The air began to sing again…

OK, time to deliver on my long-held (and more than once repeated) promise to give you something on last month’s Sea Change.

Overall a fine time was had by all, I think. Some jolly company, some good music, some beer drunk, I’m a simple feller…

We’d had such a good time last year that booking again this year was something of a no-brainer. And when Coleser told me that a May Bank Holiday festival was planned this year and that he’d cannily managed to rent a house in the centre of Totnes, well, it was all on again.

Anticipation was dampened a little, however, when we found out that very little was being put on in the town this year, most of the music was happening over at the Dartmouth Hall site. One of the highlights of last year had been the casual hopping from bar to street to church, airily waving a wrist band at the door, picking up music all over. None of that this year…

To be fair, the Dartmouth Hall site was a little better this year, but still all a bit a-bunch-of-folk-in-a-field. Not much in the way of food, two beer tents and two stages, so close to each other that they needed to alternate acts. (And that’s definitely not a 30 minute amble from town…)

But grousing aside, I think I saw more good music this year than last, so get a grip, man.

I’m starting here…

You Tell Me

Field Music may well be the band I’ve seen most of all over the years. They’re always engaging, unexpected and make me feel like I should be listening to the records more closely.

You Tell Me are one of Peter Brewis’ side-projects, so not strictly speaking a Field Music gig, the fact that David Brewis turned up playing fretless bass (“you know… a dangerous business”), also doesn’t in any way make this a Field Music gig, oh no.

Battling nevertheless, against Field Music levels of disinterest from a sparsely spread field of punters, they cheerfully ran through at least 8 numbers from their record – I say “at least” because inexplicably I turned my recorder off at one point. I can only apologise.

It really is a lovely record that, true to form, I’ve had to go back and re-investigate on my return from Devon. It’s full of wry observations and rueful glances to the past most effectively from the lips of co-writer Sarah Hayes, supplemented by the twists, turns and unpredictable grooves that collaboration with a Brewis can’t help but guarantee.

At one point, an (alarmingly) rustic burr can be heard gushing soppily about how lovely the Brewis brothers are. I should not do this (for it was I) but there’s something about a Field Music set that loosens the tongue injudiciously (although, drink may also have been taken…). What can I say?

A typically off-centre encore of “Ivor Cutler to a Bo Diddley beat” and they were gone, all too soon and not to be seen again until the next half-empty moderately-sized venue comes into view. Let’s hope it’s not too long, eh?

Get Out of the Room

Enough to Notice

I Worn My Elbows

Don’t-oh light-oh my fiyah!

I like to strike while the iron is hot.

No, really.

Which is why I’m putting to one side for a moment some recordings I made a fortnight ago at Sea Change to bring you this slice of anarchic fruitiness.

Otoboke Beaver

(To be fair, “putting to one side” might suggest that I had some choice in the matter – I suspect these ladies don’t do a lot of waiting in line…)

I had a good few credits to use up at eMusic last week, so I hoovered up a bunch of stuff I’d never heard of, which is rarely a mistake and often the absolute strength of my favourite music supplier. There’s some more Sun Ra, some Mingus I thought I’d try out, a bit of doomy German psyche.

Also this.

Otoboke Beaver is amongst other things the name of a “love hotel” in Osaka and also four feisty Japanese women who play it loud and stupid, belting out spikey guitar pieces perforated by the sort of babbling, screaming vocals that’d scare the sweet bejeesus out of most middle-aged, coffee-swilling hipsters.

Fortunately not this middle-aged, coffee-swilling hipster, though, ho no. In fact, I think I might be in love.

Watch this:

 

This is clearly loads of fun, from the pigeon-English through the feckless Batman riffs to the massive amounts of nutty energy running amok all over this video. This is a track from the Itekoma Hits record that eMusic has nudged my way – 14 noisy “songs” knocked out in under 30 minutes, all of them riotous, all of them banged out at a furious speed and volume (the dial will have read “breakneck”, I’d imagine). All of which belies the pink lipsticked, swinging London look the band has.

There’s a review of the record done by Pitchfork which is quite interesting and certainly worth a couple of minutes of your time to fill in a few of the gaps that I’ll not concern myself with here. I can’t help thinking they’re missing the point a little, though, when they attempt to provide “analysis” of lyrics and social importance – Otoboke Beaver are all about love of the lurid, the joy of oomph.

Extravagant swirls of punk and post punk guitar riffs reel around the air, drums are flattened lustily, bass strings are plucked to within an inch of their nylon lives and choruses are bawled out by all four with a punch that leaves you queasy. There’s occasional actual singing too, you know, light and shade and all that…

And then there’s the jaw-dropping, coffee-down-your-shirt craziness of the whole shebang. Without wishing to sleepwalk into cultural stereotyping, there are moments in this next video when it’s hard not to think of The Ring. “Bat-shit crazy” is a phrase I may well have been guilty of over-using on these pages but I wish I’d saved it…

 

I’ll get on with the Sea Change stuff now, I promise (but sometimes it’s just got to be done…)

I’m not coming home…

This is sad news indeed, although not entirely unexpected.

To be honest, given the absolute reckless abandon with which he lived his early years and the catastrophic price he paid for his crushing voyage, we were lucky to have as much Roky as we did. I consider myself to have been very, very fortunate to have seen the man step out onto a stage.

Roky Erickson has died.

I was going to write about Beak this evening, but I’ve spent most of the time I should’ve been looking through the SWX recordings listening to the Elevators’ first record, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. It’s… ah… intense.

There’ll be loads of better and more well-informed tributes to the man over the next few days, but, hell, a few more lines won’t go amiss.

With the first use of the word “psychedelic” in an album title, it’s the real thing – a strange, brittle journey into the furthest reaches, recorded in the summer of 1966 by a band whose own name refers to a place that sometimes doesn’t exist (in a tradition referred to in MR James’ famous ghost story, some buildings wouldn’t have a thirteenth room or floor). There are no fillers (although some songs are more successful than others), no covers and absolutely no let up.

The opener is Erikson’s own astonishing “You’re gonna miss me”, a staple in any garage punk compilation but still one of the top two or three songs of its kind, driven by his agricultural rhythm guitar and his astonishing vocal performance, and muddied up by the ever-present electric jug. It’s a classic in most senses of the word.

It’s the first track on the record and when you start into the rest of the songs, you realise it’s actually quite different, comparatively straight, albeit incendiary, garage fare. Erickson had already written it for his own band, The Spades, when psychedelic poet and jug player Tommy Hall invited him to join his band. The rest of the songs were largely written by Hall or fellow Texas folkie Powell St John, and are something of a different affair.

Songs like “Reverberation”, “Roller Coaster” and “Fire Engine” are crazily psychedelic, the very definition of a genre, Stacey Sutherland’s patient lead guitar forming and shaping melodies that break up and fade when you think you’ve got them, and Hall’s bizarre, babbling jug sound blistering each line as it arrives. Erickson’s vocal performance is pretty special, emerging from the discordance all around – harsh, urgent, desperate to be heard – and at times adding something unspeakable to the whole shebang, howling like the wolf. A voice up there with Beefheart and Mark E Smith for sheer idiosyncratic oomph.

I’m particularly keen on “Fire Engine”, surely the wildest song the decade produced, with all of the above and an extra layer of mania added by the wailing siren that runs all the way through it. What’s not to like?

A piercing bolt of neon red, explodes on fire inside your head…

A fiery flood engulfs your brain, and drowns your thoughts with scarlet rain

I like to imagine a frantically tripping Hall (people have pointed out the DMT / “the empty place” link), sat on the roadside as a fire engine flashes by – an acid legend is born…

To be honest, I hadn’t appreciated until quite recently that Erickson was not for the most part the main lyricist of the record. I gather he became more dominant as the second album was prepared, but at this point the leader of the band was Tommy Hall and it was his vision of a new future that was propelling their first record.

It’s actually a pretty discordant, harsh vision too – there are none of the fluffy images of later years:

Instilling values the sick define, that keeps the fabric that keeps you blind

And ties your hands and cloaks your mind, but on my stilts, I’m above the slime.

Roky’s eventual fate was tragically, eerily similar to some of the images Hall and St John brought to the songs. Within three years of the release of Psychedelic Sounds… and before the Sixties were out, he’d been arrested for a second time for possession and unwisely offered a plea of insanity to avoid a brutal prison sentence. His experiences in Texas state psychiatric wards were to prove in every sense a life sentence.

The seventies and eighties were pretty much lost, but we can be thankful at least that a shaky and fragile Roky Erickson slowly began to reappear thereafter. Amazingly, he started to tour again and I was very grateful to see him at Green Man in 2009.

The set he did there was in truth all a bit “Two Headed Dog”, with none of the crazy charm of the Elevators, but he did do an encore of this (for which I’m eternally grateful)

You’re Gonna Miss Me

Blam! The world breaks in.

“Zig Zag Wanderer” has just appeared on a car advert and the Champions League Final has just started – I’m going to go and pour myself a drink.

Time to trudge back to reality, whatever that might be. All the best, Roky…

“Days later a car with two state agents appeared at the studio and took me away…”

There’s almost certainly load of other stuff I should be sorting out but sometimes a piece of music places an unrelenting hand on your shoulder, and won’t be denied..

 

This is part of a record released under the name of Kosmischer Läufer in 2013 and billed as the “secret cosmic music of the East German Olympic program”. The press release that accompanied it, speaks plausibly of a lost album of motoric-inspired work by an East German sound engineer called Martin Zeichnete which was created for Iron Curtain athletes to train to. (“What few knew is that as well as doping and utilising one of the most sophisticated scientific sport programmes ever devised some more ‘esoteric’ methods to gain sporting advantage were employed.”)

I love this story and in the true “sunlit uplands” spirit of the day, I care little for whether it’s true or not (it’s not), I’m totally on board.

And as with the Beak record I wrote about a few weeks ago, it’s so fondly and craftily fashioned that I really don’t care whether it’s real or fake – we’re post-truth, remember. You could tell me it’s a great lost bootleg by Neu! (or Harmonia. Or Krafwerk. Or Cluster) and I’d believe you. (Or in reality, I’d most likely stare blankly at you, eyes-glazed, nodding like a loon…)

Go to the Kosmscher Läufer website for further elaborate spoofery (I’m particularly keen on the idea of the interview fragments scattered randomly, Stasi-style, amongst each release.)

The great news is that a further three albums of material have also been uncovered in the following five years.

Truly, we are blessed.

Strange thoughts, running through my head

I’ve done that proper teacher thing this half term – catching a head cold as soon as the holiday starts – and I’ve spent the week quilt-cocooned, surrounded by tissues and empty DVD cases, and generally feeling more than a little sorry for myself. (Even missed a big night at Castle Grim – who doesn’t want to see the league leaders and metropolitan Fancy Dans comprehensively beasted at the ‘holm of rugby…?)

I’d fully intended to do a couple of dazzling posts over the week, but eyes streaming and head pounding the dry, elegant prose for which this Blog has become known deserted me. The world will never know the shades of brilliance, the wit and the wisdom, and the ham-fisted over-exuberance that will not now see the light of day. (Although I suspect it can make a fair guess…)

As I started to feel better, I’ve been tucking into Peggy Seeger’s memoir, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which is a brilliant read, following as it does Seeger’s spirited wanderings across the UK, US and Europe in the late 50s and early 60s. I knew/know almost nothing about Peggy Seeger, but I can see her becoming the latest stroppy subject of a folk-muse crush that I’m currently working on.

But she’ll have to wait a bit, or at least until I’ve got this out of my system…

Lal Waterson

Apart from reading, snivelling and moping, I’ve also spent quite a lot of time listening to Bright Phoebus, a record I bought last year and mentioned at Christmas, but which has grown and grown in my mind over the months. It has an established place amongst the Great Lost Records of All Time, or did until it was re-packaged and released by Domino a couple of years ago. I’ll not go through all the details of the record, the wiki page tells you what you need to know, but if you’ve not yet bought it, I’d urge you to do so.

Released (and largely ignored) in 1972, it’s a darkly beautiful record – there are a few flights of ill-advised “whimsy” – which showcases the dense, wintery songs of Elaine “Lal” Waterson. The Watersons as folk pioneers had pretty much sung and toured themselves into the ground over the previous decade at the end of which, Norma made the improbable move of becoming a DJ in Montserrat. The natural decision seems to have been for her exhausted and dispirited siblings to go to ground.

There’s a 1965 documentary for TV made about the Watersons, three clips of which are on YouTube. They’re a great watch generally but are particularly a lovely keepsake of a world where folk smoked relentlessly, where pints and vans came with handles.

 

With my Bright Phoebus hat on, one of the things that occurs when you watch it a couple of times is how much Lal stays largely in the shadow of her brother and older sister. Norma tended to sing the lead parts and Mike seemed to lead the sparse instrumentation the family allowed themselves. Lal’s role seems to have been largely to sing “unexpected harmonies”.

Once the group had dissolved, she settled back down in Hull with her husband and brought up her family. The following years, however, generated a series of eccentric and grimly beguiling songs that would not lie still and which would, later, charm Martin Carthy and Richard Thomson when they heard them. These songs would form the substance of the Bright Phoebus record. The Domino re-release adds to the body by including an extra CD of demo versions of the songs plus a couple that didn’t make the cut.

At this point, I’d love to include footage of some of them, but I can only find album tracks or covers (there are a load of those – which I guess makes its own point). Lal’s voice, however, is so distinctive – abrasive, stroppy, motionless – that I think we’ll go with an original:

 

This is a bewilderingly beautiful song which manages to sound both fully-formed and incomplete at the same time – it has the feel of an authentic folk piece with vital fragments of continuity that have gone missing over the years. The cooing, clucking tones of the lovers are in spite of the forsaken, rain-swept world that is crumbling around them. Lal’s voice is harsh, but in one ear she is soothed by Martin Carthy’s guitar and by Richard Thomson’s in the other. Oboes and cellos float ethereally around the melody but the overall effect is of thoughts that are strange. The demo version is a much perkier, more self-confident affair, but the version that made the record is shrouded in doubt and misgiving.

There are other earthy gems here too – the haunting “Child Among the Weeds”, reportedly inspired by the still birth of one of Lal’s own twins, with it’s astonishing bridge vocal from friend and folk archivist Bob Davenport; also the murky, forbidding tones of “Never the Same” and “To Make You Stay”, both strongly redolent of personal tragedy.

Recently, I indulged myself and bought a lavishly packaged collection of recordings, lyric sheets and paintings called Teach Me To Be A Summer’s Morning which also doesn’t disappoint:

 

It’s a gorgeous collection which (along with Pete Paphides’ liner notes to Bright Phoebus) yields all sorts of clues to the kinks and idiosyncrasies of the woman – singer Marry Waterson sites her mother’s spontaneous writing style that would lead to missed meals; her refusal to correct mis-spellings dashed down at pace; brother Mike talks about her imperfect guitar stylings which caused him problems with the songs when first presented and which led to some of her stranger chord choices.

The collection also gives us an unreleased version of another of the highpoints of Bright Phoebus – the truly original, and not a little scary “Scarecrow”. On the album, the vocals are taken by Mike and they’re quite good, although distinctly folk-ground, the lost aitches make it sound blokier, pubbier and take a little of the shadow from the lyric. The Teach Me version, sung by Lal has all the folk-horror chill that a child sacrifice (again) demands. A gruesome song sung with a shudder…

Here’s a last little treasure from Teach Me with an animation done by Marry Waterson:

 

Twitter conversations (including Marry herself) tell me there’s more to discover from Lal, including a record she recorded with her son, Oliver, and records by Marry recorded with brother and with Emily Barker. All of which, I’m looking forward to exploring.

She was a remarkable lady and hers is a voice that will linger.

As we stand in line in the pouring rain…

It’s too late to do a “Best of ‘18” list now, isn’t it?

In any case, “list” might be stretching a little – at the moment, I’d only have two records on it.

Since Christmas, I’ve dabbled with a few things (narrowly missed losing my December downloads from Emusic…) but I’ve mainly listened to only a couple of records. And whaddya know, they’re both bone fide New records, not “new” but actually, genuinely released-in-the-last-twelve-months New. Oh yes.

Thought I’d celebrate my newly-regained cutting edge by doing a bit of a thing about one of them here…

BEAK>

(The other record, by the way, is the Surfing Magazines’ debut which is just great, but seeing as I’ve mentioned them en-passant a couple of times recently, I’ll leave them for another day…)

I’ve a feeling I’ve done something about BEAK> before (and I can’t believe I didn’t mention the “>” thing as well) – I remember being rather keen on all the Bristol landmarks in their song titles. But, characteristically, I may have dreamt this, so I’ll proceed, insensible, as if this is all virgin territory.

Anyway as any ninny knows, BEAK> are the current vehicle of omni-instrumentalist and studio professor Geoff Barrow and last September’s release was the band’s third record. Have a watch:

 

That’s a great video, no?

I love this song for its reedy resolve and the swelling, ballooning effects fanning from Will Young’s keyboard. It makes me think of that great first Suuns record and some of the Yeti Lane stuff (both of these two seem to have gone off the boil recently). I think this might be the first time, I’ve watched the band actually perform on video and I’ve got to admit I didn’t picture Barrow as quite the drummer he is, all wrists and groovy economy. Quite the Robert Wyatt figure (without the gimp mask, regrettably). The video is a bit Dr Who, but I’m on board to be honest, and in the best traditions, the whole thing’s larger on the inside than out.

“Allé Sauvage” is a great song but it’s only one of a cluster of punchy songs that elbow their way into your face, all beery belligerence and unwelcome persistence. “King of the Castle” and “RSI” are also belting songs – lots of period electronics and motorik dynamics forced up to 11. Storming, grim stuff.

I’m also very keen on the closing pair of tracks.

“Abbot’s Leigh” is absolute dissonance explored, tightly confined and barely controlled – horribly menacing, very Centre Cannot Hold and something for our times. Wikipedia tells me that Abbots Leigh, aside from being a village in Somerset, a few miles from the centre of Bristol (of course) is also the name of the tune that “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is set to. All very pastoral and maybe a little folk-horror. Which is exactly what the second track of the pair, and closer of the record, “When We Fall”, had already made me think of. It sounds like something that might pop up on the “Blood on Satan’s Claw” soundtrack, amidst scenes of the sun rising on fields of corn and general rural idyll, (shortly to be horribly and irrevocably interrupted).

 

If you can be arsed, you can, of course, be justifiably sniffy and talk about how derivative BEAK> sound (can’t be denied, to be honest). But why would you do this? They are clearly a massive homage to Can, Klaus Dinger, Faust… but hey! Good spot!  Now get on, enjoy the commotion, stifle a shudder, turn it up. Who knows how long we’ve got?

I mean, what else? You can’t eat music.

Amongst the empty absinthe bottles, Pringles tubes and pistachio shells, strewn about the house, something’s wrong. Having dutifully watched hours upon hours of Talking Pictures TV, and absolutely, categorically had enough of Oliver Reed’s camp thuggery, I still have a niggling feeling… Gone to enough school and office parties to take me safely through until next year, but I’ve definitely forgotten something.

True, there’s still half a chocolate orange (saved. Obviously you need something to see the New Year in with); having checked and double-checked the Radio Times, I can find no screening of Escape to Victory (and if Die Hard can be a Christmas movie…), so that’s not it. But there’s something else…

Ah! Bugger.

End of Year lists.

I knew there was something.

Seven Tinsel-decked Tings from 2018

Truth be told, 2018 has been a desperately grim year, with all sorts of indefensible shithousery going on from the people we’ve recklessly entrusted our futures to. I don’t remember a year when I’ve watched the news more obsessively, and sworn more rancorously at the TV (unless you count 2017, of course. Also 2016…). 2019 isn’t looking like it’s going to get much better either.

I don’t think the two things are linked but 2018 is a year when I’ve bought less brand new music and been to less gigs than for a long a time. No new records spring to my lacklustre mind for this year, and a glance at the more established End of Year lists hasn’t really altered my thoughts on this. I’ve seen a couple of really good live sets (Here Lies Man and Damo are the ones I’m thinking of), but not a great haul.

Having said this, my jammy grandfather clause with eMusic has meant that there’s still been a whole bunch of “new” music floating in and around the estate this year. So I’ve decided to go for seven treats from the PP music year, trying particularly to think about things I don’t think I’ve written about previously (so no Here Lies Man, Sweet Baboo or Damo Suzuki, I’m afraid) but which have been tiny candles amongst the gloom…

Spanish Warbling: Josephine Foster – “Dame Esa Flora”

I’ve managed to step up my efforts to improve my Spanish this year and am hoping to go again with this in the New Year. And one of the things that I’ve done is listen to more Spanish music. Now I’ve written before about warbly-voiced female singers in less than complimentary terms, and Josephine Foster is certainly ones of these. But hey, if she’s warbling in Spanish, it’s different, right? She has a few records out but two in particular stand out which were recorded with the Herrero Brothers. The first was a collection of songs by Lorca and a second album, Perlas, was made up of other traditional songs from various regions of Spain, including this one about Cadiz. We went to Cadiz this year and were again taken by it, so this feels right; and once you’ve warmed to Foster’s voice and are settling into the beautiful mandolin (?) breaks you realise that this is, after all, damn fine:

 

Somali Dance: Dur Dur Band

A quick look through my music of this year confirmed a couple of things: firstly, that, yes, I got very few records from this year; and secondly that I acquired an alarming amount of African music from the seventies – Zamrock, the Ethiopiques series, a lot of Somali music, and pretty much all of it from the seventies and eighties. I did already post about some of this and plugged the Likembe website back in the Summer. But one of the bands covered there, Dur Dur Band from Mogadishu, was also the subject of a new collection from Analog Africa which is just excellent.

This track which doesn’t seem to be on the new compilation or the other LP I have, rollocks along like a train (a funk train), powered by hand drums and an impossibly tight rhythm guitar. The brass is cut-throat and there’s some great twisted lead guitar work. Ah, the days when bands still wrote their name on the bass drum…

 

Japanese Clatter: Bo Ningen – “Koroshitai Kimochi”

I did also write about this bunch of androgynous oddballs after I saw them supporting Damo Suzuki at Sea Change, so I won’t go on. But every time I see clips of this, it gets more and more white-knuckle. It’s utterly out to lunch – deafening, nutty, double-jointed – all of these in a good way. What a racket.

I need a snakeskin-effect poncho…

 

The Cosmos: Terry Riley – “Shri Camel” album

OK, so this is an hour long video, so get a drink or something, but do commit yourself. The first part is an interview with the man which is complex but disarmingly low on bullshit and generally really interesting. I believe everything he says.

There was a really excellent series of shows on BBC4 earlier this year covering experimental music which introduced me to the idea of Terry Riley. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything about what he does, but the one idea that stuck me from the programs was the idea of single pairs of notes moving in and out of sync with each other and then returning to their relative positions like planets in a solar system.

This is grown up music…

 

English Folk Music: Lal Waterson – “Fine Horseman” / Sandy Denny – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”

I seemed to spend a lot of time this year reading about folk music – Nick Drake and Sandy Denny biogs, Rob Young’s Electric Eden, the Incredible String Band book I posted about in the summer – all of it fascinating (I’ve also got a Peggy Seeger biog in the pile by my bed…). And on that theme, these two songs are remarkable:

I bought the reissue of the Waterson’s Bright Phoebus this year, which is a great record but the stand out moments all involved the monochrome tones of Lal Waterson, a singer I am ashamed to know I knew nothing about before this. It’s an eerie song that feels like it’s been passed from lip to ear for generations – misunderstood, reinterpreted, weirdly distorted – but is actually a genuinely strange original.

 

The Sandy Denny song is another thing of splendour, crafted carefully and possessing of the most achingly poignant single line choruses. Denny’s life is sad enough and beautifully captured in Mick Houghton’s book, but really you only have to hear this song…

 

Italian Horror: Goblin – “theme from Profondo Rosso”

This was the year I finally got around to watching The Exorcist and a whole bunch of Hammer and folk horror stuff. And there’s some cracking music to accompany some of these films. I’m yet to see Profondo Rosso but I like the Goblin sound track.

 

Oh go on, while we’re at it, Goblin’s theme tune to another horror movie – Suspiria.

And a new album! The Surfing Magazines “New Day”

I didn’t actually see the Surfing Magazines at Sea Change but I heard them from the warmth and safety of the beer tent. I did pop out for a couple of songs and they struck me as having a similar live act as Woods – a basic understanding of the sixties rule book and a willingness to wig out at any given moment. They were fun.

Made up of members of the Wave Pictures and Slow Club, I’m very much hoping this isn’t just a cheery side-project and that there’s more to come.

 

So there we have it, 2018. Some highlights and not too many grumbles. Here’s to the next one, God help us all…

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