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Midnight Mass from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint George in Southwark

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I have just watched this and wondered whether any other board users have also seen it and, if so, what they thought about it. In particular, I would be interested to know people's thoughts on the setting, the anthems and the descants/last verse arrangements - particularly that to O Come, all ye Faithful.

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Ooh! Where's that? This time last year, I was re-wiring the organ and putting the restored console back in... assuming it's the RC Compton.

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I think I sped through this over breakfast on Christmas morning before heading off to my own service, but I deleted it straight off the Sky+. I didn't particularly enjoy the service as a whole, but my abiding memory will be of the last verse of 'O come, all ye faithful' and the fact that the singing got completely disjointed, so in that sense the setting (with descanting trumpet) failed.

 

On the other hand, this evening I've been through the broadcast from Lichfield on Christmas morning which has stayed (for the moment, at least). Some of it sounds a bit exciting with the organ tuned sharp (I can't sing Hark the herald in G, let alone higher!), but the music and liturgy flowed well. It's very easy to knock the F in Darke mass but it is a wonderful example of its form (a mass conceived for the liturgy, as opposed to the more extravagant settings which fill the music lists of Cathedrals nowadays).

 

I understand that descants are always a source for much debate, but for 'O come, all ye faithful' I really don't think you can beat the Willcocks setting - the descant for verse 6 is well-conceived and the last verse setting is thrilling.

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Yes, I've no idea what the last verse of O Come was meant to sound like. Astonished they didn't have someone conducting in the nave. It's a weeny organ, that. The display pipes facing West are double over-length - it's the 8' Stopped Flute rank which appears only in the Pedal Harmonics. The expression boxes face north. Immediately behind the grille high up behind Decani is the Tuba, Diaphone and Polyphone. Bizarre budget layout. I can't believe how good it sounds despite all that.

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Yes, I've no idea what the last verse of O Come was meant to sound like. Astonished they didn't have someone conducting in the nave. It's a weeny organ, that. The display pipes facing West are double over-length - it's the 8' Stopped Flute rank which appears only in the Pedal Harmonics. The expression boxes face north. Immediately behind the grille high up behind Decani is the Tuba, Diaphone and Polyphone. Bizarre budget layout. I can't believe how good it sounds despite all that.

 

 

===============================

 

 

I think St George's RC cathedral at Southwark, has about 18 ranks of pipes, which is actually quite a lot in Compton terms. (I assume that the Mixtures are derived throughout).

 

The fact that it sounds so good....and it does.....is why Compton's methods so fascinate me, but make no mistake, it was not budget organ-building, so much as maximising what could be achieved within a given budget.

 

Considering some of the things which could replace it, I think I'd be happy to live with the Compton day by day, but that is probably an unfashionable view.

 

MM

 

PS: It's still avaiulable to hear on iPlayer via the BBC, but not for long. I think it will disappear tomorrow, Saturday.

 

PPS: I've just flipped through all the musical bits. I don't think the organist was entirely predictable or regular in holding everyone together, but I suspect that it was the trumpeter who caused mayhem for whatever reason. His timing was distinctly rubato, and I wonder if he actually couldn't hear what was going on?

The only place for the trumpet player should have been near the choir and organ, rather than standing in what sounds to be London Bridge station.

What a strangely syncopated descant.....a bit OTT in my humble estimation, and one bound to confuse the congregation.

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Most of the Mixtures aren't derived on that instrument - there are 2 independent ranks on each manual division, and as already observed the Pedal Harmonics has its own rank. We were slightly naughty, and added some extra ranks to the Harmonics. According to the old ladder switches, it contained only quints and a Tierce. Because the new system is software based, we were able to add a Septieme and None to it as well, and my goodness it thunders with the best of them now.

 

The trumpeter is the nearest person to the congro, and is right beneath the organ pipes and very much closer to the choir than may at first be supposed. The biggest problem with holding things together in there is the ridiculous position of the console - right up against the East wall underneath the window, behind a screen. It's an unimaginably difficult position from which to lead the congregation.

 

During the rebuilding they were using an Allen located just in front of the front row of seats, and it made things very much easier.

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<SNIP>The biggest problem with holding things together in there is the ridiculous position of the console - right up against the East wall underneath the window, behind a screen. It's an unimaginably difficult position from which to lead the congregation.

 

During the rebuilding they were using an Allen located just in front of the front row of seats, and it made things very much easier.

 

So ermmm.... why is the console in that location?

 

I still have (on Sky+) a recording of last year's (2010) Midnight Mass at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The congregation was somewhat depleted because of the bitter cold weather, but what a treat! Philip Duffy's responsorials were used, and every so often I go to saved programmes and have a listen!

 

And I just love that organ!

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Most of the Mixtures aren't derived on that instrument - there are 2 independent ranks on each manual division, and as already observed the Pedal Harmonics has its own rank. We were slightly naughty, and added some extra ranks to the Harmonics. According to the old ladder switches, it contained only quints and a Tierce. Because the new system is software based, we were able to add a Septieme and None to it as well, and my goodness it thunders with the best of them now.

 

The trumpeter is the nearest person to the congro, and is right beneath the organ pipes and very much closer to the choir than may at first be supposed. The biggest problem with holding things together in there is the ridiculous position of the console - right up against the East wall underneath the window, behind a screen. It's an unimaginably difficult position from which to lead the congregation.

 

During the rebuilding they were using an Allen located just in front of the front row of seats, and it made things very much easier.

 

 

================================

 

 

Ah! I wondered if Compton had provided for independent mixture ranks, and it seems so. That pushes the total to about 22 - 24 ranks, which is quite a lot to work with.

 

I quite approve of adding additional notes to the 32ft Harmonics......that's in the spirit of Compton......but all from the one rank?

 

I'm sure that's not the way Compton did it, but if it works, fine.

 

Apparently, each of those Harmonics stops were wired up on site, and they experimented with various tappings until it sounded right. It's sine-wave synthesis organ-pipe style, and it works very well in the best installations.

 

Thanks for telling us about the console position. That makes a big difference, and explains a great deal.

 

Although I lived half-a-mile down the Thames from there, I never did see, hear or play the instrument. I was probably having fun dropping in to hear the choir-practice at a gospel church, (very good) and playing the Trocadero Wurlitzer when it was in the South Bank Poly (now Uni).

 

It was quite a unique corner of London back then, and apart from the loss of the Wurlitzer, still is.

 

MM

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So ermmm.... why is the console in that location?

 

I still have (on Sky+) a recording of last year's (2010) Midnight Mass at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The congregation was somewhat depleted because of the bitter cold weather, but what a treat! Philip Duffy's responsorials were used, and every so often I go to saved programmes and have a listen!

 

And I just love that organ!

 

========================

 

 

What do you expect when the organ was voiced by Denis Thurlow?

 

Did you ever see or hear of the newspaper article about him while he was doing the voicing?

 

Apparently, so dedicated to the job was he, Denis slept on the windchests in a sleeping bag, and I think there was a delightful photograph of him in said bag, with his head poking out.

 

In spite of a slightly confusing acoustic, it IS a super organ; especially when heard beneath the funnel.

 

MM

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Most of the Mixtures aren't derived on that instrument - there are 2 independent ranks on each manual division, and as already observed the Pedal Harmonics has its own rank. We were slightly naughty, and added some extra ranks to the Harmonics. According to the old ladder switches, it contained only quints and a Tierce. Because the new system is software based, we were able to add a Septieme and None to it as well, and my goodness it thunders with the best of them now.

 

The trumpeter is the nearest person to the congro, and is right beneath the organ pipes and very much closer to the choir than may at first be supposed. The biggest problem with holding things together in there is the ridiculous position of the console - right up against the East wall underneath the window, behind a screen. It's an unimaginably difficult position from which to lead the congregation.

 

During the rebuilding they were using an Allen located just in front of the front row of seats, and it made things very much easier.

 

This is interesting. I thought that the Harmonics of 32ft. was extremely impressive - even through TV speakers. It was actually quite difficult to belive that someone had not extended the Bombarde downwards.

 

Out of interest, why is the console (still) behind the screen? I should think that it is almost as bad as playing in another room.

 

With regard to the last verse of O Come, all ye Faithful, I thought that it was distinctly bizarre - leaving aside problems of co-ordination; harmonically it just did not work for me - particularly the B-flat major chord half-way through, with the following progression, which apparently descended into harmonic chaos for a brief period.

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========================

 

 

What do you expect when the organ was voiced by Denis Thurlow?

 

Did you ever see or hear of the newspaper article about him while he was doing the voicing?

 

Apparently, so dedicated to the job was he, Denis slept on the windchests in a sleeping bag, and I think there was a delightful photograph of him in said bag, with his head poking out.

 

In spite of a slightly confusing acoustic, it IS a super organ; especially when heard beneath the funnel.

 

MM

 

Indeed. I have the privilege of playing its smaller brother (complete with similar chamade) several times a week, in the course of my job. To the best of my knowledge, he was also the voicer of this instrument too. This means that a number of things which should not 'work' , according to textbooks, do; such as a high-pitched compound stop on top of a flute chorus, with a three-octave gap between it and the Principal. In fact, the Positive chorus works so well that, on adding it to the the choruses of the G.O. and Swell, it is almost possible to believe that one were in a large Dutch church (without the echo, unfortunately). The blending possibilites of this instrument are excellent. Given the extremely dry acoustic, in my view, this instrument is even more of a tour-de-force of voicing.

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With regard to the last verse of O Come, all ye Faithful, I thought that it was distinctly bizarre - leaving aside problems of co-ordination; harmonically it just did not work for me - particularly the B-flat major chord half-way through, with the following progression, which apparently descended into harmonic chaos for a brief period.

 

I have only just seen this topic and have had a listen to sections of the service on iPlayer. Interesting to hear the Geoffrey Shaw arrangement of Puer Nobis for the first hymn - did this inspire Sir David's version?

 

I agree with the comments made about O Come. The arrangement seemed to be trying too hard to be harmonically 'daring', and getting into a tangle as a result, with progressions that sound contrived. I'm not so keen on a lot of high-lying writing for the top line either, as it is in danger of sounding 'screechy'.

 

For similar reasons, I can't take to the descant for Once in Royal as broadcast from King's on Christmas Eve.

 

I detected a certain amount of harmonic chaos in the last verse of Of the Father's... too.

 

The Willcocks last verse for O Come has already been mentioned on the thread. It's interesting to compare it with what we hear on this broadcast, and to note how the Willcocks arrangement sticks pretty close to the harmony of the original, with a few more 'colourful' chords at key points. (Ditto for the last verse of Hark the Herald.) I do think that descants and last-verse re-harmonisations work best when they follow this approach; in other words, when they don't try to be too clever.

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The console is such a mammoth solid construction, and there are so many steps, that there really isn't any possibility of making it mobile. It's bizarre that the console is so solid because most of the rest of the instrument is made of hardboard and Tabopan.

 

Yes, the Harmonics is all derived from the one rank, with the exception I think of the largest unison. That's the way it was, and usually is I understand - a massively wide scaled stopped flute of Tibia-like quality with no harmonic development of its own.

 

As for 'sleeping on the job' I can't claim to be as dedicated as Thurlow, but I did take my excellent VW van with me (www.winniebus.co.uk) :)

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========================

 

 

What do you expect when the organ was voiced by Denis Thurlow?

 

Did you ever see or hear of the newspaper article about him while he was doing the voicing?

 

Apparently, so dedicated to the job was he, Denis slept on the windchests in a sleeping bag, and I think there was a delightful photograph of him in said bag, with his head poking out.

 

In spite of a slightly confusing acoustic, it IS a super organ; especially when heard beneath the funnel.

 

MM

 

Thurlow may have been in charge, but I suspect many of the then Walker voicing team were involved. I remember last Autumn seeing a picture of the lowest notes of the 32ft laid sideways across the back wall of the chamber/platform with Keith Bance voicing them.

PJW

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The console is such a mammoth solid construction, and there are so many steps, that there really isn't any possibility of making it mobile. It's bizarre that the console is so solid because most of the rest of the instrument is made of hardboard and Tabopan.

 

Yes, the Harmonics is all derived from the one rank, with the exception I think of the largest unison. That's the way it was, and usually is I understand - a massively wide scaled stopped flute of Tibia-like quality with no harmonic development of its own.

 

As for 'sleeping on the job' I can't claim to be as dedicated as Thurlow, but I did take my excellent VW van with me (www.winniebus.co.uk) :)

 

 

=======================

 

Interesting!

 

Firstly a negative. One of the materials used could not be Tabopan, because it didn't appear until 1962, but it could be something similar.

 

Compton were certainly producing their own bakelite, but I doubt that they made their own fibre-boards. Still, nothing is impossible with that company, as I often discover.

 

I presume that the entire instrument is built on the unit principle, and if so, the engineering would require nothing more than long-term stability and weight-bearing characteristics; neither bars nor sliders involved. I would also assume that the unit-chests are more or less standard.

 

Compton certainly demonstrated that there was a different way of doing organ-building, using modular parts and construction, and they have been proved right, with many instruments still in good playing condition.

 

Thanks for the information about the 32ft Harmonics. I wasn't aware that they derived from a unison rank and a single "harmonics" rank. The tonal characteristics would need to be as close to pure sine-wave as possible, and a Compton Tibia would fit the bill.

 

MM

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Living in the land of Oz, we are unable to watch BBC iplayer, as it is regionally constricted. I'm particularly sad about this as I would have loved to hear Norman Harper's brilliant playing at St George's- a very fine player every time I've heard him.

For those interested in what our local Cathedral (Sydney) produces at Christmas (and I'm sure some of us will be shuddering at the very mention of Sydney cathedral and its attendant evangelicalism!), I do know that this link works across the great great divide: It was broadcast here on Christmas Eve, and gives a fair picture of what goes on in the majority of the (almost entirely) evangelical diocese's churches:

Happy New Year from Sydney too!

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/carolsfromstandrews.htm?WT.svl=tv0

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The console is such a mammoth solid construction, and there are so many steps, that there really isn't any possibility of making it mobile. It's bizarre that the console is so solid because most of the rest of the instrument is made of hardboard and Tabopan.

 

 

Here it is!

 

A

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Living in the land of Oz, we are unable to watch BBC iplayer, as it is regionally constricted. I'm particularly sad about this as I would have loved to hear Norman Harper's brilliant playing at St George's- a very fine player every time I've heard him.

For those interested in what our local Cathedral (Sydney) produces at Christmas (and I'm sure some of us will be shuddering at the very mention of Sydney cathedral and its attendant evangelicalism!), I do know that this link works across the great great divide: It was broadcast here on Christmas Eve, and gives a fair picture of what goes on in the majority of the (almost entirely) evangelical diocese's churches:

Happy New Year from Sydney too!

http://www.abc.net.a....htm?WT.svl=tv0

 

====================

 

 

 

Don't be sad....be happy! :D

 

 

Here it is, with lots of other You Tube videos of the same broadcast!

 

 

 

 

MM

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Living in the land of Oz, we are unable to watch BBC iplayer, as it is regionally constricted. I'm particularly sad about this as I would have loved to hear Norman Harper's brilliant playing at St George's- a very fine player every time I've heard him.

For those interested in what our local Cathedral (Sydney) produces at Christmas (and I'm sure some of us will be shuddering at the very mention of Sydney cathedral and its attendant evangelicalism!), I do know that this link works across the great great divide: It was broadcast here on Christmas Eve, and gives a fair picture of what goes on in the majority of the (almost entirely) evangelical diocese's churches:

Happy New Year from Sydney too!

http://www.abc.net.a....htm?WT.svl=tv0

 

=============================

 

 

Well, you can't fault the music, but the concept.............................ugh!

 

Why can't people shut-up once in a while?

 

I found myself wanting to hear Stephen Fry and the panellists of QI rather than a dubious lecture concerning biblical authority. (Of which there is almost none, unless you're trying to market the birth to the Jews of the day, as a fulfilment of prophesy).

 

Better, I think, to read "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens, and listen to the traditional service from King's. Only then does it make sense.

 

MM

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Here it is!

 

A

 

=======================

 

 

I know people who could get that console to walk up and down steps on its own.

 

I'm not saying it would be cheap, but it could be done for a quarter of a million or so.

 

Of course, with current health & safety legislation, the organist would have to be provided with a safety-seat, harnesses, a hard hat, liability insurance, a first-aid kit, yellow flashing beacons and an audible alarm everytime it moved. That does tend to limit things and pee on the idea of an all-singing, all-dancing console; attractive as that might be.

 

I've actually driven (played) on a machine which can do this, but they had to remove me from the driving seat when I was in danger of turning the thing over. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

 

MM

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I agree with the comments made about O Come. The arrangement seemed to be trying too hard to be harmonically 'daring', and getting into a tangle as a result, with progressions that sound contrived. I'm not so keen on a lot of high-lying writing for the top line either, as it is in danger of sounding 'screechy'.

 

 

I don't like to make critical comments, but I listened to this about 15 minutes ago, and I'm still on edge!! Best to keep things on the simple side I think - even without the tangle (which they did well to survive) I don't think one would want to hear the harmonisation again.

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Thanks for posting the YouTube extracts for those of us who can't get the BBC recording. I felt that the problem with 'O come, all ye faithful' was not entirely that the arrangements were over-elaborate but that the speed at the beginning was too fast. It slowed down in the course of the hymn, but never entirely settled. The descant on 'Sing, choirs of angels' seemed to be enjoyed by the choristers (an important plus point!), but was hampered by the unsteady speed. Similarly, the fanfares for the last verse came over as more syncopated than may have been intended. Perhaps a steadier pace to start would have avoided all this?

 

The organ, I thought, sounded very fine indeed, as did the choir. The mass setting deserves to be taken into repertoires elsewhere if it's not there already and the Rimski Lord's Prayer was far superior to the general run of post-VAT2 ditties (and seemed to be taken up by the congregation). I've only ever seen the outside of the cathedral when driving past it, but it looked very beautiful and impressive in the video.

 

It was disturbing to see the comment from the DoM on the Hakim video that the organ was a heap and they needed a new one. It seems to be a first-class example of a Compton, and that's one fine organ. It would have been somewhat old-fashioned, I suppose, when it went in, and neither the church nor the organ has had any reputation until recently, but today a good Compton deserves to be appreciated. I'm sure Letourneau would do a great job with a new organ, but not at all convinced that they shouldn't keep the Compton.

 

The first Midnight Mass in North America went well (we are stuck out so far into the Atlantic that we are half an hour ahead of the rest of the continent). Hassler's Missa super dixit Maria and sundry Christmassy stuff.....

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The console is such a mammoth solid construction, and there are so many steps, that there really isn't any possibility of making it mobile. It's bizarre that the console is so solid because most of the rest of the instrument is made of hardboard and Tabopan.

 

Yes, the Harmonics is all derived from the one rank, with the exception I think of the largest unison. That's the way it was, and usually is I understand - a massively wide scaled stopped flute of Tibia-like quality with no harmonic development of its own.

 

As for 'sleeping on the job' I can't claim to be as dedicated as Thurlow, but I did take my excellent VW van with me (www.winniebus.co.uk) :)

 

==========================

 

 

I'm not being pedantic, but with a growing portfolio of all things Compton, I've tried to find out materials which are likely to have been used by Compton.

 

I don't know if anyone on the board knows, but during WW2, plywood and hardboard gliders were made, which were used to drop troops from the air; towed by powered combat aircraft. I have yet to discover who designed or executed these craft, but a company called "Masonite," which still exists, had pioneered hardboard as early as the 1920's, and this included external cladding material which proved less than ideal in damp conditions.

 

The difference between hardboard and fibre (fiber) board, is the fact that the former uses natural wood resin; the entire material produced by a pressure-autoclave method, which takes the "pressure-cooker" to around 400 p.s.i., and which is then suddenly brought back to atmospheric pressure, resulting in the wood-fibres exploding. It is then pressed, dried and formed into shape, from what must presumably be a sort of sludge or paste.

 

Bakelite, on the other hand, was a thermoplastic containing compressed cardboard, so far as I know.

 

I haven't spoken to anyone with detailed knowledge of Compton hardboard materials, but in general, it seems that varnishing of the boarding will prevent any tendency to rot over time, and I understand that Compton hardboard components are always sealed and varnished.

 

I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if I eventually learn that Compton bought his materials from America, but maybe someone knows better?

 

Interestingly, 70+ years on, quite a lot of Compton organs are still functioning well; possibly because the engineering was well conceived and executed.

 

MM

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The chap who runs this place http://www.bakelitemuseum.co.uk/index.htm near to me in West Somerset would probably be able to give you chapter and verse about Bakelite and may have some Compton artefacts in his collection. From memory, the consoles of Compton's pipe and electronic organs had a switch with a brass plate and a large bakelite knob.

 

N

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The chap who runs this place http://www.bakelitem...co.uk/index.htm near to me in West Somerset would probably be able to give you chapter and verse about Bakelite and may have some Compton artefacts in his collection. From memory, the consoles of Compton's pipe and electronic organs had a switch with a brass plate and a large bakelite knob.

 

N

 

==========================

 

 

Ah! How interesting.

 

I didn't know that Bakelite was invented by a Belgian, and that it was produced at a factory in Birmingham, as well as other places presumably.

 

At a guess, (and it is a guess), the material would be bought in solid sheet form, and then heat moulded at the Compton works in Acton.

 

I must have changed dozens of Bakelite distrubutor rotors in a variety of cars over the years, without realising that they were made of Bakelite. Quite an impressive material, considering the high voltage which passed across them (10,000V +) and then sparked across to the distributor cap and the plug-leads.

 

MM

 

 

PS: The Bakelite switch is not surprising. I have some VERY old vehicle switches, which must go back to 1930 or before, and they are of compound metal/insulating material, all neatly rivetted together to form a laminate. The various hinges are machined into the metal bits, and the contact plates made of similar metal/insulating material (probably shellac), with brass strips to make or break the circuit. In other words, they're very complicated little things. When Bakelite came along, it was possible to have precision moulding, and to then machine the moulding afterwards; the whole body being light, strong and a perfect insulator. Thus, it simplified the whole thing by a substantial factor. Only old ceramic pottery switches could compare, but they were very difficult to work at the production stage, and being ceramic, it wasn't possible to machine them. Instead, all the working parts would be brass.

 

Quite a revolutionary material was Bakelite.

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