Archives for category: Bioacoustics

nogr*baga

Vaccabons et malfactours
FRÉDÉRIC NOGRAY -working with recordings by Cédric Peyronnet-

(Kaon 2013)

Review by David Vélez

I

There is a strong level of intention in the action of recording environmental sounds. This intention is expressed in aspects like the subject of the recording, the kind of microphones used, the place where the microphones are placed in the field, the hour of the day chosen to record, the time of the year where the recordings were made…etc…etc….

But at the same time recording environmental sounds is a very contemplative action; on every environmental recording we are capturing seconds, minutes and hours of incidental randomness.

But, what makes for random and organic textures, patterns and structures to be so potentially appealing? This is a good question that Psychoacoustics have in a way answered, linking for example the songbirds with the origins of human language. I personally think that the lack of communicating purpose and intention that we find in these random forms is actually what makes them appealing and even meaningful. The absence of ideas and words in their forms allows the listener to explore things in a different way, leading him to bear a more universal and yet personal sense of things.

II

‘La Rivière CD series…Using the sound bank designed by Cédric Peyronnet, who recorded the nuances of Taurion River and its valley for 3 years, in Limousin, sound artists offer their interpretations through a series of compositions. Artists were asked to work on the composition of a sound piece created using the provided recordings or on the composition of a sound piece inspired by listening to the sound provided and consultation of the accompanying documents.’
-From Kaon’s website

Frédéric Nogray has established today as one of the notable sound composers working with untreated recordings of wild life and other natural areas, but in ‘Vaccabons et malfactours’ (part of ‘La Riviere’ series) Nogray limited to equalize, edit and layer preexistent recordings captured by Peyronnet six years ago.

This is a very nice release that, despite of the potential layering, presents itself in an austere documental manner, sounding very realistic and believable.

The area around the Taurion river is probably very quiet and soothing as most of the recordings suggest but Nogray also included recordings that show a louder and harsher aspect of this location; the noisy captures probably belong to heavy rain or a fast-flowing part of the river and these sounds add a great sense of contrast to the piece. There is always a level of eeriness and darkness to a quiet place that, when taken into account, offers depth and mystery to the listener’s experience.

The quality of the sound here is noteworthy, the fine sounds captured by Peyronnet were greatly worked by Nogray who managed to bring out the textures to a very bright and crisp level that I greatly enjoyed; a great work for those interested on environmental recordings with a little fictional twist.

nograaaa3

[Fréderic Nogray]

Frédéric Nogray website
Kaon website

gruen!

Sound Atmospheres of the Colombian Orinoquia
JOSÉ RICARDO DELGADO FRANCO
(Gruenrekorder 2013)

Review by Cheryl Tipp

For somebody like me, who has never ventured outside of Europe before, the opportunity to sit back and listen to the sounds of tropical ecosystems is always something I relish. So when I saw that our friends over at Gruenrekorder were releasing a selection of Colombian soundscapes, I just had to take this one on.

Field recordist and sound artist José Ricardo Delgado Franco is the man responsible for this fine collection. In 2013 he spent two weeks exploring and recording the different ecosystems found within Colombia’s Orinoquia Natural Region – savannah, gallery forests and wetlands. Focusing on the Meta department, Franco recorded the natural sounds of this vast landscape from dawn to dusk and on into the night. The end result is a compilation of seven soundscapes that allow us to get a sense of the habitats visited and species encountered. An additional recording, made in Tuparro National Natural Park two years earlier, complements the set.

So many wonderful sounds are experienced when listening to Franco’s selection. Alien to my ears, these unknown voices fill me with curiosity. What species is making that sound? Is it a bird, or maybe an amphibian? Some species have been identified – the notes tell us that we are hearing the calls of Tufted Capuchins and Red Howler Monkeys for example – and I think this is an important addition. This information reminds us that these are not just “exotic” noises that sound nice but are the voices of living, breathing animals that vocalise for a reason, just like we do, and are essential to the correct functioning of that habitat.

José Ricardo Delgado Franco is a field recordist with obvious talent. ‘Sound Atmospheres of the Colombian Orinoquia’ introduces the listener to the many sounds of this region, giving us a glimpse into Colombia’s rich biodiversity and reminding us of the need to preserve this unspoilt land.

gruen-jr

[José Ricardo Delgado]

José Ricardo Delgado website
Gruenrekorder website

kwi

Interview with Slavek Kwi

by Tobias Fischer

Complementary disconnections

As he puts it himself, Ireland-based sound artist Slavek Kwi is “obsessed by freedom”: The freedom to accept or refuse traditions, the freedom to use or disregard cultural references, the freedom to establish his own ideologies only to question and discard them again. For his possibly most ambitious project to date, “Boto [Encantado]”, Kwi made full use of this freedom, travelling to the Amazon to record the sounds of the Boto river dolphins. Floating along the river in a canoe, he spent weeks in almost perfect isolation, living with an inside the sonic world of the Boto and the “ever-changing mysterious subaquatic soundscape” surrounding him. The recordings were later condensed into a headphone installation and a radio-play-like, otherworldly LP on the Belgian ini.itu imprint. And yet, the human input is without doubt the least fascinating aspect about these works. With their wide range of timbres, chatter, click noises and rhythms, the vocabulary palette and expressive capacities of the dolphins question our conventional notions of language, turning our perception of music upside down. Aptly for someone as obsessed by freedom as Kwi, the solution to the confusion is simply not to choose a black-and-white interpretation: Perhaps if we can accept the paradox of our experience, the meaning will reveal itself most clearly.

 Q (TF). How did the idea for the project come about and what interested you about the sonic vocabulary of dolphins in particular?

 A (SK). The idea to create a piece based on sounds of the boto came after my first trip to the Amazon: a remote reserve Xixuau Xiparina on Rio Jauaperi off Rio Negro. From my scant research about the location, I knew the dolphins would be there.  Though I was hoping to record them, I was not solely focused on dolphins – I wished to experience the place in all its possibilities, and simply record sounds within the habitat – both underwater and above.

The concept: I was interested about the influences of information on the reception of the sounds, exploring perception from the perspective of both art and science: a combination of sound-art as purely an aesthetic experience together with scientific (in this case pseudo-scientific as I am simply creating a model of thinking-geometry) cognitive information. The audio-material with river dolphins seemed to me especially suitable for this project: the variety of sounds generated by the boto, the acoustic richness of habitat, and the mythical context, all influenced my choice. BOTO is the local name for Amazonian Pink Dolphins (Inia Geoffrensis). It is believed that from time to time boto come out of water as handsome men to seduce women. When a woman has difficulty identifying the father of her child, she blames the boto ….

“BOTO“ listening piece was part of an installation within a collective exhibition “2 Places“ which was showing simultaneously in two locations – Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, Northern Ireland and University of Limerick, Ireland (2008). The set-up for “Boto“ comprised of 2 pairs of high quality headphones attached to a CD-player (you can access individual fragments of the composition via skip buttons), 2 comfortable chairs, and on the wall a detailed list describing sounds used in the composition; the list starts like this: WARNING: Do not read! The information is influencing the way you are experiencing the sounds. No comprehension whatsoever is required to access this work (a similar list, printed backwards, accompanies the LP – possible to read in the mirror.)

My conclusion, after finalizing “BOTO”, was that the way the mind of an artist and that of a scientist operates is diametrically opposed.  Art and science seem to stand beside each other in a disconnected though complementary way, creating a paradox. It seems to me impossible to combine art and science in a satisfactory way, without accepting this paradox. The question is if we can actually experience the sound-piece as experiential abstraction while absorbing the information; the way in which we take in information seems to reduce the potential for “mystery“.

I am perpetually oscillating between wanting and not wanting to know – I feel like knowledge somehow limits the purity of an aural experience and simultaneously it can complement in a strange contradictory way – “to know” and “not to know” is the paradox.

Q. The album was recorded over the course of various trips into the Amazon. Can you tell me a bit about them, please? What are the Rio Negro and Lago Mamori like, especially in sonic terms?

A. I am fascinated by rainforests, the biodiversity and density of sound is incredible. I visited the brazilian Amazon several times between 2007 and 2011, twice Rio Negro and multiple times Mamori. I certainly experienced differences between the two locations. I will talk here only about subaquatic recordings though.

Rio Negro has so called “black water”, which is actually a tea-like colour and is acidic. In general there appeared to be less subaquatic insects (though some sounds are astonishing, almost electronic-like) and frogs, different species of soniferous fish – it seemed a little bit quieter than the white water. One interesting fishsong from Xixuau Xiparina sounds like knocking on a wooden board at various speeds – this rather large fish, according to locals, has inside the skull a small cavity with two marble-like bones. The fish knocks together these balls, generating loud clicking sounds which you can hear even above water. Mamori has “white water”, which is a yellowish milky colour and alkaloid, rich in sediments. In general there is an abundance of insects and frogs, various soniferous and electric fish, crustaceans; sonic life seemed very proliferous. Aside from the “boto” there is another amazon dolphin, “tucuxi”. “Tucuxi” is a local name for a smaller estuarine dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis). Unlike boto, who are purely river dolphins, tucuxi sometimes venture into the open ocean. Mamori is more populated than Xixuau Xiparina; you can often hear small boat-engines. In Xixuau Xiparina it is rare to hear such interference.

To get to Xixuau Xiparina takes about 36 hours on a rather noisy double-decker boat from Manaus, up the stream of Rio Negro.  We slept in suspended hammocks, myself and my wife Helen. During the night there were increasing myriads of flying insects – mainly moths, sometimes very big, and startling colours – attracted by the light. The reserve is in the region of Rio Jauaperi off Rio Negro.  There is a village with a small indigenous population, which is where the  Amazonia Association is run from. The rainforest around is annually flooded – water rises and descents about 11m – however the surrounding forests seem to be still partly underwater all the time. The Amazonia Association organized a guide for us.  The majority of time we travelled in between the trees in a canoe . Flooded rainforest is incredibly beautiful; it has a spacious and resonant quality. Hiking through dense rainforest was rather limited; from those hikes I have long duration sequences when I left a recorder for several hours without my presence.

Concerning river dolphins, our guide was particularly knowledgeable about their habits and whereabouts; unfortunately my basically non-existent portuguese limited our communication.  We were taken to several dolphin frequented places to record. Unless the dolphins emerged from the water to exhale, it was impossible to spot them. On the last night of our trip, I was recording  frogs, insects and bats from the canoe. We could hear a few dolphins emerging with loud snorting sounds around us. I was listening  through headphones; each exhalation sounded almost alike a human’s sigh.  It was for me a particularly emotional experience. A five minute extract from this recording is included on the LP.

Several nights I recorded from a small floating wooden platform attached to the shore.  My hydrophone was about 10-12m deep. I was listening to the active chatter underwater: crackling, clicking, croaking, grunting, snapping and occasionally some more vocal sounds.

It was very strange and alien, like listening to some emissions from deep space or radio interferences – I loved it. I spent many hours in complete awe sitting in the darkness, only sometimes opening my torch and looking around for possible creepy-crawlies. One evening I saw a hairy spider the size of my palm gliding on the surface of the water – probably some specie of tarantula. I didn’t know such a big creature could walk on the water! Another night, when I was in a dreamlike state, almost falling to sleep while listening to subaquatic symphony, I hear a voice saying very loudly in my ears: “Bubak!” and then just a few splashes of water suggesting the culprit swimming away. I was startled. “Bubak” is the equivalent in czech to “bugaboo” – indeed a rather ghostly surprise … I still have no idea what creature it was.  It might have been the boto, regarding his mischievous reputation.

The trip from Manaus to Mamori Lago is about 3-4 hours via a combination of minivan and smaller boats. I travelled together with Francisco Lopez and the groups of participants of the Mamori Sound Project.  Underwater, we recorded in groups, either from 2-3 canoes or anywhere suitable from the shore. Often you could hear active insects in shallows close to the shore; unfortunately there was also a lot of rotting leaves and debris which created unwanted banging sounds. Once I was recording in between the branches of a large fallen tree in the shallows. I was listening to beautiful sharp clicking insects, and suddenly I hear a sort of munching and rasping sound, greatly amplified by the hollow tree. I then noticed a large catfish eating algae and probably the wood itself. The Amazon hosts many species of prehistoric-looking catfish who are able to generate a variety of loud sounds: grunting, croaking, wrrrrrrrrrrrrr-like and sssssssssss-sounds. Sometimes we recorded inside floating grass-carpets, which covered the surface water, called by locals “capi”. One night, under a capi, I heard electronic-like sounds as something swam slowly by, a sort of doppler effect; it sounded exactly like pure sine-wave, sometimes saw or square-wave. It was so strange that first I thought my equipment was malfunctioning, though I could also hear clearly an abundance of insects, air or gas bubbles released by mud, and on top of that, another interweaved layers of electronic-like vibrations, almost like fish playing an organ. After doing some research, I discovered that these mysterious tonal signals seemed to be triggered by an active electroreception field (eod) of Gymnotiform electric fish.

Boto and Tucuxi we encountered mainly during the trip on the double-decker boat on the river Yuma. We recorded from canoes day and night. You could hear an abundance of soniferous fish (croaking, grunting, woodpecker-like sounds), high pitched insects and an audible spectrum of dolphin’s echolocation trrrrrrrrrrr-like clicks with occasional loud chuckling songs coming unexpectedly in, chasing schools of little fish jumping out of the water with loud circular splashes … I remember not wanting to press the “stop” button on my recorder and wishing to carry on for ever, to listen without a move, in complete darkness, to this ever-changing mysterious subaquatic soundscape. I was very happy there.

 Q. What kind of specific challenges did the recording pose?

A. It’s not that easy to obtain good underwater-recordings. There is more to it than just throwing in the hydrophone and pressing record.  Apart from the different acoustic properties of the aquatic environment, temperature, salinity etc, there are plenty of additional sound sources to consider, all adding and changing recording conditions; for example: the water and the canoe are constantly moving, various debris are floating around, and in the case of flooded rainforest, there are branches, an uneven land base, and water also transports different sounds from a distance and from the surface etc. It is rather challenging. As the echolocation of dolphins is ultrasonic, you cannot hear most of it – it happened to me that i recorded and didn’t hear anything at all. I assumed there were no dolphins, only to discover later in the computer that I had picked up clicks of sonar.

 Q. Part of the LP contains of what you’ve referred to as ‘vocabulary samples’. After spending a lot of time with the dolphins, what, would you say, is communicated through their sounds?

A. Vocabulary (it can be understood as “index” as well) refers to a series of short vocal sounds, which I assumed to be produced by dolphins, though this might not be completely true. Some fish, especially catfish, may generate similar sounds; the range of vocal sounds of the boto is not really known. Some calls  – a sort of chuckling – sound completely the same from Mamori and from Xixuau Xiparina. The use of sonar – echolocation – is for orientation and to locate prey in murky water. What dolphins communicate to each other – aside from territorial and mating calls – I don’t know. I think it’s impossible to comprehend non-human psychology; all speculation seems to me somehow inappropriate and too anthropomorphic. However, there has been some interesting research concerning “sono-pictorial” communication with sea dolphins.

Q. After you returned home from your excursion, how was the album put together?

A. The work is “about” – though not as a narrative – the presence of the boto from various perspectives within its natural habitat, including elements from the environment and context. As compositional tools I used: transpositions, equalisation – both sometimes extreme – noise reduction and of course editing techniques (cut-up and layering), a few sequences are virtually intact and inserted within composition as it was recorded. Which is what I normally use as a technique anyway.

Q. Field recordings and processed field recordings are habitually published under the recorder’s name. Is this in any way problematic from your perspective? How do you see the question of authorship when it comes to recording animal song?

A. Well, if you put it that way – it seems suddenly unethical not to mention the animals. However, all this is clearly very antropomorphic perspective – even the scientific name is awarded by humans …

Animal calls are part of the acoustic environment – the same as human; in principle how do you see the question of authorship when it comes to recording human activities within the environment – such as distant hum of conversations, sounds of steps, driving cars etc.?

Recording is always subjective: the way it is recorded, the selection of time in and out (press record and stop), technical specifications of the microphones and recorder and, of course, decisions about editing and reproduction – all that is a very personal and creative matter. It feels fine to sign it. Acknowledgement of the recording situation, location etc. seems respectful.

A. The musicality of animal recordings has frequently been questioned. This is something I’ve always been particularly intrigued by. To you, is there something truly musical and individual about the dolphin-songs you’ve recorded?

A. The idea of “music“ is a human concept, therefore the parameters and the aesthetics of “music“ seem to me inevitably changeable – fluid, rather than static – and subject to individual perceptions. In this sense, I am not concerned about the “musicality“ of the sounds. However, I am observing my natural tendencies of my irrational attractions (or repulsion) towards some specific sounds. Likes and dislikes are polarities of the paradox, I am including the whole paradox as part of my perception.

We might consider sounds as “musical” when these sounds make sense to us, when it sounds meaningful to our ears. This depends solely on the development of our perception and cultural conditioning.

 

 [Boto artwork cover]

* [Upper image: Slavek Kwi courtesy of Echomusic]

Tobias Fischer: Guest editor for The Field Reporter. Editor-in-chief of experimental music magazine Tokafi and publisher of the 15 Questions website.**

** The Field Reporter only claims authorship and responsibility for the material written by its editorial team.

Slavek Kwi website
Iniitu website

dama

Tannehill Iron Works. DAVID MICHAEL
(self release 2010)

 Review by Cheryl Tipp

Sultry is the first word that comes to mind when listening to David Michael’s ‘Tannehill Iron Works’. There’s an oppressive air hanging over the piece, created by the constant hum and drone of cicadas, amphibians and other insects revelling in the sweltering conditions. This unrelenting blanket of sound is occasionally broken by snippets of birdsong or the whistle of a passing freight train but overall it’s an acoustically humid affair.

This feeling is not limited to Michael’s composition alone. The Tannehill Iron Works site is steeped in its own heavy history. Slaves once worked this land, hand cutting and transporting sandstone blocks for the construction of Tannehill’s three large blast furnaces. The nearby slave cemetery, holding the graves of some sixty individuals, is a haunting reminder of Alabama’s dark past and, once realised, adds another more chilling dimension to the oppressive nature of the soundscape.

The intensity of the atmosphere increases as we approach the end of the piece. Darkness has fallen but, as the heat hasn’t diminished, the katydids begin to work themselves up into a frenzy of activity. There seems to be no respite here. As one group falls silent so another takes its place.

A brief sound at the beginning of the piece, that of something hitting the microphone, raised some questions in my mind. What was the source of this sound? Did the recordist accidentally touch the microphone or reposition it? If so, why was this not edited out of the final composition? Or was the source natural; something falling from an overhead tree perhaps, or maybe an animal brushing past. These initial questions provoked further thoughts about the presence of recordists in their own recordings. In his interview for ‘In the Field: the art of field recording’ Ian Rawes of the London Sound Survey gives his personal take on the subject:

“My aim is to turn myself into the hole in the wall through which you hear what’s on the other side. I determine where and when that hole is but I reject recordings if my own breathing or footsteps are in them and can’t be got rid of. Otherwise it’s like taking a photo when your finger’s poking out over part of the lens.”

In contrast, other recordists have put themselves at the heart of their recordings. One example would be Andrea Polli’s recording ‘Walking on Taylor Glacier’ which was included on her 2009 Gruenrekorder release ‘Sonic Antarctica’. In this case the recordist is not merely a witness to the soundscape but is actively contributing to it. Polli has since commented that this recording is a favourite from her archive:

“That recording doesn’t involve sonification, doesn’t involve interviewing scientists, it is just my footsteps, it is just walking on this glacier…”

The same active role of the recordist helped shape Isobel Clouter and Rob Mullender’s CD ‘Myths of Origin: sonic ephemera from East Asia’ (and/OAR 2008). Here we hear the laboured breathing of Clouter as she ascends one of the Badain Jarain Desert’s singing sand dunes. This is then followed by the gentle hiss of sliding sand as our recordists descend and in doing so force the dune to resonate.

It’s interesting to consider what role the recordist should take in their recordings, whether they should be present or not, and I don’t believe there is any right or wrong approach. Ultimately it depends on what the recordist wishes to achieve. This tiny bump at the beginning of ‘Tannehill Iron Works’ is certainly not a blot on this sonic landscape, but it’s definitely made me stop and think, which is surely one of the greatest things about field recordings.

da_michel

[David Michael, photo courtesy of Impulsive Habitat]

David Michael website

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Two years ago The Field Reporter published its first article (a review of Load by Signed Liden). 730 days later and 290 articles later we hope that the reviews and editorials published have prompted relevant questions, reflections and ideas in regard of the listening and recording-based acousmatic composition and other related media.

Thanks to all our readers for their interest and support.

-David Vélez. Chief Editor

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cbtr

An antidote to indifference

Field Reporter editor Cheryl Tipp was in charge of the new ‘Caught by the river’ edition ‘An antidote to indifference’ where you can find an article by Jay-Dea Lopez and also words by Chris Whitehead, editors of this journal.

Other collaborators include Chris Watson, Des Coulam and Jez Riley French.

More info here

Radions-Fagel-Skivor

Radions Fågel Skivor -collection-
STURE PALMÉR and other uncredited crew
(The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation 1958-67)

Review / research by Cheryl Tipp

From 1958-1967, The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, then known as Sveriges Radio, published a series of birdsong EPs under the title Radions Fågel Skivor (Radio Bird Records). These 45 rpm discs, 40 in total, presented the songs and calls of 292 birds occurring in Sweden and were part of a Swedish natural history publishing programme that began in 1936.

Initially driven by the need to develop an archive of wild bird songs and calls, recorded in the field, for broadcasting purposes, the team at Sveriges Radio decided to produce a set of five educational discs for distribution to Swedish schools. With no way of cutting discs in the field, recordings were transmitted along telephone wires to an awaiting disc cutting machine in broadcasting headquarters. In the article Wildlife Recording by Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (Recorded Sound, 1969), Sveriges Radio engineer and recordist Sture Palmér, wrote “you had to keep one hand over the disc-cutting machine and the telephone in the other”. Though successful, the results were by no means perfect; poor signal transmission and interruptions from line-twitter meant that “a nightjar, for instance, sounded like a compressed-air drill”. Despite this, five discs were published at Christmas 1937 and featured the first Swedish recordings of wild birds (Radiotjänst 1-5).

In 1938 the company obtained their first mobile recording van which significantly improved their recording efforts, so much so that a continuous recording programme was instigated. The original recordings were replaced with higher quality examples that, along with many new recordings collected, formed the basis of a series of sixty five curated discs covering 183 Swedish species and released on a regular basis until the close of 1956 (Radiotjänst 6-70).

The evolution of recording technologies and the development of carriers capable of holding an increasing amount of content offered many new possibilities. It was however the emergence of the parabolic reflector that became the deciding factor in Sveriges Radio’s resolution to embark on a new series of bird records. The directional nature of the reflector meant that clearer, cleaner vocalisations could be recorded. Thus Radions Fågel Skivor was born.

7 species on average were featured per disc; detailed descriptions of the vocalisations heard were included on the sleeve reverse and though most of the text was written in Swedish, Latin names were included for non-Swedish speakers. Unlike other EP series published around the same time (e.g. Stimmen Einheimischer Vögel from Kosmos and Jean-Claude Roché’s Guide Sonore des Oiseaux d’Europe), the aesthetic style remained unwaveringly consistent. A black sleeve decorated with bird illustrations reminiscent of Russian avant-garde art became the signature look of this ambitious series.

Most recordings were made by engineer Sture Palmér, who by this time had taken over sole responsibility for Sveriges Radio’s field recording programme. His experience on the original Radiotjänst series, initially as a recordist working under the guidance of Gunnar Lekander and then as both recordist and project leader, equipped him with all the necessary skills to successfully oversee a project of this scale. Over 80,000 EPs had been sold when the series came to an end in 1967 and the success was such that Palmér soon embarked on another series, this time looking beyond Sweden to take in the birdlife of Europe. Collaborating with the BBC and around 50 other organisations and individuals, A Field Guide to Bird Songs of Britain and Europe again upped the ante by almost doubling the number of species represented. These were then offered as a series of fourteen LPs.

Looking back at the publishing story of Sveriges Radio one is struck by the patience, dedication and determination of individuals such as Sture Palmér and Gunnar Lekander. There was absolute commitment to developing and completing these long running series while constantly trying to improve recording techniques and audio quality. Almost without fail copies of publications from Radiotjänst, Radions Fågel Skivor and A Field Guide to Bird Songs of Britain and Europe appear in record collections, so much so that a complete copy of each series, from 1937 onwards, is now archived for generations to come at the British Library Sound Archive.

sve-radio

[Photo courtesy of Resume]

Sveriges Radio dicography

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