive impression that one is in a surroundig in which psychic violence has been inflicted on people.

Indian freedom fighter and current nationalisms

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A total of four video contributions invite us to confront the demonic in completely different ways. Indian theater-maker Zuleikha Chaudhari created a film about Subhas Chandra Bose, a fighter against British colonial power. He had hoped to gain Hitler’s support in the 1930s and had therefore traveled to Berlin. On this trip, as well as others that were to follow afterwards when he left Germany again without having achieved anything, he assumed different identities with different nationalities. Similar to Schulz-Köhn, one is amazed at how much reality and ideal diverge in certain stages of life, sometimes even turning into the opposite. In addition, the artist also mixes in the video recordings of lectures on nationalism given at teach-ins during the 2016 student movement at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Mechanical and profoundly human

Israelite artist Dani Gal was commissioned by Styrian Autumn to create two works. In his film “Book of the Machines,” close-ups of 19th-century mechanical dolls that bear human features and behave like humans are used to pose questions that are congruent with those our society is currently having to ask itself in light of ubiquitous AI applications.

Book of the Machines, courtesy of the artist

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Extremely moving has become his film “Dark Continent,” which reenacts a case study from the book Black Skin, White Masks (1952) by psychiatrist and anti-colonial author Frantz Fanon: It’s about a girl who began developing nervous tics at the age of 12. She eventually ended up in a mental hospital, where the head primar quoted Freud in his final diagnosis, saying that women’s sexuality is a black continent. During the film, we learn that soon after colonization, bus drums were banned in Africa, simply because they could be used to transmit messages over long distances, and thus the danger of revolts could not be ruled out. The father of the young girl, himself formerly conscripted in Africa, put on music in the evening in which these drums could be heard. An unambiguous imagery, which suggests a cruel trait of the man and the fantasy, which one develops as a viewer himself, let think at the end of the film of a child abuse within the own family. The perfidious way in which the drumming of the black population, which is portrayed as backward and threatening, is shown leaves one speechless.

In the coupling with the expressions with which Schulz-Köhn mentioned the black jazzmen from America in the Nazi dictum, a bridging between the individual artistic contributions succeeds here as well. The curatorial team around Ekaterina DegotDavid Riff, Pieternel Vermoortel, Gábor Thury and Barbara Seyerl – did a great job here.

Anna Engelhardt and Mark Cinkevic trailer, courtesy of the artists:inside

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With a video by Anna Engelhardt and Mark Cinkevic (Russia and Belarus), in which they refer to the demonic power of Russian high-tech support points in occupied states, the arc of the exhibition’s theme reaches into our present.

So does a sound installation by Anton Kats, in which he recalls his childhood and the war in Kherson, recorded by a quiet female voice (Susanne Sachsse) on the sound layer “Palladium” by Weather Reports. That influential jazz band founded by Austrian Joe Zawinul. Palladium had cult status in the USSR, of all places. Fine and beautiful to listen to, flowing and harmonious, the music deceives and covers the horror that was added to it in the text.

What from the outside colorfully flags, pretends to be a fun scene, is inside full of dark spots worth uncovering.
Admission to the exhibition is free thanks to a generous sponsorship offer from AK-Steiermark.

Playing piano with mountaineering equipment

Playing piano with mountaineering equipment

“IX KLA VIER E” was the name of the half-hour performance by Nick Acorne, for which 3×3 pianos were set up on top of each other in the anteroom. In front of them stretched a scaffold, which could be nimbly climbed by Acorne. Equipped with a helmet and a waist belt from which hung all sorts of kitchen utensils, counter-secured by a rope, he swung not from branch to branch, but from piano to piano, playing short passages on each. They all resulted in a truly breathtaking composition – but first and foremost for the pianist himself. Each time he had to climb several meters, both up and down, or shimmy along the metal struts to reach the next instrument. The pianos themselves were prepared and had different sound characteristics.

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“IX Kla vier e”

The be-all and end-all of any piano lesson – proper sitting and hand position led to absurdity in this performance. After all, Acorne had to find his footing hanging in the rope in the higher regions or kneel in front of the pianos in some cases in the lowest region. It was astonishing that, despite the sporting hardships, an improvised composition emerged that could be heard even without climbing. The fact that each performance – there were three in total – was different is obvious given the concept. The artist, who previously took a climbing course for beginners, noted in an interview with Daniela Fietzek that he wouldn’t underestimate the physical exertion, “but I know from myself that as soon as it comes to art, I always find resources in my body.”

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“IX Kla vier e” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

The different colored socks at the 2nd performance – one was yellow, the other blue – as well as the short encore – hanging upside down in the rope, spoke a clear language.

While one must appreciate the physical and artistic performance of Nick Acorne, at the same time one must not forget that his act is also peppered with a great deal of humor. Laughter and amazement were equally permitted.

Four women and one man

Four women and one man

The premiere of “canvas” by Slovenian composer Nina Šenk and librettist Simona Semenič was shown. Šenk was awarded the prize of the Johann-Joseph-Fux Opera Composition Competition after the performance, which she had won with this opera.

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“canvas” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

It tells the story of four women who – without knowing it – love the same man. The latter flutters, as he pleases, from one to the other and tries to maneuver the women into emotional dependencies and keep them. Ingo Kerkhof – KUG professor of music drama (scenic interpretation) directed, Katharina Zotter provided the set and Gerrit Prießnitz was responsible for the musical direction.

The orchestra was moved to the left wall of the hall, and the conductor stood with his back to the wall, thus having both the instrumental ensemble and the singers in view. A square, white-covered revolving platform, a few centimeters high, marked the area where the music was played and sung. In addition, the singers took turns acting at a desk facing the audience at the right edge of the stage.

The female students slipped into different roles, miming, among others, a part of factory workers. A young girl experienced her tragic death on a hospital stretcher right at the beginning. Her alter-ego sang about this process as if the dying girl was watching herself die. The exact circumstances that led to this death remained unresolved – speculations on this may clearly be individual.

The captivating libretto, consisting of short, terse movements, with repetitions and sometimes rude expressions, offered the composer a great deal of emotional fodder, which had to be sonically realized. Šenk succeeded in leaving the voices in the foreground extraordinarily audible and in using the instrumental part only as a support.

Only at one point, in which a sexual abuse is told, does the orchestra play a much stronger role. In this part, the text is spoken for the most part and the violent event is made clear by the raging in the instruments with crashing and clattering sounds. In this scene, all the women stand motionless on the platform, dressed in black, and persist in that position until one of them whispers, “I have to be quiet when it’s time to be quiet.” This phrase is picked up by the others and turned into a whisper song that gets under your skin.

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“canvas” (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

Well brought out were the various characters – married women fearful for the discovery of their affair, a young girl asking God to deliver her, a factory worker who sees in the man the highest fulfillment, a lady who begins to feel youthful again through the happiness of love. The Womanizer himself – also portrayed by one of the women – comes into play only briefly and is shown neither seductive nor violent. Only one woman stands outside the love spiral. She is announced as a fat Italian woman who comes on stage without singing and leaves again. She is the only one who does not seem to be emotionally dependent, but based on the body description should have a strong sexual attraction.

The composer uses quartets, but also solo arias, and marked the scene changes with loud breathing sounds amplified by microphone. It is the particularly successful balance of speech and music that makes this performance so special. Helpful, but also aesthetically well solved, was the projection of the English text on a large screen behind the singers. In addition, these, students of the Music University Graz, were all perfectly disposed.

Melis Demiray, Lavinia Husmann, Laure-Cathérine Beyers, Marija-Katarina Jukić, Ellen Rose Kelly, Christine Rainer and Ana Vidmar are to be congratulated on their great performance.

The sound of nature in the concert hall

The sound of nature in the concert hall

The music protocol presented the audience of the Steirischer Herbst per evening such a dense program that many people left the respective performance venue at about half-time. This may be due less to a lack of interest than to an overflow of what was heard and seen. In addition, the List Hall, where three evenings in a row were held, is only served by the streetcar in the direction of the city center until 11:15 pm. Unfortunately, this meant that many people missed out on things that would have been worth listening to. Like this evening the “Aria” by Beat Furrer, whose performance we could not attend.

The evening opened brilliantly with the “Piano Concerto” by Kristine Tjøgersen. In action at the piano was Ellen Ugelvik, who did not make it ring from the keys. Rather, as the orchestra played, she gradually built into the resonant space a forest of small trees, like those found on the staffage of model trains. The composer is fascinated by the communication of the trees, which takes place invisibly under the ground, and thus found an adequate realization of visualization. In addition to sounds, it is above all noises, such as a crackling and rattling, but also a hissing, wind noises or the buzzing of bees, which could be heard alongside repetitively descending bass lines, but also small snippets of melody. After the construction of the artificial forest was finished, the performer took care of a live video recording, which was projected on the large screen behind the orchestra. The task that the composer had set for this concert, to give a voice to nature in the concert hall, was actually audibly and visibly realized by her in this setting.

Madli Marje Gildemann is interested in nocturnal birds and tried to empathize with these animals while observing them. In her composition “Nocturnal Migrants,” she creates a hovering sound that swells and diminishes and is repeated in similar but not the same execution. A panicked chirping betrays doom at one point in the composition, as does a very darkly colored part that emerges in the bass of the piano after the bird scares. The basic tenor is dominated by an excitement, a permanent tension that only subsides when the music dies away at the end of the composition. Her work deals with the attraction of light, which is exerted on birds and can ultimately have fatal consequences. However, she herself describes this “as a metaphor for the impulsive and compulsive behaviors of people…who have little idea of the motives that drive them.”

“if left to soar on winds wings” by Karen Power was created alongside the Klangforum’s live part from recorded sounds the composer has collected around the globe. She prefers to go to places with few people, only to discover time and again that there are no places left in the world where people have not already been and left their traces. What can be heard everywhere as a constant is wind – albeit in different forms. It is also this natural phenomenon that can be heard right at the beginning of their composition. Chirping sounds and birdsong also appear in her work, but the defining element remains the wind, which can even be attributed the function of a basso continuo. “Like many of my works, “…if left to soar on winds wings…” asks each performer and audience member to hear all sounds simply as music we have never heard before. I ask us all to open our ears and reconnect with our environment as something that unites us rather than divides us, and to reconsider our power and influence over all that surrounds us.” – Karen Power said in her statement, which can be read in the program booklet.

The performance of “Exercises in Estrangement II – L’animal que donc je suis” by Sandeep Bhagwati proved original.

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“Exercises in Estrangement II – L’animal que donc je suis” (Photo: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

The ensemble was allowed to move choreographically on stage, finding each other in ever new constellations. Kneeling at the beginning, but then striding or turning around their own axis, the musicians offered not only auditory but also visual fodder in their actions. The starting point for the work was a book by Jacques Derrida, in which he explores the close connections between animals and humans. The musicians repeatedly slipped into the role of different animals and communicated with each other constantly. Combined with recorded voices, some of whose text was deliberately unintelligible, the result was an animal-human-auditory mesh whose individual components no longer formed a focal point. Bird calls, elephants roaring, or cicadas chirping, all this could be heard with the help of the implementation of individual instruments, but also active voice use.

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Schallfeld Ensemble (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

The second part of the evening saw the Schallfeld Ensemble perform “My fake plastic love” by Sehyung Kim, Dune by Carlo Elia Praderio and Katharina Klements “Monde II”. The latter work experienced a kind of “historical performance practice” with two repaired mixing machines, since these two had already been used in an earlier work by Klement.

Due to great similarities, or rather, great affinities in parts of the compositions, the programming of this concert sequence may be called very coherent in itself. All of them were characterized by recurring clusters of sound as well as an opposing decay. Sehyung Kim works with different timbres of the instruments and towards the end with increasingly narrow intervals. Praderio’s composition was experienced as minimalist-contemplative and dark in overall impression. Klement employs frequent bell sounds in contrast to the noises of the mixing machines. Electronic recordings expand her sonic cosmos, which is also characterized by recurring passages.

A concert evening filled to bursting point, which offered something new, but also the opportunity to draw comparisons between individual compositions.

stereophony in the “Dom im Berg”

stereophony in the “Dom im Berg”

The program – four pieces plus another three from submissions for the Student 3D Audio Competition, exemplified what was also demanded of the audience on the following evenings: Stamina. From 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. – with short breaks – sound experiences were offered that found an international audience.

The start was made by “Organa Quadrupla” by Heinali, who used the grandiose sound possibilities of the Ambisonics system in the Dom im Berg with his modular synthesizer. Fascinated by polyphonic structures as used in the Renaissance, he set up his composition in a similar way. He produced the sound of old organs, alto flutes or a bagpipe and underlaid the running melody lines with a kind of basso continuo. After an intro, still completely attached to a historical soundscape, it becomes audible that it is electronic sounds that are being generated here. The swelling with the increase of voices happens up to a cathedral sound, in which a penetrating up and down of runs characteristically comes to the effect. A rhythm is also cleverly deposited in the bass in the last part of the work, which fades away towards the end. A sonically successful festival entry, which does not break too much with our listening habits and therefore found great approval among the audience.

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“Organa Quadrupla” – Dom im Berg (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

In stark contrast was the collaborative work “forest Floodlights” by Croatian Manja Ristić, as well as Abby Lee Tee and Franziska Thurner, both from Austria. They received a composition commission as part of a SHAPE+ artist residency and explored the sound of a secluded area in the Mühlviertel for it. SHAPE+ is the platform for exciting new projects in music and audiovisual arts of the festival network ICAS, founded in 2014 by the music protocol together with fifteen other festivals. https://shapeplatform.eu/ It is funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe program. One of its bases, from which the trio worked, was Garage Drushba, formerly started by Karl Katzinger. It was a meeting place for offbeat cultural events in the nowhere until his death in 2021. From this Place they explored the area and created a visual-auditory, artistic diary. The water richness of the landscape, the remoteness, the ancient set pieces of the Garage Drushba, but also the beauty of nature were captured. In a combination of sound recordings and live recordings succeeded a coherent performance, in which one could dive deeply into the northern border of Austria. The visual realization received an extraordinarily aesthetic component through the superimposition of several video recordings. Sounds of nature such as birds chirping, water rushing or the rustling of dry leaves while walking over them alternated with e-sounds, but also live sounds of a violin and animal sounds. “forest floddlights” is a work not only with high recognition value, but it also makes you want to watch and listen to it more than once.

Taiwan-born artist Sabiwa presented “Island N. 16 – Memories of future Landscapes” with her partner Nathan L.. She describes the work as a place of memory she created during the pandemic.

In addition to a diverse video installation that alternates between real footage, footage in which real material has been alienated, and purely computer-generated footage, she created an equally diverse sound mesh. Recorded material is mixed with live recordings. Fish in an aquarium, to be seen on the video, fresh flowers in a floor vase on stage, in which garden hoses are inserted, through which air is blown, flute sounds, those of an alienated saxophone and singing, all this results in a visual as well as auditory kaleidoscope, which constantly changes form, color and sound. At the beginning, the video remains entirely rooted in the Asian cliché of bondage practices, but soon switches to purely computer-animated color constellations, and later to impressions of landscapes and cities and close-ups of butterflies or wasps feeding. The overall conduct speaks a youthful sound language with a high noise density, in which later passages change into the psychedelic. “Island N. 16 – Memories of future Landscapes” is a good example of the fluidity of musical different sources, alternating between the realms of E- and U-Music, which cannot be sustained in this way.

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“OSWYC” – Dom im Berg (Foto: ORF musikprotokoll/Martin Gross)

In OSWYC – the title of the composition by Robert Schwarz – he combines artificial and natural sounds, which, however, are indistinguishable from each other. With crickets chirping, wind noises and a billowing sound running across the room, he lets the audience enter his work. Door creaks, a sound resembling a bouncing roulette ball and a chirping accompanied by a dull bass repeat with slight changes. A buzzing, murmuring, gurgling and clanking is interrupted by a rattling, shortly after which one thinks to hear insect sounds. Again and again, it is natural sounds that one thinks one perceives, again and again the sounds and noises wander across the room and pretend what has only come about electronically.

The evening ended with contributions from three students who applied for the ‘Student 3D Audio Competition’. All three made clear how much they are immersed in the matter of space-body perceptions and once again demonstrated the breathtaking listening possibilities that the sound system in the Dom im Berg is capable of reproducing.

Who am I anyway?

Who am I anyway?

The “poetic-documentary performance” has a strong reference to Graz and runs as a co-production in the “Steirischer Herbst” at the Theater am Lend. This makes sense, since this year’s theme of the festival is “Humans and demons” and many of the contributions and their contents are linked to Graz.

The text was written by the ensemble itself. Bernhard Berl, Vinko Cener, Franciska Farkas, Natalija Teodosieva and Christian Winkler tell stories from their lives and those of their ancestors. Except for Natalija and Christian, who takes over the intro part, they all belong to the Roma population group and come from Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Macedonia. Between the individual descriptions, they all work together on a wooden boat with the inscription Feuerwehr Steiermark. They core it, sand off parts of the surface, paint and glue together individual wooden parts.

Moritz Weiß and Ivan Trenev (photos Edi Haberl)

Ivan Trenev (accordion) and Moritz Weiß (clarinet/bass clarinet) contribute a musically harmonious background from the edge of the stage. Klezmer with a strong Balkan drive, but also lyrical pieces that are easy on the ear, as well as dramatic sounds when the events on stage come to a head, are part of their repertoire.

The boat that is used on stage is one that was already used as a lifeboat in the Mur in the 1930s. The fact that it was not used when Bernhard Berl’s great-grandmother drowned herself in the Mur on March 13, 1938, testifies to the hostile social attitude that the Roma had to bitterly experience in the interwar period and during the Second World War.

Bernhard, who comes from eastern Styria, vividly recounts that when he was barely 20 years old, he set out to find his ancestors and learned that he was a Roma. During his narration, one notices how much he is still emotionally gripped by this circumstance, even if he downplays it first and foremost with the means of humor. “I’m Roma? Great, an Italian!” was his reaction to the revelation of his ancestry. Only his grandmother’s curt reply, “No, not Italian, a Gypsy!” pulls the rug out from under the young man. He freely admits that without psychological support he would not have been able to get his life back on track.

Natalja has had opposite experiences. From infancy, she was very attached to one of her “babas”, who was one of the most famous Roma singers. She wanted to become like her. When, at the age of eight, her brother told her that there was no blood relationship between this grandmother and her and that she was not a Romni, a world collapsed for her.

Vinko, a Roma from Slovenia, did not have to learn the language of his ancestors until adulthood. His parents were too concerned about integrating into their country and not standing out as Roma. It almost sounds like irony of fate that Vinko eventually had his own television show where he hosted Roma affairs. He has been living in Graz for many years now and experiences again and again what it means not to have been born here.

Franciska finally begins her account with a horrific story from the Nazi era. After a pause of consternation, in which one notices that the audience has become very uncomfortable, she suddenly puts on a completely different face and asks what would happen if this story were made up. Franciska is a professional actress, a celebrity in Hungary and would like nothing more than not to be constantly cast only in Romnja roles.

As different as all of the ensemble’s life stories and approaches to their Roma origins are, they are united by the fact that at some point in their lives their identities began to falter and they had to come to terms with their origins, whether they wanted to or not. With the inclusion of the boat, Franz von Strolchen created two artful dramaturgical levels that at first glance seem quite unobtrusive. On the one hand, he uses scrolling text to explain the philosophical paradox of the Ship of Theseus. Second, he creates a parenthesis with the rowboat. It encompasses the story of Bernhard’s great-grandmother, which is told at the beginning of the production, to the end because: In the last scene, the boat is sheathed in white fabric without words, wrapped with ropes and ultimately left alone on the stage. The association that stops here has it all: tied up in this way, people who die at sea and are not brought ashore, but find their final resting place in the floods of the seas or rivers.

“The Ship of Theseus” opens many windows into the past, but at the same time the almost overpowering desire of the performers for a better future becomes palpable. A future in which a person’s ancestry and origins should no longer play a role. Utopias become reality when they are lived. Starting now seems to be the order of the day in times like these, in which national countercurrents are on the rise again. Contemporary theater can hardly be more topical.

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