The Electronic Manuscript

F irst presented at the 2002 Electronic Literature Organization Conference at UCLA, Talking Cure is a collaborative work by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, with Camille Utterback, Clilly Castiglia, and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin. Central to this interactive installation are elegant text images, created with three color-coded layers of text. In this work, the hand written texts created during the Middle Ages to be read orally to the laity, [1] become the interaction of psychiatrist and patient and viewer in a contemporary three-dimensional text dominated environment, and the viewer participates in a history of the "talking cure" in psychoanalysis.

Detailed on Noah Wardrip-Fruin's website at, Talking Cure is a starting place for a look at contemporary electronic manuscripts. And there is information about how it was created in Roberto Simanowski's interview with Noah Wardrip-Fruin on at

W ith their visual impact and their surprisingly beautiful emphasis on words, medieval manuscripts, are a cogent field of study and inspiration for the creation of electronic text. With a focus on manuscript-like uses of dense and/or visual text and on the creation of manuscripts to be read aloud, installed in community settings, or web-situated in online community settings, an exhibition of selected different approaches is presented in this Authoring Software feature.

Medieval manuscripts are not a source or inspiration for all of the works presented in this Authoring Software feature. The point is rather that we are in a similar era of changing ways of reading and writing. In the Middle Ages, the introduction of the written word into a spoken word culture where literature was heard may have influenced an approach to the manuscript as "something revealed visually to the understanding through the written word", [2] placing the written word in the category of what was known to seen rather than heard: visual art.

In another era of changing approaches to reading and writing, the introduction of computer screen as parchment has returned the written word to a more visual context. Thus there are works of new media literature, art, and games that incorporate elements of medieval manuscripts, innovatively bringing an earlier age's emphasis on the visual presentation of words into the present.

"...until the new age and science of composition had been in existence some little time we could hardly expect to find that the contemporary writers possessed a vocabulary of agreed technical terms by which they could explain exactly what they were discussing," Dom Anselm Hughes writes to introduce his chapter on "The Birth of Polyphony" in Early Medieval Music up to 1300, Volume II of the New Oxford History of Music. [3]

Whether or not one agrees with his assessment of the theorists of the times, today we are in a similar era of developing vocabularies to describe works that continue to be created in new ways. Thus Hughes' suggestion to look at the works themselves is relevant.

Chris Funkhouser - MIDIPoetry Songs

Chris Funkhouser performing with MIDIPoet at Grant Recital Hall, Brown University, June 4, 2010, photo: Amy Hufnagel
Software: Eugenio Tisselli's MIDIPoet

I n a series of works reminiscent of traveling with manuscripts to be read aloud to communities in the Middle Ages, using vast databases of related words and phrases, new media poet Chris Funkhouser composes sound and projection "songs" in different ways and performs them Internationally. Last year, at the Electronic Literature Organization conference at Brown, he performed a MIDIPoetry song -- created using as software Mexican/Spanish poet Eugenio Tisselli's MIDIPoet, which enables real-time composition and performance of interactive visual poetry.

"I learned about Tisselli's program in 2008, when he and I participated in a literary arts festival at Brown University," Funkhouser writes on Authoring Software. "Tisselli used MIDIPoet to propel a digital poetry performance (featuring graphics, text, and gesture) with a mobile phone -- an approach to presentation he also used at E-Poetry 2009 in Barcelona. Having known about MIDI-based art since the mid-90s, when friends of mine studying with George Lewis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's iEar program were coordinating sound and video through MIDI, I was intrigued that a digital poet had engineered such a tool. I used MIDI once before, when an audio engineer who produced some recordings of mine at Multimedia University programmed a keyboard to collect samples of my voice reading lines, and I made a sound poem with them (see Tisselli's arrangement at Interrupt, which allowed for the integration of textual components, planted a seed in my mind, a potential direction to explore at a future date."

Visit for more information.
More information about Eugenio Tisselli's MidiPoet is available at

Maurice Benayoun, Jean-Pierre Balpe, and Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Labylogue. (2000)
Labylogue, a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges' The Library of Babel, was a simulated three-dimensional large-scale visual poetry performance. In art spaces and museums in three different French speaking cities -- Brussels, Lyon, and Dakar -- Labylogue developed eight main themes that invited visitors to meet in the labyrinth and, as they conversed, immerse themselves in the accompanying text on the walls.

Maurice Benayoun: Labylogue
sound: Jean-Baptiste Barrière
text generation: Jean-Pierre Balpe

A textual labyrinth that converts sound to text image in a conversational environment, the seminal computer-mediated installation Labylogue is a simulated three-dimensional electronic manuscript that uses conversation between participants in different locations to create a literature of community discourse.

The project describes itself in this way:

"A mi-chemin entre le livre et la Bibliothèque de Babel de Borgès, les murs se tapissent de phrases générées en temps réel, qui sont autant d'interprétations du dialogue en cours. A son tour le texte fait l'objet d'une interprétation orale qui anime l'espace du labyrinthe tel un choeur de synthèse qui vagabonde sur les rives de la langue en action."

which can be roughly translated as:

"Halfway between the book and the Borges' Library of Babel, the walls are lined with phrases generated in real time, which are many performances of a continuing dialogue. The text then becomes the subject of an oral performance that -- like a synthesized chorus, vagabonding on the banks of the language in action -- animates the labyrinth space."

More information, an image, and credits are available at

Gottfried Haider - Hidden in Plain Sight

Detail from Hidden in Plain Sight

G ottfried Haider's Hidden in Plain Sight is a continually changing, elegant game that creates a code-based literary environment.

"I made the work by modifying the Quake III source code to allow for replacing all the game's textures in real time. Apart from this, there is also a script running outside the game environment which continuously compiles first the compiler and then the Quake III source code. The (textual) output of this process is immediately turned into a texture and displayed in-game," Hader notes to describe the creation of this work. When the compilation of the game is finished, that iteration of the game is ended, and a newly created iteration begins.

Gottfried Haider: Hidden in Plain Sight - detail
In an era in which literate code and software as art have become a part of the both the dialogue and the creation of new media art, this game reveals its code in a lush, negotiable environment.

W hile innovative installational electronic manuscript environments, such also as the seminal Screen, (Noah Wardrip-Fruin and others) are created with authoring tools, such as Cave Writing, since the creation of hypertextual works of literature in what Robert Coover called the "Golden Age" of hyperfiction [4]-- writers and poets have continued to use text to lead to text in innovative hypertextual ways. There are new works being written in Storyspace, including the work of Steve Ersinghaus and of Susan M. Gibb. And there are poets who use HTML, DHTML, CSS and other basic web tools and applications to effectively weave works of literature into the very fabric of the World Wide Web.

Additionally, the potential for individual voices and nonprofit organizations-- such Jacalyn Lopez Garcia's Glass Houses, The James Luna Project, and Free to Dance -- to represent their communities with new media narrative is an important aspect of the vital contribution of electronic narrative to contemporary civilization. Thus, the web itself is an immense library of documents on which civilization continues to be recorded.

Judy Malloy: From Ireland with Letters

I n an electronic manuscript, parallel narratives can be created, and the reader can control how two or more parallel narratives are seen, or can chose to let the narratives merge and diverge at the will of the computer. From Ireland with Letters allows for both approaches, providing an exploratory reader experience of separate yet related narratives. The authoring systems used in From Ireland with Letters include both unmeasured notation and Malloy's text notation system, fiddler's passage. One of the beginnings of this process is in documented in the May 27, 2012 entry of the author's series of online writer's notebooks for From Ireland with Letters.

"At home, thrown back in time to the era when the energy of creating polyphonic music resulted in seminal systems of notation. I perused the books with which I had returned from Friday's one-parking-space holiday expedition:

Willi Apel, The Notation of Polyphonic Music 900-1600, 4th edition, Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1949 and Carl Parrish, Notation of Medieval Music, NY: Norton, 1957

The Notation of Polyphonic Music 900-1600 fell open to page 316 in the chapter on Franconian Notation. On that page, an enchanting facsimile from the circa 13th century Montpellier Manuscript is displayed:

'huic ut' in which the magi bring mystical gifts..."

Intertwining Irish history and generations of Irish American family memories in a work of polyphonic literature based on the rhythms of ancient Irish Poetry, the imagined lost Irish Sonata, the madrigal, streams and fountains, and Irish song, From Ireland with Letters is an epic electronic manuscript told in the public space of the Internet. It could also be considered playable text or generative hyperfiction. The role of displacement and disrupted tradition in the work of contemporary Irish authors is paralleled in this polyphonic Irish American electronic manuscript, which interweaves the stories of Walter Power -- who came to America as an Irish slave on The Goodfellow in 1654, stolen from his family by Cromwell's soldiers and sold in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when he was 14 years old -- and his descendant, 19th century Irish AAmerican sculptor Hiram Powers, who grew up on a Vermont farm and moved to Florence, Italy, where his work played a symbolic role in the fight against African American slavery in America.

Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck: Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles

Cynthia-Beth Rubin: visuals, narrative
Bob Gluck: music, programming
Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles
installation, Jewish Museum in Prague
Photo by Dana Cabanova from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague Photo Archive

Created in Toledo in about 1260, an illuminated Hebrew Bible was taken out of Spain in 1492 during the Expulsion of Jews from Spain. On their website describing the installation, The Jewish Museum in Prague notes that "It traveled to the Ottoman town of Safed in Northern Galilee, where it was amongst religious mystics seeking the means to repair the ills of the world (Tikkun ha-Olam). It subsequently disappeared until around 1894, when, mysteriously, three volumes of the Bible were discovered in the collection of the Bibliotheque Municipale of Marseilles."

In their computer-mediated interactive installation, Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck involve the viewer in the known narrative of the Bible and in its unknown travels as imagined by the artists. As active participants in the narrative, viewers explore an electronic illuminated manuscript. And in the process, not only the user/viewer but also other viewers in the gallery participate in the experience.

To create the work, Bob Gluck did the interactive programming in Max/MSP/Jitter, and he also composed the music.

Cynthia-Beth Rubin created the visuals and narrative. She describes the process in this way: "I made complicated layered images in Photoshop, and then animated them in "Morph" by Gryphon Software. (no longer available, but I am still animating stills using other morphing software) I also used After Effects -- both to plan the changes for the morphs, and then to colorize and crop." She adds that although the animations are six seconds long in real time, "every viewer experience is different every time."

Cynthia-Beth Rubin: visuals, narrative
Bob Gluck: music, programming
Layered Histories: The Wandering Bible of Marseilles
installation, Jewish Museum in Prague
Photo by Dana Cabanova, from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague Photo Archive

More information is available on the website of the
Jewish Museum in Prague
and on Cynthia-Beth Rubin's website

British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

M edieval manuscripts documented in online resources and databases are useful not only to medieval scholars but also to writers and artists who are interested in how text was used visually in the Middle Ages. For instance, the comprehensive British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts can be searched by keyword. Searches return images of the manuscipt pages as well as bibliographic information.

A search for "glossing" reveals, among other things, H orace's Odes (French) with decorated initials and handwritten glosses.

A search for "music" reveals, among other things, an example of Medieval multimedia: D avid with his harp and prayer from the beginning of a Dutch Gradual.

And a search for "calendars" produces, among many others

A n English calendar page with illuminated initials

A n English wheel chart with moving parts

A n Austrian astronomical table

A Scottish Calendar page for January

Other manuscript resources on the World Wide Web include:

Q uranic manuscripts - collected by Prof. B. Wheeler

I luminated Islamic Manuscript - Yale University Library

C hinese Text Initiative - University of Virginia Library
a scholarly yet evocative look at early Chinese poetry manuscripts

T he Book of Kells: The pages of history- Washington-Centerville Public Library Documentary

" I n this dazzling new culture, a book was not an isolated object on a dusty shelf: book truly spoke to book, and writer to scribe, and scribe to reader, from one generation to the next. These books were, as we would say in today's jargon, open, interfacing, and intertextual -- glorious literary smorgasbords in which the scribe often tried to include a bit of everything, from every era, language, and style known to him," Thomas Cahill writes of the medieval culture. [5]

Brian Thomas: The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau - from If Monks had Macs

The first new media artist to create a comprehensive work based on the idea of a Monastery library is Brian Thomas whose seminal If Monks Had Macs, first created with Philip A. Mohr, in 1988 -- before the advent of the World Wide Web -- has recently been reissued by rivertext. "Monks was originally written in HyperCard. The current version, which works on the Windows as well as the Macintosh platform was written with Runrev Revolution," Thomas explains. (Note that the "HyperCard descended" Runrev Revolution is now called LiveCode.)

Brian Thomas, A screen of text and altered text from "The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau", part of an ebook included in the new version of If Monks had Macs

The new If Monks had Macs CD-ROM includes an ebook with interactive notebook features that use literary analysis tools to look at the work of Henry David Thoreau. Like much of Thomas' work, this edition of Thoreau is interesting, complex, detailed, and it provides a gateway to new ways of exploring literary texts. To find out more, visit "The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau"
or visit rivertext's Literary Machines page

To find out more about the ebooks in If Monks Had Macs, including also JFK Witness, visit

For information on the new version of If Monks Had Macs, visit

Mark Marino, Marginalia in the Library of Babel


"B ut the narrator has made a discovery. Technology that enables him to make his mark upon these pages," Mark Marino writes on Authoring Software to introduce his Marginalia in the Library of Babel. "He has discovered social bookmarking and social annotation, which has allowed him to annotate this already written world, and then to share these annotations -- opening up the possibility of not just gaining some power over the infinite (assuming that's possible) and communicating his little missives to others. He is writing his stories by talking to himself while pacing the halls of the Internet."

There are two versions of this story that offer much of the same content but that are essentially different. To follow Mark Marino's adventures in annotating the World Wide Web, begin with Marginalia in the Library of Babel on WRT: Writer Response Theory. This version was created with the social annotation software Diigo.

and then visit

Marginalia in the Library of Babel on The New River Journal. This version uses custom built javascript to simulate Diigo annotations.

Marino notes that

"The reason for the second version is one of the constant tropes of New Media: archiving and preservation. While I don't know the future of Diigo or even the web pages I annotated (indeed some of them live in the Internet Archive already, a.k.a the Wayback Machine), I do know that these pages will run on most browsers for the foreseeable future. To publish this story in New River Journal and to assure that the notes would be visible, I had to get some help building a standalone annotation system, one that is, ironically, not social. The pages had to go from living, breathing Web pages to copies."

To find out more about the creation of Marginalia in the Library of Babel, read Mark Marino's complete statement on Authoring Software.

Nanette Wylde - The Qi Project

User input screen from The Qi Project

W ith quiet elegance, The Qi Project brings the question of humanity and what means to be human into the realm of electronic manuscripts. And -- eliciting answers from its readers, displaying the responses -- this interactive installation/webwork is a cogent reminder of who we are in an increasingly complex and computer-mediated world.

On Authoring Software, Nanette Wylde describes The Qi Project, created with Flash, Final Cut, Perl, and CGI, as "an inquiry into the nature of humanity and what it means to be human at this moment in time."

"Qi is a Chinese word which literally means 'air' or 'breath,'" the artist explains. "It is considered to be the circulating life force."

More information is available on Authoring Software at

Regina Pinto, producer: AlphaAlpha

detail from AlphaAlpha

T o produce the collaborative AlphaAlpha, Brazilian artist Regina Pinto used a variety of graphic art, animation, video, website design, and sound software applications, including Adobe Premiere Elements 7.0, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, Dreamweaver 8.0, Flash 8.0, Photoshop 7.0 and Sound Forge 9.0. AlphaAlpha includes 365 illuminations of the letter "A" -- plus one more for the leap year -- from artists & poets from all around the world, including Brazil, USA, Canada, Chile, France, UK, Argentina, Finland, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Uruguay, Spain, and Mexico.

Quoting Frederic W. Goudy's The Alphabet and Elements of Lettering, Pinto explains that "The concept of this netbook is the proper "history of writing, which is, in a way, the history of the human race, since in it are bound up, severally and together, the development of thought, of expression, of art, of intercommunication, and of mechanical invention." [6]

For more information, visit her statement about AlphaAlpha on Authoring Software.

J.R. Carpenter: The Broadside of a Yarn

Detail from J.R. Carpenter: The Broadside of a Yarn

C ommissioned by ELMCIP for the 2012 Remediating the Social exhibition in Edinburgh, The Broadside of a Yarn is an innovative, richly detailed 21st century locative broadside, for which J.R. Carpenter created a series of computer-generated narrative dialogues that are accessed via QR codes.

One generator "is composed entirely of dialogue from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer. Another contains lines of dialogue from Shakespeare's The Tempest," she explains in her Authoring Software statement. "Details from many a high sea story have been netted by this net-worked work. The combinatorial powers of computer-generated narrative conflate and confabulate characters, facts, and forms of narrative accounts of fantastical islands, impossible pilots, and voyages into the unknown undertaken over the past 2340 years."

Existing not only as a series of gallery mounted "map squares" of dense images found and/or created, in Edinburgh but also as a live many-voiced performance, The Broadside of a Yarn was/is in her words "a pervasive performative wander through a sea of sailors' yarns".

Details about the creation of this work are also available in J.R. Carpenter, "The Broadside of a Yarn. A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore", Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts 18:5, 2013. pages 88-95.

Jim Andrews - The Pen

I n The Decorated Letter, J.J.G. Alexander writes about the letters in The Book of Kells in this way:

"The letter shapes stand out from the confused mass of pattern by their purple or orange outline. The repeated circles which are like enameled escutcheons from hanging bowls, seem to revolve before our eyes. The L shaped panel at the bottom right corner also serves as a stabilizing frame, preventing the rioting patterns from exploding out of the page." [7]

detail from The Pen

C anadian-based digital poet Jim Andrews used Adobe Director to create The Pen. The work is difficult to convey in a still image because it relies on the constant motion of letters to make a restless, dense, brilliantly colored series of animated letters that suggest their meaning with a continually shifting visual impact. It can be seen in motion at (shockwave plugin is required to view the interactive version)

With a constant of the letters T I M E, the work is a series of short digital poems with titles such as "Time", "Don't just sit there", "Meant to be", "an unfinished poem", "Pen is as pen would", "all the live long day", "poesy machine", "& what you make of it".


1. the conjunction of oral literature and reading in the Middle Ages was set forth in a series of panels at Reading The Middle Ages, an International Graduate Student Conference hosted by the UC Berkeley Program in Medieval Studies on March 25, 2011. Several papers were of particular interest in the context of this Authoring Software feature:
Hélène Haug, (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium) "Private or Public Reading? The View of Contemporary Historians", a paper that used textual analysis to reveal what the writers themselves said about their work and in the process presented cogent evidence that in the Middle Ages many written texts were meant to be read aloud;


Amelia Garcia, (Simon Fraser University, Department of English) "United Through Time: The Oral Connection of Vernacular Texts in Arundel 292", in which she looked at how written bestiaries -- that used the lives of animals to teach the living of human lives -- were carried into communities and read aloud.

Other works of interest in the context of Authoring Software, were Deirdre Jackson's (British Library, Department of Manuscripts) work on the "Cantigas de Santa Maria", which include music as well as visuals and text and Matthew Sergei's (UC Berkeley, Department of English) talk on interactive readership in "The Chance of the Dice". In this work, created by a medieval poet, fictional/semi-fictional texts were written and numbered and then produced by a throw of the dice. As each player received a text, their character was defined, and in the whole process, a kind of story was generated.

2. J.J.G. Alexander, The Decorated Letter. New York: George Braziller, 1978. p. 7 Alexander also points out the ambiguity of legible/illegible in medieval manuscripts, observing a scribe's training in regularity while at the same time noting that "On the other hand, ambiguity and variation are vital elements in many forms of medieval decoration. Thus, from the start the decorated letter was an illogical combination of opposed requirements in legibility, and also in so far as it might render the expected form of the letter unrecognizable by distorting or altering it." p.8

3.Dom Anselm Hughes, Early Medieval Music up to 1300, New Oxford History of Music, Vol II. London: Oxford University Press, 1954. p. 270

4.Robert Coover, "Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age", Keynote Address, Digital Arts and Culture, Atlanta, Georgia, October 29, 1999. FEED Magazine, 2000

5. Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, the Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. NY: Nan A. Talese/Anchor Books, 1995. p. 163

6. Frederic W. Goudy, The Alphabet and Elements of Lettering,
Chapter 1: "The Beginnings of the Alphabet"

7. J.J.G. Alexander, Op. cit., p. 42

8. Michael Joyce, Of Two Minds, Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics, Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1995. pp. 23-24

produced by Judy Malloy
for Authoring Software

last update March 20, 2014

Regina Pinto, Producer, detail from AlphaAlpha

Index to The Electronic Manuscript

Noah Wardrip Fruin, with Camille Utterback,
Clilly Castiglia, and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin
Talking Cure


Chris Funkhouser performing with Eugenio Tiselli's MIDIPoet

Maurice Benayoun

Gottfried Haider
Hidden in Plain Sight

Judy Malloy
From Ireland with Letters

Cynthia-Beth Rubin and Bob Gluck
The Wandering Bible of Marseilles

British Library Catalogue
of Illuminated Manuscripts

Brian Thomas
The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau

Mark Marino
Marginalia in the Library of Babel

Nanette Wylde
The Qi Project

Regina Pinto

J.R. Carpenter
The Broadside of a Yarn

Jim Andrews
The Pen


image from Roberto Dillon's
Orfeo: a Game in Music
which was created using the 2D game
creation engine Construct

I n Of Two Minds,
Michael Joyce notes how the
attributes of written language
influence digital screens:
"Print literally gives way
on hypermedia screens to digitized sound,
animation, video, virtual reality
and computer networks or databases
that are linked to it." [8]

Indeed, there are works
that using combinations of
visual elements and text,
invoke this attribute of
medieval manuscripts.
Some examples are:

J. R. Carpenter
Entre Ville

M.D. Coverley
Pyxis Byzantium

D. Fox Harrell and Kenny K. N. Chow
Generative Visual Renku: Poetic Multimedia Semantics with the GRIOT System

J udy Malloy and Sonya Rapoport
Objective Connections

Other works and approaches
not covered in the body of this
feature but of interest in this
context are:

works that use the medieval
concept of fortunetelling
R ob Kendall

Diagrammic works
J im Rosenberg
Diagram Poems

textual analysis
N ick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland
Sea and Spar Between

Chaucerian narrative
D ene Grigar
The 24-Hr. Micro-Elit Project

D eena Larson

Mock epic heroism
M ichael Martin
Flight of the Hummingbird

The decorated letter
in poetry

O ni Buchanon
The Mandrake Vehicles

A na Maria Uribe
Step by Step

Tools for Contemporary Manuscripts

K ari Kraus,
"Virtual Letterpress Printing"

T he works displayed here are only a beginning of looking at how contemporary electronic manuscripts refect concerns of a similar time. There are also many "portfolio" pages of by artists and arts organizations -- such as William Wiley's home page -- that utlize manuscript-like vibrant imagery in combination with text and/or the idea of repositories of information. Among many of others, a few that are of interest to new media writers and artists are:

A merican Film Institute

W illa Cather Foundation

J ohn Cage Database

D ale Chihuly

J oseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination

T he Dickens Web

E astgate

E lectronic Literature Directory

T ranscriptions

F ree to Dance

k.d. lang

A nne Rice

T he Chicano Movement- Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project

H arlem 1900-1940 - Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

A llan Houser

J anis Joplin

J une Jordan

B right Sheng

T amarack - The Best of West Virginia

T exas Music Project

T wyla Tharp

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